Casinos explore new ways of getting and keeping customers in today’s tough economic climate

Not so very long ago, casinos could count on a good direct mail campaigns to do the trick of getting players in the door and keeping them as loyal customers for years.

But as competition grew more intense, casino operators started looking to technology to help make the art of getting and keeping customers into more of a science of getting and keeping good customers.

Now, with a tanking economy and players with even fewer dollars in their wallets to spend, casinos, gaming manufacturers and others are upping the ante even more to try to capture any new customers they can, ensure their regulars aren’t being lured away by a competitor and encourage players to spend a little bit more or visit more often because of the entertaining experience they’re getting.

Derik Mooberry, Bally Technologies vice president of system sales, Western Division, said many operators are more interested than ever about systems technology that can deliver more value to the casino operations and to the player experience.

“Folks will often ask me how are things going, and they’re actually going quite well, and I think one of the reasons behind that is that if you’re an operator now’s the time to take advantage of technology. And if there was ever a business case to make these investments, potentially it’s when times are bad that actually make the most sense because you think about what these products do. They give you a chance to make more money, which everyone wants to do in tough economic times or they give you a chance to streamline operations.”

Javier Saenz, vice president of IGT Network Systems product management and marketing, said operators are showing renewed interest in many of the systems products IGT has had for a while. “They’re seeing they have to compete a little bit more aggressively to hold their ground,” he said.

Many are interested in IGT’s bonusing products and in IGT’s Mariposa suite of business intelligence and CRM tools.

Saenz pointed to mystery jackpots and tools that allow a property to “schedule return play.” “You can actually stimulate players and incentivize them to visit on the slower periods of the week and afternoons. We’re just seeing a renewed interest in some of the bonuses we have.”

Operators also are keenly interested in analytics and campaign management, seeking to make smarter business decisions, Saenz said. “When the money’s just flowing in the door, that can hide a lot of mistakes, but when you’re fighting for every penny you really have to have clarity in your information.”

Behavioral and predictive analytics help casinos make sure they’re delivering the right offer to players.

“It’s really been about taking a step back and making sure every dollar is being spent wisely. There’s just no room for any mistakes at all,” Saenz said. “If a player is in fact declining in their play, you want to make sure you’re rightsizing your offers to that player.”

Increased marketing and promotions has helped Pechanga Resort & Casino in Temecula, Calif., stay its coursse, said Buddy Frank, vice president of slot operations at Pechanga. And he said he believes other operators are doing the same.

“I think most casinos are stepping up their marketing in an effort to entice customers to come to the casinos and play,” said Buddy Frank, vice president of slot operations at Pechanga Resort & Casino in Temecula, Calif. “We’ve always had terrific volumes. Our volumes of people are as high as they’ve ever been, but their spends are down a little bit.”

Technology is helping Pechanga’s marketing efforts, he said. “We’re really excited not only about what technology brings to us in terms of efficiencies but also what new technology brings to the gaming experience,” he said.

“One of the tools technology has unlocked at Pechanga is the ability to offer downloadable and uploadable credits,” Frank said.

Pechanga uses Bally Technologies’ Power Promotions systems-based mystery bonus promotion to help drive visitation and heighten excitement on the floor.

Pechanga dubbed its version Power Millions. It offered large progressive jackpots that started at $750,000 and were designed to hit by $1 million. “We also offer a promotion called 777, which allows seven players to randomly win $1,000 each at 7 p.m. each weekday,” said Frank, noting that more-attainable promotion drives weekday play.

One of the features Frank likes about the Bally product is it allows the operator to set the a promotion’s parameters. “We can have infinite control over that.”

Mooberry noted that that’s exactly what Bally wanted to provide to operators – the tools to allow them to create the promotion that worked best for them.

“Customers ask us all the time, ‘Do you mind if we rebrand the product?’ And actually we encourage it. That’s one of the great things about these products. You can take two customers, they can use the same product and use them in wildly different ways.”

“That’s one of the things we worked really hard at. We wanted to give you a whole range of different settings and options, and then you dream up what the event is for the consumer and our tools will fit to that,” Mooberry said.

Frank noted that Pechanga was in the middle of a slot product expansion at the same time as the economic downturn’s effects were being felt. The Power Millions promotion started at about the same period, and Pechanga has seen an almost 50 percent increase in carded play, Frank said.

“If you give them more reasons to join [the player’s club], they join,” he said.

“People loved it,” he said of Power Millions. “We gave away two jackpots –one $840,000 and one $875,000.”

Frank said he believes it’s important to offer both a high-value jackpot as well as the more attainable smaller prizes. Pechanga isn’t afraid to try new things or mix promotions.

“We try to vary it up. You want to keep them fresh and exciting,” he said.

At various times, Pechanga has offered the SCA Gaming promotions, which create slot floor excitement through various larger than life game show promotions and million-dollar awards that are covered by SCA.

“Those fit in with changing it up,” he said. “You can go with a much larger prize. We have quite often done those types of promotions with larger prizes.”

The casino also has offered gas cards to players, especially when gas was particularly high last year.Frank also is a fan of tried-and-true food and beverage promotions. “People respond to those tremendously,” he said.

Another effective promotion is the basic slot tournament, he said, noting both Bally and IGT offer some excellent products to allow a casino to switch games to “tournament mode.”

Both IGT and Bally are working to leverage signage through the digital glass on the top box of gaming machines as well as integrating signage across a property. These efforts can help promote gaming and other amenities while players are on property, and offer other ways of enhancing the player experience.

“We’re always looking at ways to use that digital top glass to promote excitement and really create that gaming experience,” Saenz said.

Mooberry said that such integrated signage “gives us the opportunity to link all the bonusing and marketing events with media because bonusing and marketing events are only successful to the extent they have media wrapped around them. So now the same message you see down at the iVIEW screen will be the same message on the plasma sign, [and] will be the same message you see on the big screen out on the street.”

Pechanga also works with social networking sites, such as Facebook, keeps its Web page updated constantly with promotional information. “We are all looking at the Internet to find more interesting ways of promotion,” Frank said.

Pechanga also has found success with e-mail blasts it sends to customers on a regular basis. “They are very effective,” he said, offering players credits if they come in by a certain time or offering special credits for someone’s birthday.

“These are things that are totally automated,” Frank said. “Before you had to send out a direct mail piece. They had to come to redemption at the players club and then probably the cashier’s club. And now that’s all automated. I think the guest finds it more convenient.”

Both Saenz and Mooberry said their respective companies are exploring what potential Facebook and other social networking sites may offer the gaming industry.

Frank noted that it offers the ability to communicate directly with guests and to tailor the offer to the level of the guest. “And that’s very cost effective,” he said.

“You need to make good offers that are well-thought-out. One of the worst mistakes, I believe, is to be overgenerous, because it will not play out in the long run,” Frank said.

There’s also the danger of price wars that are negative for everyone. But “if you go out with great offers that are tailored to the player and that are imaginative and creative, you will succeed,” Frank said.

Another marketing tool being developed by Bally Technologies is the Power Card, which is similar to the retail gift cards a person might pick up at the grocery store but, instead of Starbucks or Home Depot, the retail outlet is a casino. “I think Power Card is going to be an absolute home run,” Mooberry said. “As an operator, gift cards have huge value. The value is you’ve got the best of both worlds. It’s very rare for someone to spend less than the amount, and if they do you’ve got breakage, which is great for the operator. And it’s very rare that someone to spend the exact amount, meaning more than likely they’ll probably spend more than the amount,” he said.Bally believes that same value can be brought to casinos. “What Power Card gives you is it gives you a chance to sell to someone you might not have sold to before,” Mooberry said. “The other avenue is it could be used for marketing. It could be used as a prospecting tool mailed to consumers and activated only at the casino.”

Mooberry said Bally plans to test the product this summer at a couple of casino locations.

Waltham, Mass.-based GameLogic, Inc. provides a variety of interactive marketing products and services, including player portals, promotions and database marketing technologies and tools to the regulated gaming industry. The solutions are proven to help casino and lottery operators create effective marketing strategies that attract new players and increase revenue from existing ones. Leveraging the tremendous popularity of online games, GameLogic’s PlayAway system features Fun Play, Bonus Play, Challenge Play and Money Play modules - all which provide players with an exciting interface for “personalized play” complete with games, programs and promotions.

The company has made significant inroads into the casino industry, the most recent installation is at Pearl River Resort Casino in Mississippi. Pearl River is using GameLogic’s solutions at its Silver Star and Golden Moon Casinos to create effective marketing programs that attract new, qualified players while maximizing revenues from existing ones.

GameLogic’s newly released interactive marketing platform is the foundation of a casino’s Internet marketing strategy, facilitating marketing programs flexibly targeted at multiple prospect and player segments. PlayAway games will immediately provide Pearl River with the ability to deliver the excitement of winning right into the homes of its Rewards Club members. Upon full implementation, Pearl River Rewards Club members will gain access to GameLogic’s web portal, giving every member a personal “play space” - complete with free online games surrounded by casino calendar, promotions, advertisements and more.

John E. Taylor, Jr. GameLogic president and chief executive officer, said he is thrilled that Pearl River Resort has joined the ranks of casino operators using GameLogic’s products to engage its target audience in new and innovative ways.

“More and more gaming operators recognize the importance of the Internet as a core marketing channel, and our proven solution as a practical way to expand their Internet presence, all while delivering significant ROI, quickly and cost effectively,” Taylor said in a June news release.

Pearl River is currently using GameLogic’s Fun Play module, a suite of free, traditional casino-style Internet games, available to visitors of the Silver Star and Golden Moon casinos at In the coming weeks, players will be able to use its Bonus Play and Challenge Play modules, in which club members can play fun Internet games to to reveal bonuses and awards. Ultimately, the games are designed to encourage player loyalty and drive visits to the bricks and mortar casino.

While a lot of these new marketing efforts are based on cutting-edge slot systems technology, many of the most successful slot promotions aren’t necessarily dependent on such technology.

For instance, Des Plaines, Ill.-based SVM has delivered value by helping casinos earn loyalty through gasoline and retail gift cards for players.

Dallas-based SCA Promotions offers a variety of risk-free mega-jackpot promotions that stimulate casino excitement, return visitation and capture e-mail and other vital player information. SCA Gaming has worked with more than 300 properties in North America, South America, Australia, Europe and around the globe on more than 3,000 gaming promotions, paying out over $70 million in cash in prizes and covering over $850 million in promotional risk. SlotManager