MARKETING: Storm clouds on the horizon
Compared to other industries, I believe the future of the gaming business looks relatively bright.
There are a number of new jurisdictions which, for a variety of reasons, are likely to legalize casino gambling. Online gaming in the United States looks more like a matter of “when” rather than “if.” Slot game development and innovation continues to be strong. And (especially) most people have come to accept various forms of gambling as legitimate entertainment choices, and not the “scourge on humanity” that was proclaimed in decades past.
But every industry, including gaming, faces challenges that if not addressed, can threaten its long term health and growth prospects. And while there are many opinions on what the long term challenges are that face our industry, these are mine (and I don’t expect you to agree with all of them):
CRITICAL QUESTIONS FACING OUR INDUSTRY• Where will the future generation of slot players come from?
Most might think that with all of the development of really cool slot games over the past decade, this wouldn’t be an issue. But I see a whole generation of twenty and thirty somethings who frankly find current slot games either boring or silly, and if they are attracted to anything at all in casinos, it is table games.
• As the wave of new technology continues to wash over the gaming industry, how will people stay an important part of a casino’s success formula?
Yes, we now have bill validators, ticket printers, ATMs, redemption kiosks, valet parking automated scanners, downloadable credits, and a bevy of really cool technologies. But if people don’t stay the central part of the gaming experience, I fear we will become vending machine casinos.
•Will high tax rates kill the experience?
In many jurisdictions, the government squeezes casino operators as hard as it can for maximum tax revenue. Yet this limits how much investment can ultimately be made in gaming facilities (do we really want just big slot warehouses?) and how much we can reward our customers for their loyalty and continued patronage.
• How will we handle the coming of online gaming in the U.S.?
If the rest of the world is any indicator, online gaming is coming and it’s coming sooner rather than later. The challenges of how it’s regulated and marketed are critical to insuring that it’s complementary to land-based gaming and not carnivorous of it.
• Will all casinos eventually be smoke-free?
I know some tribes would answer this question with “Never!” and many other commercial operators in the few remaining casino smoking jurisdictions will fight it with every bit of their last remaining breath. But the truth remains; smoke is an acknowledged public health issue that has significant legal, marketing and PR ramifications for casinos and these aren’t going away.
• Are we going to honor and protect tribal government gaming?
Many states in the U.S. (Minnesota, Florida, New York, California, etc.) have seen the bonanza that gaming has been for tribes, and now want some of those benefits and revenues for themselves. Who will stand up for the tribes as states try to adjust, renegotiate, or renege on their tribal gaming agreements?
• Will the gaming industry’s response to the problem gambling issue be a source of pride or shame?
Anti-gamers will always think casinos prey on the weak and create the problem gambling issue, but an honest, future response here will determine if casinos are seen by the public as “white hat” or “black hat” guys.
• How will we keep casino employees motivated and engaged?
Yes, there is much fun and enjoyment in working in the “adult Disneylands” known as casinos. But there are also losing patrons, smoky environments, repetitive jobs, staffing pressures, undesirable shifts, uncertain career paths, and other workplace factors that make it hard for casino employees to maintain that “Colgate smile.”
• How will we keep the casino experience fresh and exciting?
If we are not careful, the most emotionally charged and exciting customer experience in the world (gaming!) could easily start to feel like a couple of hours at the movies. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I hope it never becomes our thing.