“I am waiting for you, Vizzini. You told me to go back to the beginning. So I have. This is where I am, and this is where I’ll stay. I will not be moved.” —Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride
For those of you who are, like me, aficionados of the movie The Princess Bride, it’s inconceivable that Vizzini offered the wise advice quoted above, but a good thing that Inigo Montoya followed it.
As we prepare to reopen casinos, will your strategy be to fling open the doors and hope to get back to 80 percent of where you were by next year? This is the general consensus that I am hearing as I speak with casino operators across the U.S. Of course, everyone will have a social distancing strategy. Most will limit the number of slot machines and spots at the tables. Some will invest in barriers that will go between slots and gallons of disinfectant. There will be temperature cameras at the entrances and many other ingenious ways to make the public feel safe again.
However, will that actually be what the public is looking for? Is it a germ- and virus-free zone that they are in search of? Or is that just reminding them about the same troubles that are outside the casino?
I grew up in Reno. My family frequented Harrah’s, The Flamingo, The Sands and John Ascuaga’s Nugget. Although I was too young to gamble, it was still a fun place to be because everybody was so nice and the food was incredible. They knew that the key to keeping people coming back was personalized service. I am not talking about a card that gave you points and status. I mean that any person that worked in the casino could buy you dinner for no other reason than to keep you happy. If you won enough, the pit boss comped your stay. The general manager knew your name and was not afraid to come down to the floor. They wanted you to come back, even if it meant investing in you. Investing in you meant that if they had to pay for your ride home and send you in their limo, they knew you were coming back—if not tomorrow, some day. Because you were treated like a guest.
This, my friends, is the future of our industry. I feel that as casinos have gone further down the rabbit hole of technology, they have moved further away from customer service. By automating the process, we have removed the opportunity for an employee to say, “thank you for coming in, what did you like most about your visit?” People come in to forget about their troubles and take a chance at winning something big. But whether they win or not, they want to be treated well and feel like guests, not a number on a card. If they win big, give ‘em a meal; If they lost big, give ‘em a meal. The experience is completed when they are shown appreciation by the property and its employees, not how many points were accumulated.
“Go back to the beginning,” as Vizzini suggested, and invest in your customer’s experience regardless of their status.
With the invention of the player tracking card and the systems that assign value to the customer, we have moved further toward a simplistic view of the general population of the casino. We lump groups of people into silos and treat them accordingly. Their past or history decides the level of service the casino is going to give them if anything at all. This is not the new norm. “Go back to the beginning,” as Vizzini suggested, when every patron should be treated well and have someone begging them to come back and play.
Go back to the beginning with your games as well. There was no triple zero on roulette. Blackjack time-and-a-half and the hold percentage of a slot machine was somewhere around 94 percent. Side wagers and other proposition bets are fine, but what people really want is some time on device. Give them some time at a game and a drink or two and they will have gotten what they came in for, just a chance to forget about what March and April of 2020 dealt them. And if they just came in for a drink, consider yourself lucky they are there. Margins on the liquor should not be equal to the bar down the street.
If you want people to come back, stop treating your casino like it’s there to take their money and “go back to the beginning.” Offer them a fair deal. Give your employees the ability to make customers into friends—and give them a reason to be in your casino and forget about the virus, the news and social media.
And for goodness sake, bring back the $1.99 Steak and Eggs!!!