There was a time not too long ago that you could count the total number of gaming jurisdictions across the United States on two fingers, then just one hand, then two hands.
In these nascent casino expansion markets, the availability of tourist play was limited and in most cases, these markets served a “locals” gaming population who lived within a 25 to 50 mile radius of a particular property or group of properties. This locals market was made up of players that could easily travel to and from a particular casino location on any given day and at any given time and could do so as often as they desired. They were day trippers, coming in to play for a few hours, and then returning home.
However, the desire to gamble was not limited to just those players who lived within easy access of a particular casino property. Gamblers came from hundreds, even thousands of miles away, looking for the excitement and allure of the casino gaming experience. These “transient players” may have only come a few times a year, but they came from across the country and across the world by the tens of thousands and every casino saw this as an opportunity for expansion and growth.
The locals casino market versus transient casino market segments created an opportunity for every marketing director to exploit. The locals came on a regular basis. The local players became familiar and comfortable with a particular casino, developing a connection with their surroundings and their relationships grew between the players and the staff. These players bonded with the gaming environment and, like their favorite menu items at a neighborhood restaurant, they found their favorite games they loved to play. Loyalty between the casino and the players soon developed and expanded.
The transient player demographic was somewhat different. Lacking the same regular exposure to specific slot machines and table games the locals player had, these traveling players didn’t necessarily have favorite games or develop staff loyalties. Their goal was to play and enjoy the excitement, the experience and the fast paced action of the casino. Their frequency of visits was far less than a local player mostly because of the distance traveled; however the transient player tended to stay longer and spend more money per trip while at the casino. As this trend continued, operators quickly determined whether they were catering primarily to the local player or the transient player and developed strategies to direct this influence on their gaming floors and their ongoing and future operations.
Players Clubs, promotional offers and the various rewards systems developed by casinos to incent players evolved to meet the challenges of these two market segments. Because of the higher trip frequency and proximity to the casino, offers and rewards provided to the local players were usually of a lower cost and delivered more often. These incentives were primarily based on the player’s trip frequency and aggregate spend over multiple day trips, with the desire to increase the player’s spend during the visit or to extend each visit if only by an hour. For transient players, incentives with greater value to drive longer and more profitable trips were offered to tempt the transient player both from their home and from the competitor’s casino.
Bus programs were developed to drive player traffic to the casino and to make it easier for longer distance local players to access a casino. These bussing programs helped extend the reach of a casino out to a radius of 100 miles or more. The offers associated with the bus player were created to incent the local player to come to the casino more frequently and usually included some type of free play gaming coupon and food offer. These incentives had a high perceived value with players giving them the opportunity to play and eat for free during their extended day trip.
Initially, a transient player may not have received any offer at all, or if they did, it was based more on the duration of their trip and the player’s aggregate spend during that trip hoping to extend the trip by one or more days. These offers came at a higher cost to the casino since they not only included some type of gaming offer along with a food offer, but they also included hotel accommodations and sometimes transportation.
The gaming product found on a casino floor for a local market versus a transient market varied as well. Game mix and a changing variety of games may be more important to the local player than a transient player since they see and play the games more often. Locals have their favorites games that they want in the same spot trip after trip, yet at the same time, they like the option and value of variety of product offerings on the floor. Locals want the casino to feel like home.
For the transient player, focused on experiencing everything about the casino during their short trip, they wanted entertainment at every turn across the casino floor. New bells and whistles—in the form of themed games that they were already familiar with from television, board games and the movies—attracted players to a familiarity they experienced outside the casino but connected to their time inside the casino. The operator also had different pricing opportunities for the transient player since they tended to be less sensitive to a higher hold percentage because they didn’t have regular trips to compare their experiences.
A NEW GAME
Fast forward to 2014 and it’s easy to see that gaming has proliferated and grown across the country. The past 20 years have seen legalized gambling extend across the country to 48 states. Resort casinos, riverboat gaming, racinos and tribal operations have found their way into big cities, small towns, thriving communities and even some very rural locations. Whether it’s a VLT game, a Class II device or a Class III slot machine, casino players don’t have to travel very far to find a casino to visit or a game to play.
As competition grows and casino gaming becomes more available across the country, the need to travel great distances to gamble diminishes. Players who once traveled thousands of miles to find a gaming mecca may find themselves driving just down the street; the once transient player has now become a local player given their new proximity to a nearby casino.
This gaming expansion and recent consolidation of many casino operators blurs the lines between the traditional local and transient casino markets to the point that it is almost nonexistent. Players frequent multiple casinos in a variety of jurisdictions across the country. They are players club members at each of the casinos they frequent and although these casinos may be in completely different jurisdictions, some may be owned by the same parent corporation and utilize the same player’s club program. Players take advantage of any and all offers or promotions that are available. Now with the same players’ club program available at different casinos across the country, the once transient player is now a local market player, often in more than one market. Casinos are competing not just with their immediate neighbors, but also with sister properties and casinos hundreds of miles away.
This new player has become a more aware consumer of gaming products. Casinos are being scrutinized now more than ever by their players. Players are shopping the competition for the best value and offers possible. They compare gaming product, atmosphere and service and make their choices accordingly. They are no longer a local or a transient player, but they are a valued player and educated consumer, spending their entertainment dollars at either near or far locations that offer them the best perceived value and service. With so many casino options, these players can afford to be picky, because their business is valued by the operator who is intent on maintaining and growing their market share.
Regardless of the distance players travel to frequent a casino, operators must continue to pursue players for their loyalty to their organization. Providing superior guest service, entertaining gaming product, and loyalty-building incentives will drive business and are keys to success, whether your player frequents the casino every day or only during their annual vacation. In the end, it’s all about building and sustaining loyalty from local and transient players.