Publishers of the handy annual American Casino Guide recently came out with their 2013 edition, which includes the top five complaints players have about casinos, based on thousands of player reviews from their

In descending order, here they are:

5 . Too smoky—Casinos need better ventilation to help players avoid smelling like an ashtray after leaving the casino.

4 .Long lines—There’s nothing worse than standing in a long, slow-moving line, whether at the players’ club or the buffet.

3.Lack of slot attendants—Now that payoffs are made by tickets instead of coins, there are fewer attendants roaming the aisles. If there’s a machine malfunction, the wait for an attendant can be endless.

2. Poor direct-mail offers—If a casino wants a player to fly in, or drive hours to get to them, do they really think $5 in free play is going to do it?

1. Tight machines—Players know slot machines are going to best them in the long run, but they want to at least have some fun for a while, rather than being drained quickly.

I know at least one person who would confirm the validity of the top objection. We’re giving a much-deserved Lifetime Achievement Award in July at Casino Marketing Conference at Paris Las Vegas to a guy who has interviewed more players than anyone: Mike Meczka, the president of MM/R/C, who has been at it for over 35 years and whose firm has conducted more than one million individual quantitative interviews. I’m sure objection number one wouldn’t come as any surprise to Mike, who I interviewed on the topic last year. Here is some of what he said:

“The primary independent variable (of a casino) continues to be and always will be the gambling,” said Meczka. “The only time the customer is going to stop is when they run out of money too quickly. Not just when they run out of money, but when they don’t get the appropriate time/price/value equation. They’re saying, ‘I’m going to give you $10,000, but keep me in play Friday and Saturday so when I go home Sunday, I feel like I got some value. Don’t make me go through this at $15 a hand and, lo and behold, I’m gone Friday night.’

“They would love to have lower hold games that would keep them in play longer. They don’t expect to win every time, just occasionally, just to give themselves

 “In the two decades between major recessions, the U.S. casino industry developed a model that people truly liked. Revenue has declined primarily because people have fewer discretionary dollars to spend, not because their desire to spend time at a casino has diminished.” 

more ammunition to continue the fight. They recognize that they’re playing a negative proposition game. When they play a slot game, their only reward is time in a casino and enjoying the casino. They say, ‘I know I’m going to lose, I’m not going to have anything to build to, and those bonus rounds are bogus and random, but I’m here to enjoy the casino and the atmosphere.’”

Meczka was talking about high-end players, but the point obviously holds for all segments; players want to play. And, as the above lists suggests, they also want to be understood (give me what I want based on where I live and what my behavior is already telling you), some TLC and the ability to breathe freely. The good news is all of this is doable from a casino operator’s perspective.

What has been quite reassuring about the past five years is visitor volumes have held up in jurisdictions across the country. In the two decades between major recessions, the U.S. casino industry developed a model that people truly liked. Revenue has declined primarily because people have fewer discretionary dollars to spend, not because their desire to spend time at a casino has diminished.

Of course, that’s a reading of the here-and-now, which is firmly fixed in sand. If you had to bet which way the discretionary income pendulum will swing, there’s a stronger argument for pessimism than optimism. I remember a speech by Jim Allen of Hard Rock International shortly after the meltdown which still holds true: To paraphrase, the days of borrowing spending money off of rising house prices are over. Now, perhaps it’s the stock market that makes up a little for continuously stagnant incomes, but most people have grown cautious about the stability of that source of wealth as well.

Which brings me back to the list and to Mike Meczka, who our friend Dennis Conrad of Raving Consulting had the good sense to suggest honoring next month at the conference we have worked together on for ten years now: If there’s a top ten list of people who really get what players are looking for, those two have to be on it.