Wind Creek Hospitality, the gaming operations arm of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, the only federally-recognized tribe in Alabama, has the advantage of a nearly captive market in its home state and excellent access to the Atlanta market, where it competes for gaming customers with Harrah’s Cherokee in western North Carolina
The other competitors on the horizon are based in Mississippi—the Gulfport-Biloxi region, which sits about 90 miles west of the company’s Atmore property, and Pearl River Resort in Philadelphia, the flagship property of the Mississippi band of Choctaw Indians.
“We have, I guess you would call it, the luxury of not having as many close competitors as many other operators,” said Tim Ramer, property manager, Wind Creek Atmore Casino & Hotel, who gave an overview of the company’s gaming business at the Southern Gaming Summit last month.
The Poarch Band started in gaming in 1985, with Creek Bingo Palace, and, in the past decade, smart, steady and strategic investments have been a trademark. All of its facilities offer Class II-only machines, which makes its growth all the more stunning. Wind Creek now operates three casino hotels in Atmore, Montgomery and Wetumpka. By way of example, in 2009, the flagship Atmore property opened. In 2012, a spa, culinary studio and concert amphitheater were added, followed by family entertainment such as a state-of-the-art movie theater and a 16-lane bowling alley in 2013.
Company-wide technology investments include upgrades of its slot system, which is supplied by Scientific Games. Wind Creek worked with Sci Games to deploy an ambient light function that upon card insertion emits a color around the iView window that glows according to player status (platinum, gold, or bronze), so whenever a game attendant or server approaches, they already know the players status without having to ask questions or guess. Wind Creek also leverages the system’s Elite Bonusing Suite game-within-a-game feature, which enables a secondary game function without interrupting the base game.
The BOSS beverage drink order system has been another investment. All drink orders from the floor are automated and properties are able to customize this by player. “A certain amount of coin-in is required before the beverage system becomes available,” said Ramer. “If you’re one of our VIP players and we know you like a martini with one olive rather than two, we can pre-load whatever your preference is. A picture of the server appears on the right-hand side of the screen and lets you know who’s bringing your drink. That helps eliminate drink squatters, who like to come in and get a free drink; the coin-in feature enables us to control that to some degree. Our guest satisfaction scores have risen tremendously because, usually the beverage order department gets dinged when you do those surveys.”
The company’s Giving Back program is another highlight. “We have been blessed to grow quite rapidly,” said Ramer. “We’ve really taken some great strides to soften the image of gaming, especially in South Alabama.”
Wind Creek seeks out opportunities to assist nonprofits, disaster relief; “wherever there’s a need.” Its Good to Go food truck has fed over 45,000 people at 187 events and travelled over 130,000 miles.
Wind Creek also has a TITO donation program which makes so much sense it should become an industry standard. Donation drums for penny/nickel/dime TITO tickets are placed around each property. “Rather than go home with those tickets, throw them on the dresser or throw them away, we allow you to donate them to our charity-of-the-month, such as schools, libraries and VFWs,” said Ramer. “This has been going on for about 13 months, and so far, that has added up to almost $130,000 that we’ve been able to give back.
“When you come and game at one of our properties, not only do we hope that you get much more than you bargained for, but a lot of the money goes back not just to the tribal community but to the entire community.”
Wind Creek does a lot of cool things on the marketing side, too. I don’t have the space to elaborate here, but if you want to hear first-hand, our opening keynote speaker at next month’s Casino Marketing & Technology Conference at Paris Las Vegas is Michael Perhaes, Wind Creek Hospitality’s vice president of corporate marketing. His speech is entitled, “After the Revolution: Engaging and Acquiring Customers in a Social-Mobile World.” Hope to see many of you there.