It’s easy to pinpoint casinos’ black and white areas, but it’s much harder to tell what the gray ones are all about

Dennis Conrad is the president and chief strategist of Raving Consulting Company, a full service marketing company specializing in assisting gaming organizations. He can be reached at (775) 329-7864 or by Visit Raving’s Web site

There are many things I like in the gaming industry. The modern day casino buffet (you know, the one that makes you go “wow”) is marvelous, although a tad sinful. Affordable top name casino entertainment brings top notch performers to many communities that would never see such stars (OK, so we have to endure a few washed-up “C-listers,” too). I like the value of most players clubs, bonus rewards and casino promotions. The “executive host” notion in casinos is a marvelous one. And who couldn’t help but love the multi-faceted, modern day casino megaresort?

Likewise, there are several things I don’t like in our industry. I don’t like table game procedures where dealers check for counterfeit bills before they even welcome their new players to the table. I don’t like how ticket-in/ticket-out has reduced the sense of celebration on our slot floors. I really hate casino managers who sweat the money (trust me, there are still many who do). I don’t care for the ubiquitous trend of increasing the mathematical advantage for the house - penny slots, 6 to 5 payoffs on blackjack (instead of 3 to 2), new table games with higher hold percentages, technology advances that increase the speed of the game, etc. And I really hate the departmentalized casinos where you will hear, “It’s not my job” quite often.

Clear as mud

Yes, my likes and dislikes in gaming are quite clear. But then there is this other category, the stuff that’s about as clear as mud in our industry, the things about which I just can’t make up my mind, like the topless review shows in Las Vegas casinos. No, I take that back, bad example.

Like this server-based gaming thing. Server-based slot games have been the buzz for the last few years at the big gaming shows. A few pioneering casinos are beta testing the games on their slot floors. I think I understand the efficiencies of server-based gaming: change out slot games and denominations at the push of a button, as well as having the ability to market to individual players individually, etc. But I just don’t know if players will accept a new concept whereby their favorite machine is discarded for a library of games seeming to appear almost magically (and perhaps a little suspiciously) from cyberspace.

I’m also not sure about this new concept in slots and tables about paying for a certain amount of guaranteed spins or hands. When I first heard the concept, I kind of liked it, as taking players’ money too quickly (in a string of bad luck) is one of gaming customers’ worst experiences. But now I’m wondering if this guarantee won’t take a big part of the gamble out of our casinos and make them more like video game arcades, or hockey rinks where you purchase ice time.

I’m really unsure about the strong trend of casinos being purchased by those big private equity firms and investment groups. Part of me says that it opens up large, new, respectable investment sources that will improve casino efficiency and profitability. But then another part of me fears that these vulture companies could bleed out what customers value in the casino experience to squeeze out a few extra, short-term bucks.

Acting like a big dog

I’m unsure about some casino promotions, namely the huge, months-long affairs that give out mega prizes and hordes of cash. I know they will attract new players, but they also bring in numerous opportunists who have little value or loyalty to the casino. I’m starting to think that these promotional bonanza events should be limited to top players only.

I’ve never been sure on whether or not casinos should keep a careful, watchful eye on their competition. I know the common wisdom says this is an essential business practice, but I’ve seen several quality operators eschew this competitive shopping because they just want to work on their own unique business formula and not get caught up in one-upmanship or copycatting.

I’m not sure if poker has peaked or is in the middle of a mandated lull. I guess any table game growth that can bring new players to a casino is a great thing, but I worry that any game where players gnaw on each other will eventually produce an effect where the weaker players will eventually tire of getting their brains beaten out. And then will they gravitate to slots or other table games? I don’t think so.

Yes, there is a lot I am not sure about in my beloved gaming industry. But there is one thing that I have always been sure about: if you don’t give your customers what they want, and if you treat your employees like cattle, you either won’t be around long or will always have the same view as the last dog in line on the dog sled team.