Full gaming recovery will be difficult unless casino aficionados go back to former levels of visitation and play. Sounds like a job for the marketing department to me.

The American Gaming Association recently released its annual States of the Statesreport, and the news was good, at least on the casino revenue front. According to the study, the combined gross revenue for commercial casinos in 2011 totaled $35.64 billion, an increase of 3 percent over 2010 and the largest such yearly revenue figure since 2008, when the industry reached $36.22 billion. Compared to the state of many other entertainment industries in the U.S. and around the world, 3 percent growth is a solid result; maybe not worthy of a celebration, but definitely of a hardy slap on the back and a loud “well done.” And yet…

The 2011 commercial casino revenue result is still appreciably below the industry’s high-water mark of $37.52 billion set in 2007; in those halcyon pre-economic downturn days when year-over-year gaming revenue growth was often in high single or double digits. The list of reasons why the industry has been unable to recapture this former impetus is long, well-documented and ever changing-a combination of the sluggish general economy, rising transportation costs, lack of personal income growth (outside of the very wealthy), oversaturated gaming markets, etc., etc., etc.

The general assumption is that all or most of these issues are solvable over time, and that the U.S. commercial gaming industry, hopefully sooner rather than later, will recover its lost revenue and once again expand at an appreciable rate. I believe this will happen as well; though I would be lying if I didn’t admit to some nagging doubts-concerns that were exacerbated by some of the information I heard while attending last month’s Southern Gaming Summit (SGS) in Biloxi, Miss.

One of the more alarming statistics I noted came from Glenn Goulet, principal of Gaming Strategies + Insights, during a panel discussion on casino player trends, He relayed that a recent study conducted by his company showed a whopping 80 percent of experienced casino patrons are not only spending less per casino trip, they are also frequenting gaming facilities much less often. Of course, the economy plays a part in this behavior, but more concerning to Goulet is how easily this core casino patronage is willing to sacrifice both gaming spend and visitation. “This group of players no longer sees gaming as a vacation or something special,” he said. “They see us as just another part of the routine… and that is not a good thing.”

To me it sounds like this group is suffering from casino ennui, which is not surprising considering how much gaming has expanded in the past decade. For better or worse, the casino experience has become easily accessible, commonplace and, dare I say, a little boring.

Full gaming recovery will be difficult unless this casino aficionado base goes back to former levels of visitation and play. There was no shortage of advice at SGS on how to make this happen. David Rittvo, director of the F&B division of The Innovation Group, suggested updating restaurant and bar options to reflect current trends such as localvorism, smaller plates and specialty drinks thereby enticing people back through their stomachs. Ryan Leeds of Masterminds said casinos should become bigger players in the social media space, since sites like Facebook capture such a large percentage of the core casino demographic (women between 35-54 years of age).

Ultimately, however, enticing players to the casino doors and making sure they come back for repeat visits sure sounds like a marketing department challenge to me. And we’re here to help on that front, as co-sponsors along with Raving Consulting of the Casino Marketing Conference, which will take place July 24-26 at the Paris Las Vegas Resort in Las Vegas, Nev. For more information, visitwww.casinomarketingconf.com.

Try to stop by and attend the event. After all, as with your customers, walking through the door is half the challenge.