I have been to hundreds and hundreds of casinos in my 45-year gaming career, and I wagered in most of them.
I have watched casinos open, close, and then open again. I have seen giant casino companies gobble up the world, spin off “orphan properties” (non-strategic assets) and then get gobbled up themselves. I have observed family operations, tribal operations, racinos, government casinos (Oh, Canada), bingo halls, truck stop VLTs, online casinos, sports betting operations, social gaming, fantasy sports, eSports, “clubs in pubs” and various other ways to “have a flutter,” as the Aussies call it.
Who would have believed 20 years ago that we would be witnessing such an explosion in legalized gaming options around the world?
My career has been spent primarily in service to tribal and commercial casinos in North America. I have always been curious as to the differences between the very successful and the marginal casino operators. I could write (another) book on that topic alone.
What I think I have learned about successful casinos are these two things:
- You have to offer value to customers; and
- There are several ways to offer that value and be successful.
Here are some of the winning casino success formulas that I have witnessed, all different, all successful, and all proving that there are many ways to get into a casino goer’s wallet.
The Monopoly: Whether it’s big or small, regional or local, amenity-laden or a pure gambling joint, it’s hard to screw up if you have a casino monopoly. Although gambling proliferation has eliminated some monopolies and reduced others to limited monopolies, they still exist and are generally very successful. Their challenges include staying fresh, not getting too greedy with the customers (after all, competition may still arrive one day) and being reasonably friendly and “easy to do business with.”
The Destination Megaresort: There have been some spectacular failures in this category, but successful megaresort operators have found many different profitable revenue streams besides gaming. Hotel, entertainment, food and beverage, retail—in Las Vegas now, most Strip megaresorts earn more from these “other categories” than they do from the traditional gaming cash cow. They are challenged by significant levels of necessary ongoing capital reinvestment, resisting the urge of squeezing their customers too hard (resort fees, parking fees, etc.), planning for changing customer demographics and purchasing habits, and answering the marketing aggressiveness and wizardry of the other “big guys.”
The “Cheers” Casino: This category can include large or small casinos, but almost always serves high-visitation local customers. If you are a regular customer here, it does seem that “everybody knows your name.” The best of this bunch seems like strong and respected members of the local business community. The slots tend to be looser and the food reasonably priced. They conduct regular, frequent casino promotions. Players feel this is “their place.” Challenges in this category include difficulty in finding new players and making them part of “the family,” and doing things to keep the “homey” experience fresh and exciting.
The Gambling Joints: These casino operators don’t want everyone to visit, just what Harrah’s used to call AEP’s (Avid Experienced Players), or in other words, gamblers. Whether a local’s facility or a destination resort, successful properties in this category will have the loosest slots and the best table game odds. They will likely have reasonably priced hotel rooms and food, leaving their “players” more room in their gambling budgets. But they are challenged to attract the casual gambler or the casino visitor driven in by extensive amenities, not gambling.
So there you have it, five categories of casinos, with successful operators in every one of them. Often, some casinos blend a few successful tactics from different categories, creating a profitable operating “blend.”
And then there is one final casino category that dwarfs them all. It is a category of one—it is called Barona and it truly is the “Happiest Casino on Earth,” with the most loyal players and staff I have ever seen with the most unique and powerful operating formula in our business. You should really visit and see what I mean.