The hardest working Lifetime Achievement Award winner at any gaming event ever has to be Mike Meczka of MMRC, the market research firm that bears his name and has conducted more than 1 million player interviews over the past few decades. Meczka received his well-earned award at the Casino Marketing Conference in Las Vegas in late July, where luncheon recipients received campaign-style buttons bearing the message, “It’s the Gambling, Stupid,” a take-off on the James Carville economy-focused message of the 1992 Bill Clinton campaign. The theme was picked up again by Meczka at a post-award session, where he sounded alarms that slot managers would do well to remember as they prepare for the 2013 G2E show later this month.

“At the core of the casino visit is a gaming experience, and gaming is the primary variable in this process,” said Meczka. “Our industry is at an absolute moment of change. We’ve had a 30-year run, and there are very few industries that have a 30-year run and continue without change. There are well over 500 places where I can legally gamble in the U.S. Given that, we must be very vigilant about what our customers want, particularly with online gaming and convenient at-home gaming. I can bet any race in the world through my TVG and my youbet.com accounts. Take a lesson from horse racing. Hollywood Park, after a storied past for 60 years, is going to close in December because the horse racing industry thought, those casinos, they weren’t going to hurt them much.”

The best form of self-defense is knowledge gained from players, who continue to be misunderstood, even though casinos are bursting at the seams with information on them. “Strive to think like a player; what do they need and what are their desires?” said Meczka. “I assure you, it’s not to win a life-altering jackpot; that’s not even part of their competitive set. It’s much more real than that.”

Meczka’s favorite form of research is the blue-ribbon panel, which is composed of the top 15 percent of players in terms of frequency and value. “These players have a lot in common; invite 200 of them to be part of your blue-ribbon panel for a year,” he said. “Treat it just like a board of directors; select certain people to come to a board of directors meeting with an agenda that is sent to them three weeks out. Invite enough for two groups of eight. Don’t give them anything; if you do, you’ll be creating unnecessary bias. They are there because they want to have as good a time as possible for the time they spend at your casino. Afterward, share the findings; people want to see the results and relevant action.”

As a researcher, Meczka has been sounding alarms for the past few years because, “I’m getting very concerned about people saying they are no longer playing the game because the game is not fun. And the reason it’s not fun is because the hold on penny slot machines is so great that it eats up the customer’s budget. At least that’s what players say.

“We have put product on the floor that precludes the patron from truly having a positive experience. We see from the research that people are playing less and visiting less. Patrons tell us that their perception of a jackpot is between $300 and $500, yet we have five- and six-figure jackpots. Patrons tell us they don’t like progressives, yet we have progressives on the floor. What we see is that we’re limiting the choice for the player and taking away from them.”

 Meczka said operators aren’t passing this information on to manufacturers. What better time to start than at G2E? See you there.