Coushatta Casino Resort is one of the finest properties in the southern region with a broad range of assets, save perhaps one: its location.
Visitors from Texas account for the majority of the business at the Kinder, La.-based resort, and most of that comes from the Houston area. On their way, they pass Delta Downs, in Vinton, La., and three properties in Lake Charles: Isle of Capri, L’Auberge du Lac and the most recent addition to the market, the Golden Nugget.
Customers who make the trip are treated to over 100,000 square feet of gaming space including the biggest slot floor in Louisiana with over 2,800 slots; 84 table games; a 450-seat bingo room and off-track betting. Just about every kind of gaming you can find in Louisiana is under their roof, in contrast to the riverboat competition. Coushatta also has over 900 hotel rooms in several different hotels; an RV park with its own tennis, basketball and volleyball courts; stocked pond and a dog park. Its golf course has been rated the top casino golf course in Louisiana and the state’s fourth best course. There’s also the Dream Pool with a swim-up bar and slides for the kids, and the family friendly offerings extend to a Kids Quest and Cyber Quest facility.
But the core offering of any regional casino is its slot floor and Coushatta’s ability to distinguish itself in terms of its product, service and marketing has been central to its success. In a presentation at this May’s Southern Gaming Summit, Warren Davidson, director of slots for Coushatta Casino Resort, showed just how much thought and diligence goes into this effort.
THE VALUE PROPOSITION
“Our philosophy to encourage people to make that trip is to position ourselves as a better value than our competition,” said Davidson. “It’s kind of a unique situation where we’re competing against riverboats and I get to see their numbers because they’re in the public domain and they don’t get to see ours.”
Coushatta’s tag line is, “Louisiana’s Best Bet,” and the property partners with Strictly Slotsmagazine, which certified its numbers as, “Certified Loose.” They advertise “Certified Loose” on billboards, and the value proposition extends throughout the property. “We have lower room rates than our competitors; lower table game minimums and lower minimum bets on slots,” said Davidson. “On a lot of the newer penny slots, people are trying to push the minimum bet up and up, but we still have a lot that you can bet lower amounts on. We also give higher rewards on tracked play: We hold less of our gamblers money when they come in and if they use a card they get more rewards back. That’s a huge reason why people drive that extra 45 minutes rather than stopping in Lake Charles.”
The better bet angle has long served Coushatta well, and it’s especially well-suited to the moment. Golden Nugget, which opened in late 2014, actually helped grow the market. Monthly revenues are now averaging around $70 million compared with $55 million in the months before the project opened. But the severe decline in oil and gas prices has hit the Houston market hard, and the Lake Charles market has started to see a downturn.
“Short term, low gas prices tend to give us a boost because it’s easier for people take that long drive, but, longer term, when they start to affect employment, you see a dip,” said Davidson. “We’ve been lucky in that we haven’t seen the same downturn that our competitors have. We attribute that to the great promotions that we do… our service and our value proposition. In a down market, people are always looking for more value.”
A PASSION FOR DATA
Davidson has been in gaming for about 25 years and some early lessons stuck with him. “One saying that I like, and this was told to me by one of my first bosses when I started in gaming about 25 years ago, is, ‘What we measure, we will improve.’ We always think of how we can measure what we do in order to see if we’re making progress,” he said. “Another one is, ‘We may not be 100 percent better at any one thing, but we can be one percent better at 100 things.’ So we really need to focus on where we can improve.”
Coushatta looks at a lot of data points in search of continuous improvement, and customer surveys are a major emphasis. “We put some juicy incentives out there so that people take the surveys and we get a lot of data and feedback; we use the information,” said Davidson. “We pride ourselves on our service and we’ve achieved net promoter scores on par with the best operators in our industry. With the company we use, we get to see how we measure up with companies all across our industry and we are right in line with the best operators.”
In order to improve service, Coushatta starts with keeping employees happy, which is a simple enough idea on the face of it, but they go deeper. “To do that you have to develop an effective leadership team, so we spent a lot of time developing one,” said Davidson. Supervisors and managers must clearly communicate employee expectations and hold people accountable; they must effectively counsel and encourage employees in a way that doesn’t damage self-esteem and put a larger focus on rewards and recognition, and sometimes that gets left out. They have to continually work on communication to build trust, respect and confidence and actively encourage having fun at work. “By focusing on those and all other kinds of initiatives, we were able to take our associates internal satisfaction levels from 65 percent to 85 percent. We’re very proud that we were able to achieve that.”
To maintain fast slot service, Coushatta uses a software program that works with dispatching and provides a broad range of data: how many change lights came on, how many tilts and those kinds of things. Most important, it measures how fast they get to a call as soon as a problem happens or after someone pushes a change switch. About 95 percent of the time (94.6, to be exact), they’re there in less than 3.5 minutes.
Coushatta dug deeper into the topic of change switches, since every time someone pushes that button, they are required to dispatch someone there. “We found this little product that protects the change switch button from being accidentally depressed,” said Davidson. “That cut the change switch activations down by about one-third; people would turn them on accidentally or housekeeping might press them on when they wiping the machines, so we don’t have to dispatch on people who don’t really need service, which allows us to get to people who really do need service on a faster basis.”
Another operating principle: Providing great slot service sometimes means preventing the need for service in the first place. Coushatta’s surveys showed an opportunity for improvement in bill acceptance, card acceptance and player tracking screen calibration. So slots got with the IT department to create custom reports that techs could use to make sure they were putting their attention in the right place at the right time. Some examples:
Bill validator rejection:Coushatta can sort this report and find the bill validators on the floor that have the highest number of rejections, because a much higher number means that something is likely wrong. Rather than have the techs reactively go into games that people complain about, they’re hitting the games that have the problems.
Card swipe errors: Coushatta received a lot of feedback that the machines wouldn’t read individual cards, so it measured and monitored card acceptance, which led down a number of paths to make a number of different improvements. They found a setting in one of the card printers that was incorrect and, eventually, a different type of card that had a better level of acceptance.
PIN failure reports: This is when people try to input their PIN numbers at the slot and, if the touchscreen is out of calibration—which happens on today’s player tracking equipment—find the machine won’t accept the PIN, according to Davidson. “It’s not as reactive as the phone that you’re carrying in your pocket,” he said. “So we have to deal with this technology that’s a little behind the times, but we can make the most of it.” A high number of PIN failures alerts Coushatta to the problem machines, which are immediately re-calibrated to work. These reports also led to a redesign of the PIN pad to create more dead space between the buttons so, for instance, it’s less likely that if you press 0, the number 1 would be activated.
KEEPING PLAYERS ENTERTAINED & INFORMED
On the game mix side, Coushatta is a big believer on being first-to-market whenever possible. “I’m always kind of beating the slot vendors to death to get the games to our place first, whether it’s a regulatory issue or getting the contract in first,” said Davidson. “More often than not, we’re first in the area, sometimes first in the state or even first in the world. We’re kind of known as the place that has the newest games. Between new game conversions, leased-game changes and new games coming in, we have something going on every week. We use size to our advantage; we’re not limited to square footage like our competitors. We use big banks; car banks and motorcycle banks that take up a lot of room that our competitors would never give up.”
All new games are announced on the casino’s Facebook page, where Coushatta has twice the number of followers than its closest competitor. Its web page, “has more features than any other operator’s I’ve seen,” said Davidson. All games on the floor are listed by manufacturer, information that can be accessed by clicking on their name. Updates on progressive meters are provided in real time for IGT jackpot games and there’s a slot game search function, all of which can be accessed on the casino’s mobile app.
“If you don’t have a smart phone, we have 15 iPad kiosks located throughout the floor,” said Davidson. “Once you locate the game you are looking for, you can see where it is on a floor map. You can search by name, denom, video or reel. One thing that’s unique, and I think we’re the only operators in the world who do this, is you can search our game mix by volatility.”
Volatility is explained on the site to the players, i.e. low volatility games pay frequently with lower amounts and are perfect for players who want to stretch out their play time. “Anyone who has worked on a casino floor for any period of time has heard people say, ‘I don’t expect to win big, I just want to play for a while;’ that’s someone who wants a low-volatility game,” said Davidson. “So now we have a way to direct people to a game that’s going to better match their expectations. And there’s no guarantee: We put a caveat in front of the player that tells them they can win big or lose big on any of these types of games, but you’re more likely to get the experience you’re looking for if you play the volatility that you have in mind.”
Coushatta employs people whose full-time job is taking pictures of jackpot winners and then posting them to the site. The company has evolved on posting slot jackpot updates: “We used to post the amount of jackpots won per week on Facebook. And then we started to get negative feedback, i.e., ‘I’m not winning, I don’t see it,’” said Davidson. “I wanted to come up with something more credible, so we pulled that back and now you can see the last 30 days with jackpot winners over $1,200. The thing that gives this legitimacy with our players is that it also lists the exact date and time down to the second of when that jackpot hit along with the machine location, which they can view with the press of a button. Players have been looking at this page more and more as well.”