ON the RIGHT TRACK
by John Grochowski
November 10, 2011
In many ways, player tracking and the rewards used to insure customer loyalty and provide incentive for return business is all about the math. The theoretical win for the house is the backbone of player rewards programs.
But there’s an art to player tracking, too, especially on table games where the calculation of theoretical win is more dependent on pit observations that in the slots, where systems can track every wager to the penny. A human touch is necessary.
When the numbers and the art mesh, well, that can be special.
“There’s a magic moment when someone is at the tables, is approached and is invited for a comp,” David Schugar, principal partner of RMC Gaming Management said during a session on player tracking at last month’s Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas. “If it’s timed right, it can be a magic moment.
“There’s also a magic moment when a player asks for something, and you don’t have to ask them for their card or go to the computer. I mean come on, how personal is that? The ability of the supervisor to whip out that comp book and just write them a manual comp, we have drifted so far away from that.”
The need for that personal touch was a recurring theme at the seminar moderated by Luigi Mastropietro, vice president, relationship marketing for Global Cash Access, Inc., on a panel that also included David Patent, chief operating officer for Rush Street Gaming, LLC, and Frank Neborsky, vice president of slot operations at Mohegan Sun.
SCAN AND DELIVER
"Ultimately people come back because of the relationships that they develop with frontline employees and their hosts—the person who’s announcing slot jackpots, or their favorite cashier at the buffet."
—David Patent, chief operating officer, Rush Street Gaming
“On slots you have really perfect information,” Patent said. “You get the loudest complaints from your table games players about ‘You got my average bet wrong’ or ‘I played for five hours, I’ve got to be worth more than you’re giving me.’ But historically when we look at table theoretical vs. table actual, every casino I’ve been to we’re over-reinvesting by 30, 40 percent. It’s not every player. Certain players are better than others. You have to make assumptions about how many hands per hour you’re getting out and the theoretical house advantage and player skill. If you make a mistake in any of your assumptions, you’re open to over-reinvestment.
“Now, for years there’s been technology in the test labs using RFID, but where is it? There are issues. Maybe the dealer didn’t hit the reset button the data wasn’t captured.”
In the absence of harder data, that leaves a need to refine the art of player comping. Even with perfect data, however, there is room to apply the art, Bally Technologies vice president of product management Tom Doyle said away from the session.
“In table games you use discretionary comps a lot because you may have a situation where the player will lose a lot of money very fast,” he said. “So we have a new product, Flex Rewards (in Bally’s iView Display Manager Elite Bonusing Suite). You go into the setup screen and you can set it up so that if this player throws a thousand dollars into the machine and loses $500—the machine basically kept all their money—we can now give them free-play bonusing or any other reward. That’s more of a discretionary comp that the casino can decide, ‘Hey, we’re going to reward the player this many points and this many comp dollars, whether it’s in slots, table games, the retail shopping center or anything else.’ We can also say if a player has really bad luck one day, we can give him a reward based on that particular time period.”
THE LIMITS OF TECHNOLOGY
"When you look at the slot world the players card tells you everything that’s going on. With table games, I think that lower $5-$10 player may get lost somewhere."
—Frank Neborsky, vice president of slot operations, Mohegan Sun
“Slot players—what do they like to receive as hard offers?” Mastropietro asked. “Do they like cash? Do they like free play? Do they care about food? What is king? Cash usually. The players club system is the science. What we the panel agreed to is that the human player is the art applied to the science.”
“One of the first things we like to look at is what is the goal that you have with your player system,” Patent said. “If you’re going to track a player, they’ve already agreed to get a card. They’ve come to your casino so you’ve already done the hardest thing, which is to get the player to come to the casino. Then what you’re trying to do is drive the player to return to the casino. What are you going to do to bring make that player come more frequently, and to have make them spend more money when they are there? There are lots and lots of things you can do, methods that rely on average daily worth of a customer.”
Neborsky acknowledged the perfect data on the slots, and said he sensed a blind spot in rewarding low-limit table players.
“When you look at the slot world the players card tells you everything that’s going on,” Neborsky said. “With table games, I think that lower $5-$10 player may get lost somewhere. They may be betting into the system, but their ratings are subjective and part of the human interaction. The higher-rated players will have a director or a host, but because it’s a rating, when someone wants to get comped and go to the buffet and it’s a $20 comp, they may not know they only have $10 when they leave the table. So they go to the outlet and don’t have the money, they may just automatically put up the rest of the money to make up the difference, not going back to the players club or back to the pit to try to talk to someone to get that extra money.”
And yet, said Patent, if the player initiates dialog, the human touch may be there to satisfy the customer.
“There’s a wrinkle where there’s a certain earning rate you have as either a table player or slot player that’s tied to your theoretical win or your coin in or whatever,” Patent said of a system used by Rush Street Gaming, and not uncommon in the industry. “That’s generally a fairly small percentage. Then you have a discretionary bucket that’s sitting off to the side. Let’s say a player playing blackjack has earned $5 in comps or $10 in comps, and they want a buffet that’s $20. If they ask, they can go to a supervisor and say ‘I want to give this player the buffet.’ And the supervisor can look them up and see they have $10 in comp worth. But there’s a discretionary bucket that may have $15 or $20 in it, what you’ve decided is the proper investment. You drain the earned bucket, then you can get into the discretionary bucket and give them what they’ve asked for. But it’s something the player has to be proactive about and ask for it. And that’s one way you can manage what you invest in players, but it helps keep them happy.
“You’ve added a human interaction,” Patent added. “It isn’t just that ‘I’ve banged away for a while and I got my scrip and back to it.’ They now feel there’s someone empowered with whom they can have a conversation and hopefully it’s been a good conversation. If you can handle that kind of conversation right, you’ve got a satisfied customer now.”
Satisfying the customers in difficult economic times is a must just to hold keep business steady, panelists said.
“One thing we’ve noticed the last three or four years is that when we’re doing free play, doing marketing incentives, we were truly able to drive either an extra trip or be able to reach a little deeper into the wallet and be able to drive a little more play,” Neborsky said. “Now that we’ve seen a change in the economy and also the addition of some localized convenience gaming in these markets, it’s not so much that we’re driving extra trips or creating an opportunity for more spend. The money that we’re spending in free play or some of the promotional value we’re giving is just to maintain business at levels we were at last year or the year before.”
“It’s a players’ market,” Schugar added. “Your competition can duplicate virtually anything you do.”
With all competitors in a marketplace having access to equivalent player tracking data, the human touch, the addition of a little personal magic, can make the difference.
“There are lots of fun and interesting things you can do,” Patent said, after free play, tournaments and hot seat drawings had been mentioned. “But at the end of the day it’s pretty much a commodity, the amount you give back to players. Unless you have something really unique, a great hotel or a fabulous steak house or a must-see buffet, which a lot of casinos do, they try to find that killer app that distinguishes them from their competitors. The Horseshoe in Tunica, for a long time they had the buffet everyone wanted to come to see. That was a really strong competitive weapon they had. But ultimately people come back because of the relationships that they develop with frontline employees and their hosts—the person who’s announcing slot jackpots, or their favorite cashier at the buffet.”
Establishing that personal relationship to go with the player tracking data is part of the art that can help create the magic Schugar spoke about. But to re-create that art requires some recognition of what gaming represents, Mastropietro said.
“I’m in meetings every day, and I have to tell people, ‘You’re in the entertainment business. This is supposed to be fun,’” Mastropietro said. “That’s not the way it’s perceived by the player anymore.”
Schugar added that what’s needed is, “to be able to have enough faith and confidence. Comps can be abused and it’s a judgment call, and then there’s the data input and the whole thing. I get it. Everybody gets it. But to be able to have some people on the team to build those relationships with the players and then still manage them well, that’s really the art.”
John Grochowski’s syndicated casino column appears weekly in the Chicago Sun-Times, the Gary Post-Tribune, Press of Atlantic City, Casino City Times, and in other periodicals and is available on the Web. He is the author of six books on casino games, including The Video Poker Answer Book and The Slot Machine Answer Book. His tips for players are broadcast on WLS-AM 890 in Chicago.
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