While we may not have all the bells and whistles of some of our friends in Las Vegas, Australia is regarded as being market leaders in gaming, despite that our market is unique to itself. Each year, DWS host small industry groups for tours around Las Vegas showcasing both the key strip players and also the often more interesting local market off the beaten track.
This year we were lucky enough to drive from Las Vegas to Reno and Sacramento visiting what are considered to be the traditional gaming markets for locals with application for clubs in Australia.
Apart from ending up in some interesting (aka ‘where on earth are we?!’) venues, it is clear that gaming revenue growth has been a struggle worldwide. Although every venue is heavily competing for the disposable dollar and attempting to maximise their market share, we found that even the most unlikely places were making an effort to deliver an experience like no other.
It was early on our drive from Reno to San Francisco that we found a very small lodge with a dodgy looking sign to stop for breakfast.
Apart from the usual expectation to be served a black coffee with half’n’half and some grease, what we didn’t expect was a fun menu printed as a local newspaper with stories about the area, bathrooms with lots of character and luxurious curtains in lieu of walls and a ceiling covered in money from visitors. An unexpected treat that delivered a memorable experience in a venue with no marketing budget in the middle of nowhere. This is just one example of many that we experienced.
Further touring of gaming venues in the States saw a number of other themes arise, including;
Gaming Machine Products
The expectation of the player is increasing dramatically and with this we have seen the evolution of a vast array of products. However, most notable is the entertainment experience. Popular culture themes are delivering a more relevant experience to the player with products such as Avatar, The Walking Dead, Bridesmaids, Back to the Future and even popular mobile applications such as ‘Plants vs. Zombies’ making an appearance. Machines are now fitted with vibrating chairs, inbuilt speakers and game features that really embrace the player. The introduction of 3D designs and animations give the player a real sensory gaming experience.
There is no doubt that increasing time on device and delivering a unique entertainment experience is at the forefront of modern gaming.
Promotions and Marketing
The battle for market share has dramatically increased the promotional offers to the player, however this was not evident by internal promotional material, but through a direct approach with loyalty offers and direct marketing. In Australia, our culture is to charge for membership, however the value of player information is so greatly valued in the States that they essentially pay you for the information. While the on-boarding process is generally longer in the States (approx. 2 – 8 minutes on average), patrons are managed in queues and the instant benefits seem to offset the wait time. Sign up bonuses include instant free play, meal discounts and show specials, however it is the direct marketing program afterwards that starts to showcase the long-term benefits.
Further to the initial acquisition offers, venues continue to reward based on daily play rather than for the general membership populace; for example when a player reaches a predetermined level (i.e. 500 bonus points in one day) they become eligible for the allocated prize (such as a t-shirt, lobster lunch etc.) Venues also reward any activity with free play, discounts or points such as liking their Facebook Page or submitting an email to the database.
Additional marketing concepts centered around the entertainment experience, included venue-wide theming for product launches, seasons and specific departments. A high importance is placed on keeping the venue fresh and interesting for repeat visitation which is achieved by changing themes and displays – so if you have high ceilings or spare floor space, why not consider something different for the sake of entertainment?
Whoever said that Americans are rude obviously hasn’t been to America. No doubt the tipping culture is driving this – each venue we visited fully embraced customer service programs. The epitome of this concept was visiting the River Rock Casino in Vancouver, one of the biggest casinos in Canada. We were lucky enough to be shown around by the General Manager Jim Wall on this tour. The first impressions of the venue wowed us; however it was the subtle actions that followed which really gave a sense of why this venue is so successful. Not only did Jim acknowledge every staff member and every patron he walked past, but he also took time to push in chairs and pick up rubbish along the way, creating a culture behind him. Jim spoke about the continuous need for training and new ideas to enhance the player’s experience through customer engagement.
While there are many facets to the hospitality industry, the experience of the player is paramount. Venues must continuously strive to increase market share through innovation, leadership and consistency. None of these come easy but to be the best you must be committed. Some of the best starting blocks are reviewing your operations for increased profitability which in turn allows you to fund dedicated customer service programs, customer engagement training or reviewing your marketing activity for success.
Customer experiences are no accident. They occur whether they are good or bad, cheap or expensive. The good news is that hospitality venues have all the tools required to create your own unique experience – so get out onto your floor and experience them for yourself.