6 lessons learned in Las Vegas casinos that aren’t (strictly) about gaming

Six-Lessons-Learnt-in-Las-Vegas-CasinosRecently I embarked on a professional development exercise with DWS colleague Danny Nixon-Smith and clients from both Queensland and Victoria. We had the good fortune of spending four days in Vegas, four days road tripping through the Californian Indian reservation casinos and four days in San Francisco. Whilst this might sound a bit like a junket, we learned some hugely valuable lessons (like 65 mph road signs signal the minimum speed that Americans drive at rather than an enforceable maximum on Californian highways!).

In all seriousness, experiential learning really does yield the type of insights into our industry that money can’t buy, which can be interpreted and applied back in our Aussie pubs and clubs. The gaming-specific lesson that we learned repeatedly was that data is king. Every casino property outside the strip (the ones who earn and keep a clientele of locals, rather than tourists) will throw benefits at patrons to get them to sign up to a loyalty program and provide their demographic and contact information. ‘Free play’ of $10, $20, even $30 dollars was up for grabs for a name, DOB, email, mobile (cell) number or to sign up for their app (which is, of course, integrated with their database and loyalty program). The value of membership is not about nominal membership fee revenue each year, it’s about the power of data. Venues should shift their mindset away from charging heavy fees and consider membership that is low cost and long term.

There were, however, several lessons to boost success for venue operators that weren’t strictly about gaming:

  1. People respond to incentives. We can learn from the tipping system over in the US where great service is often the result of a motivated server. While we’re not likely to see a tipping culture emerge here in Australia (as our staff are relatively far better remunerated than their US counterparts), there are incentives we can provide beyond just monetary in order to motivate staff to deliver exceptional service. Think along the lines of a ‘reward and recognition program’ linked to customer service KPIs. How about a sales incentive for the staff member or team who signs up the most punters to your loyalty program. A bonus for the waitperson with the best average spend per head? Or maybe a case of wine for the bar tender who upsells the most wine of the month?
  2. Successful venues don’t just provide reasons to visit, they also remove reasons to leave. I can illustrate this with a discussion about Wi-Fi. Imagine a situation where you’ve done all the hard work of winning a visit from the patron. They’re at your venue enjoying your facilities and idly updating Facebook, replying to emails, and conducting a range of online activities on their smartphone but they’re concerned about data use. The great venues in Vegas and the really great Indian casinos take this concern away and treat Wi-Fi like electric lights, air conditioning and running water… it’s a utility, not an optional extra. Make it FREE. Make it FAST and EASY (don’t make patron’s jump through hoops and enter poxy log in codes). Make it immediate. Make sure it WORKS. Keep patrons there longer and boost gaming performance.
  3. Bars aren’t just for buying drinks, they’re a visitation driver. Aussie venues get it when it comes to using food and entertainment to attract visitation and then typically provide a bar offering that is utilitarian in nature. It’s useful for diners, gamers and entertainment patrons to buy a drink, but it’s just functional. The great venues in the US treat beverage as a generator of patronage. The bar experience is part of the entertainment experience. Consider picking a theme or an offer that your venue is known for. Create a bar offer that’s a talking point. Offer the best range of craft beer and staff who know how to sell it. Consider a unique way of serving product (e.g. the 3L ‘tower of beer’ with a pouring tap on it). What
    about the duelling pianos that fill the really basic bar on the ground floor of ‘New York, New York’ – seven nights a week, hundreds of patrons. Be ‘the best’ at something – Margaritaville Casino is known for one product and people flock there for it. Could you partner with a local craft beer business and put in a microbrewery? 200 more patrons each week could really flow through to gaming and boost NMR.
  4. Humans need food to survive. And not just from 12-2pm and 6-9pm. Scientifically speaking, homo-erectus could feel hunger at any time when your venue is open and your machines are running. Give them a quality food offering from open to close. Give them choices. Don’t assume that ‘fried’ is the only cooking method gamers want. The great venues in Vegas and California offer quality sandwiches and wraps, pastries, fruit salad, smoothies, sushi… a whole range of quick to serve, no-chef-required dining options. $30-40K on a display fridge, a self-contained fryer (no range hood) and a turbo oven introduces all of this. And again, the casinos don’t do it unless it improves gamers’ spend levels. It works.
  5. 21st Century humans need (great) coffee to survive. Again, at all hours when the machines are on. Some capital investment may be required as well as some staff training. But this is a no-brainer, offer great coffee and people will stay, and offer terrible coffee (or no coffee) and they may look elsewhere. Even in the backwaters of California where the staff and patrons weren’t the most cosmopolitan individuals, the great gaming operators offered great coffee 24 hours a day.
  6. Everybody goes to the toilet. Although Americans call them restrooms, they do get it when it comes to toilets. Even the bathrooms at the worst diners and servos were regularly cleaned. They also had hand soap and a choice of a hand towel or dryer, which is more than I can say for the toilets in some gaming venues. The great ones had cloth towels, warm water and bathroom attendants. This included restaurants, bars and gaming venues. One restaurant we visited had a single toilet (restroom) with music, indoor plants, a single-seat chesterfield lounge and high-end Aesop hand soap for diners’ comfort. The staff even went in after each guest and folded the paper back into a triangle. Seriously. While you might say ‘we don’t charge US$200 per head to eat at our place’, this place didn’t have a single slot machine. So while you’re not charging huge dollars for F&B, your machines might be generating $200+ per day each (or at least you’d like them to be). So why not spend a few dollars on a janitor each day mopping toilets, topping up hand towels and hand soap, and freshening toilets? I mean during service, not the overnight cleaners. We acknowledge that venues are under pressure to control overheads but I’d be encouraging staff to turn a few lights off and save power rather than skimping on single-ply toilet paper or not bothering to clean the loos during the day.

“So Tom, what were your top 6 lessons for gaming venues from Vegas?” – Incentivise staff, provide great WiFi, memorable bars, all day food, great coffee and spectacular dunnies. Also perhaps sign people up to your new loyalty scheme. Give them a reason to give up their contact details, don’t charge them (at least not too much), and encourage them to put their card in the EGM.

Viva Las Vegas.

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