MARKETING: The emotional side of gambling
August 19, 2009
There have been a number of gaming industry veterans who really have understood the emotions of the gambler. Interestingly, they seem to all have been gamblers themselves.
The most prominent may have been Benny Binion, who believed in “Best Odds/Highest Limits” and feeding the real gamblers (with great food) when they were hungry. His son Jack lived this formula as well, improved it and brought it into the 21st century.
Then there was Bob Stupak, the owner of Vegas World (now the Stratosphere in Las Vegas), who coined the phrase “zings and stings” to describe the highs and lows of the gambler. Although Stupak had elements of the carny hustler about him, he knew how to hit a gambler’s hot buttons.
Harold “Pappy” Smith. Bill Harrah. Steve Wynn. These and other pioneers knew well the emotions that run through a gambler and how to tap into them to have these “real” players gladly separate themselves from their money - and want more of the experience.
I believe the one modern-day guru of player emotions (and the only one really exploring it on the slot side of the business) is John Acres of Acres-Fiore, who is also the father of player tracking. Acres is exploring the “squiggly lines” of the player’s slot experience (the running graph of a player’s wins and losses during a slot playing session) and finding ways to tap into the slot player’s emotions during this time to create more value for the player (and more revenue for the casino).
As a casino player myself and as someone who has studied these experts I believe that most casinos either ignore or don’t understand the important emotional principles that drive real gamblers, the 20 percent of customers who drive 80 percent of revenues. So I will share these “Emotional Principles of the Gambler” now, along with what I believe are the operational implications for the modern-day casino.
Gamblers don’t like to wait. Waiting keeps them from what they really want, which is to be in action. This principle speaks to many areas, including VIP express service at hotel check-in, players clubs, restaurants, shows, valet parking, etc.; enough ATM machines and quick check-cashing service at the cage; not putting a slow, break-in dealer on a high-limit table game; upper-tier VIP events for smaller groups; and the streamlining of policies, procedures and rules that keep our best players stuck in time-sucking goo.
Gamblers like to be appreciated for being real gamblers. Don’t get me wrong here, this principle is not about giving gamblers enough comps or rewards for their play. It’s about simple recognition of their real ability, at any time, to give the casino a significant hit, their ability to make a score. This principle speaks to welcoming protocols at table games, never questioning how a gambler plays and offering suggestions, quick but smooth acknowledgement of a gambler when he or she first enters a gaming area, enough cash and people on hand should the player win in the area they are playing, employees trained in listening to gamblers’ war stories admiringly.
Gamblers are superstitious - which is how they come to play the way they play and why they try numerous different casinos if they are not winning (and why they continue to play negative-expectation games over time). This is a tough principle to intelligently apply. You don’t want to stoke a gambler’s superstitions or burst his or her superstitious bubbles.
Most gamblers like some attention from senior management. Here I don’t mean attention from the shift manager or a pit boss. I’m speaking of the head honcho, the GM, the president, the Tribal Council chairperson. Applications include: 1) having senior execs spend considerable time on the gaming floor (and being sure to interact with the gamblers); 2) making sure to organize intimate dinners with your best gamblers and the GM; 3) occasional “blue ribbon panels” where your gamblers can sound off; 4) having thank you notes and invitations sent to gamblers with personal notes and real signatures; 5) having senior executives occasionally gamble (and with enough of a bankroll and high enough average bets) to understand the “zings and stings”.
Most gamblers don’t want to be bothered while they are gambling. True, some gamblers are happy-go-lucky and will chat it up with anybody. But most are into the intensity of the moment, the pitch of the battle. This speaks to “gambler sensitivity training” with employees who come into contact with players while they are gambling (cocktail servers, pit floor persons, slot hosts, dealers, etc.), creating a players club signup program that is respectful of engaged gamblers, creating innovative programs to provide food at the games for players who don’t want to be bothered to take an hour to go eat.
Real gamblers are people with special needs. Strive to understand the principles behind those needs and you will be serving the most profitable customer who, really, just wants to play.