Advice by Experts You Need to Know Now – Part I
View Part II in the Spring Issue of Tribal Gaming & Hospitality Magazine April 2021
When it comes to building your promotional calendar during COVID-19, it’s all about the gaming!
That was the conclusion during the 2021 Raving NEXT panel titled “Do Your Promotional Offerings Line Up with Your Players’ Desires? How to build a bullet-proof promotions calendar.”
The Raving NEXT Analytics and Marketing Conference at the end of January was hosted by Raving CEO Deana Scott with panel participants Bryan Brammer, Managing Partner, Profit Builder, Mike Meczka, Principal MMRC, and myself, Tom Osiecki, Raving Partner, Advanced Operations and Marketing, contributing to the discussion.
The conclusion was exceedingly simple. When creating your promotional calendar for FY 2021, the smart money is on gaming-centric promotions.
It Starts with the Research
Mike Meczka presented research that reflected the motivations for guest visitation. A slide was presented “It’s the Gaming = Why We Visit,” showing that 79% of the participants indicated slot play as the largely dominant reason guests attend casinos both pre and post COVID.
“The reason people visit is the gaming,” said Meczka. “The rest is just window dressing!”
Meczka related that “Gaming is escapism.” He stated that “Gaming’s base product has high demand and is extremely limited and proprietary. Whenever there is a controlled supply, things become very favorable for the operator.”
Meczka stated that his research indicates that there is no difference between the gaming-based motivation to visit before or after the COVID-19 effect. “They want a positive experience and it’s incumbent on us to give good gambling value.”
The Baby Boomer Effect
Bryan Brammer said that there has been a definite effect of COVID-19 on the casinos he observes. Since reopening, Brammer has seen the positive effects of pent-up demand since restrictions were lifted in “seven or eight jurisdictions.”
“We’ve discovered this year that everyone wants to gamble, and guests don’t really care about the rest of the amenities. Slot machines are still the driver of this business,” he said.
However, Brammer said that he has seen a definite decrease in attendance from the 65 plus demographics. “We still see the 65 plus demographic staying away, with trips way down over last year. The exception to the observation is in the VIP segments,” Brammer said. Brammer believes the reason older demographics are staying away is fear.
Free Play is King – Food, Not so Much
Deana Scott observed that research conducted for conference participants indicated an overriding strong preference for free play as a promotional benefit.
“You have to consider in the COVID-19 world, hotel stays are difficult to generate, especially on the retail side. Food is greatly reduced because operating capacity is restricted and will continue to be for the time being. Buffets, which represent the largest part of the food benefits, have been blown out the door and may never recover. The other benefit is entertainment, which is suffering. In a COVID-19 world, free play is sitting on top; and, as Mike Meczka said, was always sitting on top,” I added.
Meczka continued with, “Look at how free play overpowers all other benefits. Why do we still bother with other benefits? People come to the casino to gamble. We keep losing sight and want to do every other thing except allowing guests time to gamble.”
“Food is just a given, particularly at the high-end,” Meczka added.
“So, we’re not getting points for offering food, guests just expect it,” Scott remarked.
The Incredible Shrinking Smoking Properties
Another factor in Meczka’s research was the slide, “How Important is the Cessation of Smoking?” The results being that 51% indicated that smoking cessation is “Very Important,” while 22% said it is “Not Important at All.” The remainder was 10%, “Somewhat Important,” 13% “Neither” and 4% “Somewhat Unimportant.”
COVID-19 resulted in a massive change in how properties direct behaviors as hundreds of Native American and commercial casinos stopped allowing smoking for safety reasons.
“We’ve discovered that guests play the same amount of money whether smoking is banned or not banned. We have precedent in the card clubs in California. It takes a while until people become accustomed to it and eventually play more,” Meczka said.
Brammer remarked “I’ve actually been a part of several jurisdictions that have gone nonsmoking pre-COVID-19. As soon as the smoking ban went into effect, we saw a decline in revenues with an average of 20% to 30% stemming from less time on device. Given 3 to 12 months down the road, we saw that time on device return as guests became used to the smoking ban and better budgeted time on device.”
Meczka added that smokers represent 15% to 20% of markets. “The overwhelming issue is that nonsmokers want to be in a clean environment, and they are bringing revenue and time on device in bigger numbers.”
Tying it back to our marketing plans, Scott remarked, “Right now we’re building the foundation for your promotions calendar. If we do not focus on what our players want, what our environment looks like, and what we are offering, it’s hard to just throw promotions on top of that,” said Scott.
“Given what we are going through with COVID-19, we are starting to change habits of our players, so people need to be open to look at this data and what it looks like going forward,” said Scott.
In Part II, we will investigate the executional aspects of promotions now and in the future.
View Part II in the Spring Issue of Tribal Gaming & Hospitality Magazine released April 2021. If you are not subscribed to TG&H Magazine, subscribe here. Or you can catch our latest digital issues here.