This month marks my 63rd year on the planet, and this year marks my 40th in the gaming industry.
The last 17 of those working years have been spent serving clients in the industry as a consultant. I can’t imagine a more interesting profession, especially as gaming has been born, evolved, and now matured. I have seen the gambling business go from being “Nevada only,” to “nearly everywhere.”
It was easy in the early years. “Build it and they will come” was not too far off the mark. Have a decent gaming facility, a solid core gaming product, enough amenities and good grub, and, well, count your money.
Today though, it is a very different story, as the commercial gaming industry has spread not only across North America but all over the world. I have worked with hundreds of those casinos and become familiar with the gaming markets of hundreds more.
As I see it, there are now only two kinds of casino markets—those that are competitive, and those that soon will be.
Gaming operators have to work harder (and smarter) to be successful in competitive gaming markets. They can’t charge for parking. Casino room rates must be attention-getting, not bankroll-draining. The price of gaming is defined more by what the gambler is willing to pay than what the operator can “get away with.”
I have seen a number of smart, savvy operators now in competitive gaming markets, and while their recipes for success may vary some by market (Las Vegas vs. Atlantic City vs. Biloxi vs. several competitive tribal gaming hotbeds for example), their guiding principles and business strategies have a number of commonalities that offer us all significant learning.
From my consultant’s seat, successful gaming operators in some of the most competitive markets in the world:
- Know who they are, know what their customers really want, and don’t have to undergo the futile exercise every few years of trying to “rebrand” themselves.
- Don’t get involved in crazily expensive free play wars, because they know that buying business is no substitute for earning it.
- Value great customer service and don’t just give it lip service. They pay great attention to who gets to work in their organization, they spend money against never-ending training, they measure, they reward and they listen hard and honestly to their team members’ input and suggestions, knowing they truly hold the keys to their customers’ hearts.
- Have senior managers who realize the importance of devoting considerable time building relationships with casino customers. They work, rather than shun, weekends.
- Understand the link between great food and a great casino business. They never squeeze food cost ratios at the expense of diminished guest delight.
- Are never seen as “cheap” with their customers, and never have mostly worthless coupons, substandard gifts or promotional items, giveaways and drawings, where no one really wins anything; or product brands in their business that none of their customers ever would have in their homes.
- Gather meaningful and action-oriented data only when it can shed real light on the business or provide a better customer experience. They don’t obsess over numbers, ratios or analyses that numb minds but deflect from doing what most matters to guests.
- Never sweat the competition, and in fact tend to ignore it. If they obsess over anything, it’s fear of missing something that could eventually delight the customer.
- Have a workplace and casino environment that is palpably just more fun than others in the market.
- Understand the mantra, “It’s the gambling, stupid!” They never do anything that breaks the unwritten (and powerful) code of the savvy operator; that if you provide real gambling value and real “time on device” for players, you will win a loyalty that no “loyalty program” can ever buy.
You can learn a lot from following the best tactics of the best operators in the most competitive casino markets. Or you could just go spend a week at Barona and see it all in real life.