The Drop led a small Aussie contingent to the recent National Indian Gaming Analytics and Marketing Conference which was held at the Choctaw Casino & Resort.
Located smack bang in the middle of tornado alley, the Choctaw Casino can be found at Durant Oklahoma – a flat, desolate speck on Interstate 75, about an hour and a half north of Dallas. Durant is the capital of the Choctaw Nation and the casino, apart from being the biggest attraction in town, is also the area’s largest employer.
The casino itself is large and well-appointed with over 3,500 slot machines, 11 bars and restaurants, cinemas, a bowling alley, pool, spa, conference centre and a variety of accommodation options from 4 stars to an RV park. The resort also has a large theatre that attracts world-class acts to the region.
When it comes to the American casino market, we have for a long time measured ourselves against the commercial casinos along the Vegas strip. Whilst a great source of inspiration, it’s not surprising we’ve come up short when it comes to benchmarketing where our properties lie in relation to these massive tourist based entertainment centres. Las Vegas is evolving further away from the traditional gaming models and evolving into a shopping, dining and entertainment based experience destination.
Tribal Casinos, on the other hand, are a much closer model when compared to the club industry in Australia, and as an industry, we actually measure up pretty well. There are some things that we do way better than the Americans and there are other things where they are streets ahead of us. The differences are probably a direct result of working with different regulations and jurisdictions.
For example, a big issue for the Tribal Casinos is how to track their patrons outside of gaming. They do not have a model that cross-references other areas of the business – like hotel stays, entertainment, dining etc. While we, of course, have a well developed integrated business model across all amenities.
Overall our F&B offering are more than comparable, and from what we experienced on this trip, amenities and floor layouts of many clubs are definitely on par, or better in some instances.
On the other hand, the Indian Gaming Casinos appear to have a more advanced application of big data, when it comes to gaming and marketing functions. In fact, 50% of all Tribal Casinos are actively working with big data according to a recent national survey undertaken by Raving Consulting. That big data is used for things like:
- Predictive analytics – The process of leveraging historical data, statistical algorithms, and machine learning techniques to predict future outcomes.
- Modelling – The process of creating, testing, and validating a model (most commonly built in SAS, R, or Python) to predict the probability of an outcome
- Machine Learning – The process of examining large amounts of data to look for patterns and then make predictions on outcomes. It gives a computer the ability to “learn” without being explicitly programmed.
- Artificial Intelligence – Artificial intelligence, or AI, is the application of computational techniques where a machine mimics some cognitive function that can be associated with the human mind, such as learning or problem-solving.
Whilst promotions on the whole look pretty similar, I felt there was probably a much higher level of targeted strategies used to create a promotion (e.g. proformas created in advance of launch) – and a much greater use of analytics to determine the effectiveness and ROI in relation to the promotion afterwards. There appears to be a shift away from the big “Million Dollar Promos” and the ‘Chance to Win” prizes which most experts believed people are becoming increasingly disinterested with. There was also discussion about overcrowed promo calendars – and just doing promos without a targeted outcome.
They are also using more advanced forms of gamification to engage with existing customers and to attract new customers to their properties. Whilst there are some people “dabbling” in the gamification space in the Australian market, I think this is a growth area that will have a big impact in the next 12 to 24 months.
When it comes to communications the Indian Gaming Casino’s are high users of direct mail and 85% of them rate it as their most effective form of communications. We use very little direct mail for a number of reasons (some high-value gamers don’t like it), but the main barrier here has always been cost. However, we did meet a supplier called CSG Direct who can provide a viable, cost-effective direct mail option. They already do a lot of work with some Australian casino properties – including direct mail and automated emails – and can provide a direct mail item, including postage for a little as 28c. They could definitely be worth a chat, especially for things like membership renewals and major notices. But the main takeaway point on communications is that multi-channel options (a combination of communications like email, SMS, phone and/or direct mail) yield the highest outcomes.
One of the most interesting presentations at the Conference were the results of a National Casino Marketing Survey. Again some of the tabled results highlighted the similarities between the American and Australian models – for example:
- Current biggest challenges were staffing (21%), ageing properties (14%) and increased competition (13%)
- 71% of properties were planning capital works in 2018 with the number one project being a hotel
- 82% of properties have a tiered loyalty program and nearly 50% of all properties have a carded play rate of between 60-79%
- 44% of all casinos lose money on entertainment and
- 64% said they were going to increase their social media spend this year
The Drop will publish a more detailed analysis of the survey in the coming weeks.
After Durant, the tour group moved on to Reno – the biggest little city in the world. IGT hosted a tour of their main campus and manufacturing plant and showcased some of their latest games including an impressive 4D game model.
From there we visited some of the downtown Eldorado Resorts properties – a privately owned commercial casino group with a portfolio of 20 venues across 10 states. In total, they feature approximately 20,000 slot machines and VLTs, more than 550 table games, over 6,500 hotel rooms and employ some 14,000 staff. The company prides itself on their genuine ‘Family Style Service’ which we were fortunate enough to witness first hand when we were hosted by Gregg Carano, the General Manager of the Group and one of four brothers who run the group.
The patriarch and founder of Eldorado Resorts was Gregg’s father Don Carano who only passed away in October last year. He was a true pioneer and innovator of the casino industry. The Eldorado was the first casino in the US with its own coffee roaster and gourmet coffee bar as well as the first casino to operate its own microbrewery. The Eldorado is also famous for hostings some of Reno’s major annual events and festivals including the Brews, Blues & BBQ Festival every June as well as the Hot Air Balloon Races, Hot August Nights, Street Vibrations and many others.
The time we spent with Gregg was truly inspirational and a highlight of the whole tour for many of our group. Although the properties looked somewhat dated by Australian standards (still very much “themed”), we were all blown away by the passion, enthusiasm and genuine friendliness of Gregg Carano and the admiration and respect he attracted from staff and guests alike as we toured the properties.
He is a truly generous spirit who has a deep interest in everyone he meets. He “lives” on the casino floor, is always available and is deeply hands-on and passionate about the business, but especially the food and beverage side of operations. Gregg even treated us to an impromptu wine tasting of some of their exclusive product from the family-owned vineyard in California. A memorable and inspiring way to end an intensive study tour.