How to improve table game promotions
Driving revenue in table games is tricky. Table game play has been stagnant, even declining in some places, for years. Some table games are susceptible to advantage play, even more so if a table game operator throws a lucrative promotion on top of those games. Some table game promotions require the game to stop or slow down to execute the promo (drawing ticket, spin, giveaway, etc.) often irritating players. And in the last decade or so, casino promotions have predominately focused on slot players, making table game players, when they are even included in the promotion, feel like second class citizens.
Because of these challenges and more, many table game operators, under the gun to increase revenues, have responded—fairly predictably—by squeezing the games and squeezing the players. Examples of this include tightening the game of blackjack (six-to-five payoff on a blackjack, more restrictive rules on doubling and splitting, eliminating single-deck blackjack altogether); adding new games, game variations and side bets with a much stronger advantage for the casino; raising the minimum table game bets; using a variety of mechanisms to speed up the games (automatic shufflers, electronic table games, roulette chip sorters); cutting comps or requiring more play to receive them; and a variety of other cost-cutting or value-reducing moves.
Nonetheless, there are still progressive table game operators that have effective promotions that are popular with players and that move the needle. And often they are the same table games promotions that die at other casinos from inattention, lack of a strategy, poor execution, player indifference, being cheap or not injecting enough fun into the promotion equation. But these “table game gurus” know how to hit all the right buttons to offer promotions that resonate with their players and offer value for both the player and the casino property.
In this article, I will look at many of the various categories of table game promotions and highlight what the successful operators and marketers do to create a difference and indeed move the needle. Some of it may surprise you.
Special events for table game players can be established happenings that players find interesting (Super Bowl, Final Four, New Year’s Eve, etc.) They can be name entertainment popular with players. They can be small group dinners with the general manager or table games vice president. Whatever the events are, they are special, they offer value, and table game players feel good about them.
How savvy table game operators move the events needle:
- They ensure that whatever the event is, players are not consumed by all of its activities and have plenty of time to gamble.
- Senior table game executives are all there to “shake hands and kiss babies.”
- The events are themed and classy without being too expensive.
- They communicate with the dealers as well as the other departments to insure a “special” guest experience during the event.
- They invite the right table game players, those that are established and those that they are developing.
NEW TABLE GAMES & SIDE BETS
While blackjack, roulette, craps and baccarat continue to be the overwhelmingly dominant table games in casinos, hundreds of new games and side bets have surfaced in casinos over the decades. A few endure, and when they do, they can move the needle and attract dedicated players to them.
How savvy table game operators move the new games needle:
- They choose the new games carefully based on players’ ease of understanding them, whether or not they are fun to play, and their potential for long-term success.
- They make sure that the “house advantage” on the new games isn’t too high so they don’t take players’ money too fast.
- They are very diligent in understanding the mathematics of the new games (or side bets) so they are not exploitable by advantage players.
- They get their dealers well trained and excited about the new games, so that they can promote them on the floor.
- They roll out the new games with some fanfare, and possibly some free play or giveaways, to get table game players to sit down and play them.
- They give the games enough time on the table game floor so that they have a chance to generate trial and develop a player following.
- They understand and utilize the concept of “progressive bonuses” on new table games and side bets, so that payouts grow the more the people bet, sometimes to life-changing amounts.
TABLE GAME TOURNAMENTS
Table game tournaments involve players competing against each other at the same time they compete against the dealer. Those winning the most money (or game credits) on the game will earn additional prize amounts. “Major” tournaments typically have large cash prizes and either require an entry fee or a VIP invitation for established players of known worth. “Mini” tournaments are usually held to create some activity in the table game area and can either require a nominal entry fee or be free to established players, and prize amounts are small compared to major tournaments. Blackjack and poker are by far the most common tournament games, and occasionally you may see table game tournaments in baccarat, craps, roulette and a few of the specialty games.
How savvy table game operators move the tournaments needle:
- They run a fair tournament by establishing a strict set of rules, known to all competing players.
- At the same time, they make sure “fun” is part of the equation with an effective tournament host and friendly, engaging tournament dealers.
- They create a welcoming atmosphere for table game players who have not played in tournaments before and create a format where even an inexperienced player could win the tournament if luck ran their way.
- They make sure their most valuable table game players are invited to participate in the tournament, and often give them an incentive, such as free tournament entry, to do so.
- Professional tournament players are discouraged from participating in the tournament, either by the nature of the entry/invitation or the format.
- Tournament players are given time, convenience and sometimes incentives to play the “normal” table games before and after the tournament. After all, that is the purpose for having the tournament in the first place.
TABLE GAME INSTRUCTION PROGRAMS
Table game instruction programs are not “how to play” pamphlets that are handed out in a casino. They are organized instruction programs held in a real table game environment and led by an experienced table game employee with knowledge of all the table games offered in a casino. They are designed to get new table game players comfortable with the rules, strategies and protocols of a live game. They are typically conducted using non-negotiable table game chips but can also be offered on low-limit games with live money.
How savvy table game operators move the instructions needle:
- They understand that the table game lessons must be fun, easy to comprehend and create a level of confidence so new players will actually want to play the game.
- They recruit a knowledgeable table game pro to conduct the lessons, one who is personable, funny and can teach by simplifying the game’s basics—and they are willing to pay this teacher/entertainer well.
- They allow the table game instructor to explain why certain bets and strategies within the game are mathematically better than others, in order to build trust and confidence in the new players that the casino wants them to learn how to win at the game.
- They understand that the table game instruction program must be measurable, so they create measurements like new players club signups, table game tracked play from the students, new hotel reservations from new customers, and positive guest satisfaction ratings in surveys about the lessons.
Party pits are special table game areas focused on creating a relaxed, fun environment often utilizing attractive employees, music, theming and special promotions within the area. They are geared to attract young players, new players and players just looking for a different experience from the normal table game area. They can be sponsored by a variety of casino vendors, especially alcohol companies, and can be branded to tie into various entertainment or restaurant offerings of the casino.
How savvy table game operators move the party pit needle:
- They understand that the party pit lives or dies by the dealers who work there and, depending on the party pit strategy, they make sure they find the most attractive, personable and entertaining dealers they can.
- They use music, lights, decorations, signage and anything else necessary to bring the party pit area to life. They know it takes more than a few balloons and a boom box.
- They ensure they do things to maintain the “vibe” of the party pit, whether that is rotating in fresh and enthusiastic new party pit dealers periodically, having varied theme promotions around special holidays or events, or just having the party pit operate occasionally to maintain the surprise.
- They make the entertainment component the focus of the party pit rather than dealing procedures and “hands per hour,” without compromising the integrity of the games.
LARGE-SCALE PACKAGED PROMOTIONS
These “change your life” table game promotions are designed to offer large prizes for table game players over a specified period of time. Often, they are “turnkey” promotions offered by established companies like SCA Promotions and may have a progressive bonus element or a large grand prize that is insured by the contest company, so the casino is not on the hook if the grand prize is won. These types of grand-scale promotions can vary by prize structure, types of secondary prizes available, time of year, type of table game being promoted, and a variety of other factors. They are typically not cheap and are designed to produce a big bang in table games with a high-profile giveaway.
How savvy table game operators move packaged promotions needle:
- They understand that this is probably the biggest table game promotion they may do all year and they budget, plan, train and communicate with other supporting departments accordingly.
- If the promotion, for example, has a $1 million grand prize that someone “might win,” they have multiple secondary prizes that people “will win.”
- They mobilize the marketing department so that the promotion has a huge profile in the table game area and the casino during the entire duration of the event.
- They make sure that this grand promotion has a special VIP component to it, so that the best table game players are incentivized to participate in it for the entire duration—VIP kickoff, extra drawing tickets or spins, free play on special nights, etc.
- They carefully measure the results from the promotion, gather extensive feedback from the table game players participating in it and improve it accordingly for the future.
COMPS & FREE PLAY
Comps and free play are givebacks to table game players based on their value to the casino over some determined period of time. Comps are often free or discounted meals and rooms, although they can also include entertainment tickets, cigarettes, shopping items, golf, spa and anything else that can be purchased at a casino property. Free play is free or casino-matched bets on a table game, usually in the form of a chip or a coupon. The typically free play bets are “play until you lose them” chips, which act much like real casino chips, except they can only be bet and not cashed out; “one-time bet” chips or coupons, that are bet once and the player keeps the winnings from the bet and the casino takes the chip or coupon back; and “match play” chips or coupons, where the player must match the amount of the chip or coupon, and the player gets paid for the winning bet made out of their own pocket, plus the value of the match play coupon, with the casino retaining the coupon.
How savvy table game operators move comps and free play needle:
- They are generous within their player reinvestment framework and the players realize this.
- They pay attention to the math and analysis of the comp/free play programs, to insure they are not too generous and not rewarding advantage players.
- They make sure players are welcomed and treated respectfully and positively by the table game staff when they are utilizing their free play at the tables.
- Players are not forced to “beg” for comps or interact with multiple supervisors to finally get one, and it is clear to the players what they can expect.
- New players are offered comps liberally when their play is warranted and not forced to wait until “the system” catches up to their reward level.
SIMPLE INNOVATIVE PROMOTIONS
These are simple, inexpensive, player pleasing promotions and giveaways, often conjured up by a creative marketing manager or an innovative table game exec. They can include T-shirt or hat giveaways after so many hours of play (especially popular with players); limited-time bonus payoffs for certain winning combinations; surprise free play giveaways for random players or tables; bonuses during games like the Super Bowl or Final Four; offers of hard candies or chocolates to active players; and so on.
How savvy table game operators move the innovation needle:
- They make sure these promotions are simple, fun and have giveaways that players are glad to receive.
- Dealers and floor staff are motivated to create some hoopla around these promotions, sometimes receiving (or wearing) the same promotional items that are given to the players. They use the concept of “surprise and delight” with these promotions and don’t let them get old and tired, or have players expecting them routinely.
- While inexpensive, the promotional items given away in these promotions are authentic and desirable.
- They never make these promotions the core of the table game marketing efforts but have them stand out as a “nice touch” that enhances or develops player relationships.
There are various other marketing promotions for table games. Some mega-casinos offer “rebates on loss” for very high rollers. Sometimes the table games department will have its own component to a broader casino-wide promotion. Junket programs are used by some large casinos. Some will reward existing players for referral of new table game players. Whatever they are, be assured the savvy table game operator will use them to “move the needle.”
And the savviest table game operator of all may be the rare individual who understands that the best table game promotion of all may be having a motivated team of dealers and supervisors who know how to create a “great time, every time,” are skilled at building player relationships and realize that their real job is to be memory makers for table game players. And that indeed moves the needle.