Server-based gaming may be the key to more precise casino marketing, if operators ever truly embrace the technology.



You can learn quite a lot talking to an enlightened chief marketing officer of a major gaming company.

This month, I had the privilege to interview Staci Columbo Alonso, the chief marketing offi cer of International Game Technology (IGT), who is slated to receive the Casino Marketing Lifetime Achievement Award at this year’s Casino Marketing Conference, which will take place July 24-26 at Paris Las Vegas. (For more details on this event, visit www.casinomarketingconf.com.) She has gleaned a lifetime of marketing knowledge from her experiences in the consumer, operator and supplier sides of the gaming business. (See story on page 26.)

Her latest challenge as CMO of IGT is nothing less than the survival of traditional casino gaming. “Patti Hart (CEO of IGT) and I have had long conversations on how the gaming industry has changed; how more revenue is now derived from non gaming than gaming; how younger people seem disinterested in the casino experience; what is was going to take for brick-and-mortar casinos to prepare for and derive business from future generations,” Alonso said.

By Alonso’s way of thinking, the crux of the problem is consumer demand, and how to create wagering experiences that can appeal to socially-active yet constantly distracted 20- to 30-year-olds, tech savvy 30- and 40-somethings seeking a different wagering experience from their parents, and the 50-year-old plus generation that continues to generate most casino income, especially when it comes to slot play.

“Think about how much noise we have in our world today…it is so hard to break through,” Alonso said. “A key part of our marketing strategy is to break through the clutter and give stickiness to our games. That involves building the right games and introducing that game to both the casino operator and players in ways that will drive people to play on the slot floor.”

It seems to me an answer already exists to part of this problem. Indeed, isn’t one of the primary attributes of server-based gaming technology, which, hard to believe, has been around for more than a decade, that you can easily and quickly switch games on the fly? On paper, such a system also allows you to target market to various areas of your slot floor. So it’s possible for a gaming property to flood a specific area-say next to a nightclub popular among younger clientele-with slots and play dynamics specifically designed to appeal to their social media ways and wandering eyes. Similar “zones of interest” can be created for various age and ethnic groups elsewhere throughout the gaming property in areas they tend to congregate.

But, surprisingly, server-based gaming acceptance has stalled of late. A study of 150 Casino Journal readers recently conducted by BNP Media’s Market Research Division found 31 percent of respondents said they had fully-networked slot machines with a centralized server that controls all gaming operations. However the largest group of those asked, some 35 percent, replied they still rely on traditional, non-networked slot machines. When asked why they have not yet adopted full server-based gaming, those with partial or non-network slot floors listed cost/budget limitations, uncertainty on ROI and technological issues (wiring/incompatible slots) as the primary barriers.

It’s hard to envision slots competing with the immersive experiences found in computer gaming and other social entertainment options if server-based gaming doesn’t eventually find more purchase in land-based casino properties. And as older players die off and younger clientele drift toward amusements more suited to their collective zeitgeist, marketing the casino palaces of yore may prove to be a marketing challenge even the Alonso’s of the world can’t match.