Lessons from the Host Development Conference Team Challenge

Creation of a successful player development department starts with cross-department collaboration and data sharing

What is key to creating a robust player development team that will grow revenue? What we found out recently may surprise you.

This past July, Raving conducted our annual Host Development Conference, which preceded the Casino Marketing & Technology Conference. If you’re not familiar with the program, Raving develops it every year for the team at BNP Media/Casino Journal; it’s been an industry mainstay since 2005.

Effectively developing a program to meet the expectations of newbies as well as experienced hosts is a challenge we face as conference organizers; most casinos are in the same boat. Some team members are new to the industry, others have migrated from other departments and some are old school veterans and carry with them varying degrees of knowledge and experience. Layering onto diverse team dynamics, the player development (PD) teams that attend are challenged to migrate from a traditional guest service model to an elite sales force approach while integrating twenty-first-century technology, marketing and data analytics.

To better serve our attendees and to help them build this new host model, we revamped our program by integrating three new concepts into the program:

  1. The event started with a boot camp for newbies and to give a refresher on current PD methodology and terminology.
  2. We used pre-collected survey data from registered conference attendees to ensure that we kept the conversations relevant and weaved throughout the program.
  3. A group assignment was created for attendees to get hands-on with the curriculum and take advantage of peer experience and skill-sets for a more meaningful learning experience.

Directly after the morning boot camp, attendees were divided into groups, mixing experience, position type and facility type. They were asked to stay together for the remaining two days of the conference. Team members from the same casino could not sit with each other. Sounds a bit uncomfortable, right?

The randomly assigned group assignment was called the “Host Conference Team Challenge.” Each assignment came with a profile of the property (including the number of machines, market description and a detailed segmented data set including ADT, COUNT, THEO and TRIPS with twelve months of history). Every group had a specific task and criteria they had to meet for their presentation. The five challenges were to develop one of the following:

  • Player segmentation strategy;
  • Player development department structure;
  • Develop position models;
  • Develop an incentive program; and
  • Develop a list of VIP events, tournaments and packages.

Judges were Charles Anderer, executive editor at BNP Media Gaming Group; Deana Scott, Raving CEO; Nicole Barker, senior Raving partner, database and loyalty marketing; and Dennis Conrad, president emeritus, Raving.

The winning team’s challenge was to “create a player development department structure.” Congratulations to the winning team, which consisted of:

  • Roger Dehart II, casino marketing manager, Harrah’s Gulf Coast, Miss.;
  • Vino De La Rosa, database manager, Boot Hill Casino & Resort, Kan.;
  • Quiana Morgan, casino host, Turning Stone Resort Casino, N.Y.;
  • Zanele Siziba, executive casino host, global casino operations, Carnival Corporation, Fla.;
  • Jon Matthews, manager of player development, Lucky Star Casino, Okla.;
  • Jeffrey Leahy, player development manager and VIP host, Bear River Casino Resort, Calif.; and
  • Ong Lao, marketing manager, Rolling Hills Casino, Calif.

Here’s the information they were given:

Property description: You’re a medium-sized property with 800 machines, building a new hotel, and adding new amenities including restaurants and a spa. You’re converting from a local casino hotel to a more full-featured resort for regional drive-in guests. It’s expected that the player development function will fill the rooms with new guests while retaining and growing existing local players. The expansion has created much disruption for guest parking and has closed the buffet for several months. Management wants double-digit revenue growth from PD to come from the urban center over an hour’s drive away. Currently, the PD function consists of a PD manager, six hosts who have up until now taken care of top-tier players. A new budget has been assigned which will allow for a major expansion of the PD function.

Task: Based on the type of property and provided data, develop a player development department structure that includes an organization chart with descriptions for what each position is responsible for accomplishing within the PD function. Redesign the PD function to achieve the expectations developed as a result of moving to a full-featured resort. You also must: describe the primary function and goals of each position; include appropriate strategies for each position (acquisition, retention, growth, reactivation); and specify the type of measurement used to determine position effectiveness.

Steve Browne, senior Raving partner, who has been integrally involved in developing this training program since 2005, said, “The presentations were far more detailed and advanced than expected. We all agreed that magic happened and a far more innovative solution was created because you had marketing and data analysts creating something with PD specialists. How often do you honestly see this type of cross-department collaboration?”

“The beauty of the group exercise was that it forced people to put the learning into action and then gave them something tangible to take back to their property,” Scott added.

Based on the criteria of the challenge, what did the team come up with that gained them the highest score? “I believe our cutting-edge idea was that we approached the challenge by using analytics to make our business decisions,” said group participant De La Rosa. “By segmenting the ADT segments by the Slim Method, we were able to see how much potential revenue each segment could provide us and assign the appropriate position model to that segment. The key was to filter our segmentation to our Low Trip/High Value category. We used that data to come up with the compensation structure for those position models.”

All group participants listed data as a critical tool. “I now, more than ever, appreciate that you have to start with the number; the analytical side is key to any action you take,” Siziba said. “Once the figures tell you the what, then you can go and find out the why.”

“Each team member brought a unique perspective and was able to attack our team challenge based on their own experiences with challenges at their properties.” Leahy said. “

Many attendees told us that they left motivated with concepts that they could apply to their current operations. We’d say that’s a “win.” Right? However, what’s the more significant lesson here that casino teams can learn from: actual change and growth come from collaborating with different departments.  Once again, the “not so secret sauce to success” is moving away from communication silos and focusing on guests.

This article was originally published by Casino Journal.