What can we slot operators do to prepare for onlinwe gaming and stay competitive?

While most of the world was scrambling to pick up those last minute Christmas gifts this past December 23rd, the Department of Justice unveiled an unexpected gift to the online gaming world: the opinion that the 1961 Wire Act only prohibits sports-related gambling activities in interstate and foreign commerce.

Months later, it’s still unclear if Congress will prioritize constructing a licensing and regulatory structure to back it up. Legal experts like Lionel Sawyer & Collins add to the uncertainty by noting that the opinion could be reversed at any time.

So we wait, though not in limbo. It’s not here quite yet, but viable online gambling is coming-and with federal and state governments desperate to fill those decimated tax coffers-it’ll be here soon. So what can we slot operators do to prepare for this inevitability and stay competitive?

• For starters, get a head start-You already have an arsenal of weapons: great staff, service, property and amenities. You also have a never-ending supply of ammunition: direct mail, e-mail marketing, Web site and social media pages. If you’re really cutting-edge, you’re also packing a mobile app and pumping out text marketing messages. You’re almost prepared.

• Seek compelling content-Now it’s time to get down to business. If your tribal casino has any hope of competing in the world of Betfair and Zynga, you better offer fun, inexpensive and compelling games. Get a jump on it with the help of an experienced vendor. Florida’s Seminole Casino Coconut Creek already has. Download its app in the Android or Apple App Store and you can play one of today’s most popular slot titles U-Spin. With the help of Bally Technologies’ new mobile division, the Seminoles are already offering their slot products to customers in more places than just the casino floor.

•Establish a funds management system-Of course along with those engaging games must come a bulletproof accounting structure. Sure, right now it’s all free-to-play games, but getting your customers familiar with the process is vital if you ever hope to capture their actual money. The set-up must allow your players to load and redeem credits quickly, efficiently and securely. It’s also going to have to meet or exceed the licensing and regulatory standards of all current land based statutes. It’s time to brush up on those proposed NIGC Online Wagering Account and Accounting MICS.

• Create an incentive program-All the fancy games and state-of-the-art accounting won’t do you much good if you’re not giving your players a real reason to stay connected with you in the online world. You must incentivize your customers to both maintain and grow your player base. Players will be able to pick and choose the best of online offerings with impunity. If you can’t incentivize, you won’t compete. Much like a standard casino, players in the virtual world have come to expect a reward for frequenting your establishment.

• Promote, promote, promote-Promote your products and land-based holdings in everything you do. An upside to your online presence is the ability to use downloadable and transferable discounts and free play offers as powerful marketing tools to lure your virtual customers off the couch and onto your casino floor.

• Foster shared experiences-Casinos are inherently social places; the Internet is an inherently self-contained place. Your online existence must tie in the socialized experiences of the physical casino with the private experiences of the Internet. The power of social media is undeniable and very much a part of everyday life. More than 200 million people use Facebook every day, and if your casino’s page is popular, your in-casino amenities can’t help but benefit. Many casinos are already working on combining these shared experiences through tie-ins to social media sites.

While there will always be a place for brick and mortar casinos, it’s an economic certainty that running an online gambling site will offer tribal casino the opportunity to increase their profits, customer base and brand presence. Considering what games, accounting methods, incentives, promotions and social tie-ins your online gambling presence will have now, will put you in a much better position when that “if and when” actually becomes “here and now.” SM

Krista Reiner, marketing manager for Acres 4.0, co-authored this article.