Bill Fishman is director of slot operations at Palace Casino Resort in Biloxi, where he has worked since 2004. After operating in temporary quarters post-Katrina, Palace’s 981-machine permanent facility opened as a smoke-free location in 2011. Slot Manager Editor Charles Anderer talked to Fishman about the challenges of the ultra-competitive Gulf Coast market.
How would you characterize the Gulfport-Biloxi market?
FISHMAN: It’s very competitive. Everybody is doing promotions on the weekend and pretty much every day of the week. There is a very high use of free play. I’m sure it’s very similar to other markets. We’re all fighting for the same customer.
What’s your philosophy toward free play?
FISHMAN: It’s a necessary evil, especially when you’re in a market like this and everyone’s using it. In the current economy, the vast majority of our players are value seekers and free play gives them the opportunity to extend their time at device and overall length of stay at the property.
How much do you tend to invest?
FISHMAN: I’m sure some of the larger operators have a little bit more leeway than a privately-owned casino. One thing we talk about is high-frequency players; they’re already coming to your property, so why give them as much as you are? I’m really afraid to reduce their offers for fear that they’re going to abandon us because it is such a highly competitive market. There is no loyalty; everyone’s out for the best offer they can get.
Your floor here looks pretty fresh; what kind of refresh rate do you try to manage to?
FISHMAN: Like a lot of operators on the Coast here, Katrina kind of did us a favor in that we started off with a blank slate about seven years ago. No game on the floor is older than that. At the Palace we had a little bit of an advantage in that we added 300 games with extra floor space when we built out to the permanent floor. We tweaked the floor a little bit, removing mostly older stuff like S 2000’s. The casino floor now has a lot more space; it’s more comfortable for the player.
I would like to be at around 10 percent as far as new boxes as concerned. The last couple of years, I have been around five or six percent, mainly because I have so much new equipment on the floor.
Does that refresh number include upgrades of existing product?
FISHMAN: No; I usually do about 10 to 15 percent conversions. I keep the floor very fresh through the use of lease and participation games. I have certain performance standards that I try to uphold far as maintaining a premium over house average that I feel is an allowable percentage for lease and participation. Once it falls under that, I’m looking for something new to replace it with. The vendors understand that; pretty much all of them are putting a lot of R&D money into lease and participation.
The floor is very open and user-friendly.
FISHMAN: I prefer shorter banks, four to six machines and endcaps, which we use to showcase many of our lease and participation games. I also utilize various size carousels to give the player a little extra elbow room while playing and usually provide visual interest at intersections of major pathways in the casino. Whatever long banks we have are against the walls.
What types of games are doing well for you right now?
FISHMAN: We are very much a regional casino. Our bread-and-butter is our penny videos, which is what people are attracted to in this market based on our observations. There are games approaching 10 years of age in their original cabinets that are still extremely popular like the old Aristocrat Sun & Moon; I can’t have enough of them on my floor. There are some very volatile games that are popular; and then there are some very volatile games that people shy away from. Many of the player favorites contain bonuses that offer free games and/or high- frequency mystery progressives.