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Fearless Industry Predictions for 2019

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Brought to you by Epstein the Magnificent

As we welcome in a new year, I thought it would be fun to take off my normal “sales guy” hat, don the turban, and gaze into the future. Come with me as I channel my inner Johnny Carson, hold the envelope to my forehead, and give you Epstein the Magnificent and my fearless industry predictions for 2019!

Envelope 1: The Year of Sports

Admittedly, this isn’t much of a prediction … more like a confirmation of reality. Ever since SCOTUS paved the way for legalized gambling, the rush has been on by most state legislatures to get some form of legalized sports betting into law. Sports betting legislation will continue to proliferate and gain momentum, as at least nine state governments and lotteries will begin the process of authorizing legal sports betting, spurred by various forces, including the fiscal needs of states. The sports betting space will also continue to grow and become more crowded in the coming year. Private companies and organizations that have not previously been involved in any form of legal gaming – such as sports bars and restaurants like Buffalo Wild Wings – will seek to offer sports and/or online wagering. In addition, the relatively slow growth of online gaming will speed up in 2019 as legislatures look for ways to plug budget deficits.

2019 will be the time for Tribal casinos to begin looking to the future when they will be offering sports betting. The need to identify and connect with coveted sports bettors will be critical in the coming year to ensure long-term success. Decision makers at Tribal casinos in 2019 will be wise to add sports-themed promotions immediately to start building their databases, while their Tribal leaders navigate the necessary modifications to their pacts with state legislatures.

Envelope 2: Exponential Adoption of Digital

As I have often spoken and written about, casino operators have been very hesitant to adopt digital methods of guest retention and acquisition marketing (beyond single touchpoint email), with many still running websites with 5 to 10-year-old designs and technology.

I have seen new, mobile-friendly websites being developed and released more frequently as they understand that their guests access their websites via mobile devices and tablets far more than desktops. This is even true for older guests who are becoming more tech-savvy. That’s just a small example of a basic need. More casinos will begin to understand the great potential of digital and begin to experiment with new forms of online marketing, even if previous attempts might not have produced the results they were either “sold” or were expecting. Properties will realize that it’s not just about how much you spend, but how you spend your digital marketing dollars.

While many could avoid embracing new digital marketing and technology in the past, that time will come to an end over the next year. It is now clear that those who want to catch their competitors, or extend their market dominance, will be diverting more of their marketing budget to digital as they realize that this form of marketing has changed from a “nice-to-have” to a “must-have”. In 2019, digital marketing will give some properties an edge, while others that lag behind will begin to lose market share as online marketing continues to evolve. For these and many other reasons, I feel that 2019 will show an exponential growth in robust and comprehensive digital marketing efforts by Tribal casinos. Seeing you emerge as digital leaders will be fun and exciting to watch.

Envelope 3: Reactivation Rules

There is never a lack of conversation about the difficult task of reactivating dormant players or those who have defected to other properties. The conversation will continue in 2019, but with a new focus on exploring more innovative and profitable ways to overcome this long-standing challenge. Look for the industry to move beyond – or at least add some new elements to – the old, traditional and expensive ways of marketing that are seeing diminishing returns on reactivations as they move to emerging marketing technologies.
Tribal casino operators have come to appreciate that they spent good money to get those guests in the first place, and they shouldn’t let them go without a fight.

Envelope 4: Internal Communications

When you consider that a single, negative interaction between a team member and a guest can have major ramifications, a renewed focus on internal team communications and training will play a more prominent role in 2019. Properties realize that just posting information without an engagement mechanism to generate ongoing participation is, in many cases, a waste of time and money. As such, the trend of properties to make learning fun and rewarding for their team members will take center stage this year.

Envelope 5: Talent Pool

Las Vegas and regional properties, for the most part, held an “us vs. them” mentality. Local properties felt, with valid reason, that candidates for employment from Las Vegas could not relate to a regional property when it came to operations. Yet the playing field is changing when it comes to the rich talent pool that has been cultivated by UNLV and the Las Vegas casinos. Case in point is the number of people leaving Las Vegas to head up sports books in other states. This has also been the case for the major Las Vegas casinos that relocate top talent to their regional operations. Look for this trend to be even more pronounced in 2019.

Envelope 6: The Millennials

I am very pleased to predict that the quest to capture Millennials as full-time slot playing guests will come to a quiet close. Specifically, plans by regional operators to invest millions – or tens of millions – to draw in that audience with such amenities as a major Las Vegas-style night club, will be a thing of the past. Operators are learning that there are more cost-effective ways to continue reaching out to the Millennial gambler, and those methods will begin to take hold in 2019. And keep an eye on eSports.

Envelope 7: Customization

In the past, personalized service and customization has either been nonexistent or cost-prohibitive. The big vendors felt they owned the market and could keep their “clients” hostage. I see the pendulum swinging back in favor of the casino, and this swing has already started. Bottom line, no vendor is safe as properties are challenging us to have more of a guest service mindset. I expect this trend to grow in 2019.

Envelope 8: Raving PLAY 2019 Will Be AWESOME!

In 2018, Engaged Nation developed a customized beta test engagement portal for the Raving NEXT conference called Raving PLAY, and it was an overall success. Well, we’ve taken what we learned from last year’s conference, as well as from other customized programs we’ve developed, and improved it for this year’s conference. I won’t tell you more now – we don’t want to spoil the surprise – but I predict that you’re really going to love it when it launches on January 7th. OOPS … let that one slip!

That’s all for now, and it’s time to retire the turban and Epstein the Magnificent for another year. See you at the Raving NEXT conference at the end of January, and all the best from our family to yours for an amazing New Year and 2019.

[email protected].

Jerry Epstein

Jerry Epstein