Research Library

The Coming of the Entertainment Superstore

Casino development in Las Vegas has historically acted as a bellwether for the development of gaming and nongaming amenities in regional markets. Development trends such as the multi-station buffet, multiple dining options, casino food courts and showrooms were first introduced in Southern Nevada and eventually exported to other markets. Casino developers in regional markets have traditionally looked to Las Vegas to see what works and what doesn’t work; what is particularly appealing to gamers and what is not and adopted those development trends that hold the greatest promise.

While Strip properties often offer the most glamorous of amenities, it is Las Vegas’s locals casinos that have developed amenities that are most relevant to casinos in regional markets. Beginning with the opening of Sam’s Town Casino in 1978, followed by the Gold Coast Casino, the whole concept of a locals casino was first developed in Southern Nevada along with the suite of amenities that held appeal to local gamblers.

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Designing the Right Amenity Mix

When leadership decides to commit to an expansion of its gaming facility or a wholesale replacement of its casino, the first step is to determine the proper size of the proposed gaming operation. This exercise involves examining the current utilization of the existing facility, the size of the primary and secondary markets that the casino will serve and the gaming behavior of those markets. While not a precise science, determining the right number of gaming devices, table game positions and casino square footage is based on proven mathematical models. Although
complex, these models can accurately determine the proper sizing of a casino.

The next step is to determine the appropriate mix of nongaming amenities that will support the gaming operation in order to maximize gaming revenue. Non gaming amenities are most often comprised of restaurants, hotel rooms, meeting and banquet facilities, entertainment venues, retail outlets and leisure/recreation operations such as golf courses, movie theatres, nightclubs, bowling centers, arcades and child care facilities. While determining the right amount of hotel rooms and banquet/meeting facilities is primarily an empirical exercise, identifying those other amenities that will maximize gaming revenue and best meet the needs of the market requires far more investigation.

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Build Your House Out of Bricks

About fifteen years ago, Steve Wynn, then CEO of Mirage Resorts, gave a speech to an audience of alumni and students at a prestigious college of hotel administration. He began by reciting Grimm’s fairy tale of The Three Little Pigs. At first the audience collectively laughed as Mr. Wynn began his recitation but it soon became evident that Mr. Wynn was to recite the entire fable. And so he did.

Mr. Wynn later explained that the lessons taught in this fairy tale were important to the hospitality industry and equally applicable to casino developers as to children. Build a house out of bricks rather than straw or wood and you will be able to weather any storm or wolves that threaten your house. Since its opening in 1989 the Mirage withstood the introduction of more than a half dozen new competitors. Fifteen years later the Mirage continues to compete with the best properties in Las Vegas. In the coming months the Mirage will introduce new nightclubs, restaurants, a Beatles themed Cirque du Soleil show and an improved volcano attraction. Room rates and slot win per unit have and continue to remain well above the market average. After all,
the property was built out of bricks.

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Change is Bad, Change is Good

Not too long ago a casino operating in a very competitive market made a decision to replace its aging casino management system. Property leadership defined their user requirements, evaluated a number of competing systems, narrowed their list to two vendors and ultimately chose a system that best met their needs.

The new system afforded the casino the opportunity to redesign their player rewards program and leadership saw this as an opportunity to create a rewards program that was superior to their competition. To best meet the needs of the market, casino leadership first conducted a series of focus groups with people who gamble in local casinos. Concurrently, they examined their competitors’ reward programs. Property managers then decided on a new rewards program and tested the concept with loyal, premium players in the form of “blue ribbon panel” discussions.

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Taming the Marketing Beast

In the world of hospitality and tourism, casinos are unique animals. They are far often larger than traditional hotels, offering more rooms, restaurants and amenities than most resorts or convention hotels. Yet despite their shear size, what differentiates casinos most is their copious consumption of marketing dollars. And while some casinos are efficient users of marketing dollars, others act more like large beasts, with a ravenous and unending appetite.

A casino that is a marketing beast is characterized, first and foremost by a never ending need to spend money in order to drive traffic through its doors, ostensibly to keep the slot handle up. Typically, a marketing beast is a casino in which there is a marketing promotion or program in effect virtually every day of the year. Bus marketing programs, monthly large drawing drum promotions, daily tournaments, midweek promotions, an endless parade of merchandise giveaways, and of course, copious amounts of direct mail offers are used to feed the beast. Often these promotions are layered on top of each other with customers coming in and redeeming multiple offers on the same visit. It is as if management is afraid that, without these marketing programs, the flow of business will immediately stop and the beast will collapse. So, to keep the beast alive, money is spent. Empirically, a beast can be defined as a casino that spends in excess of 25% of its revenue on marketing and

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Why Expansion Projects Falter

Several years ago a casino embarked on a significant expansion of its gaming floor as well as non-gaming amenities, including new restaurants, movie theatres and a showroom. First it hired a reputable firm to conduct a feasibility study to determine if the project and all of its components were feasible. The consulting team that authored the feasibility study analyzed the local and drive-in markets, addressed new cachement areas, conducted demographic and psychographic analyses of those markets, determined which segments of the population in those markets would be attracted to the new amenities and prepared its forecast. The feasibility study also addressed future amenities, including a hotel and retail outlets, and advocated the development of a master plan.

Leadership used the feasibility study to secure financing for the project. They then assembled a design team including an architect, engineering firm and interior design specialists to build the facility along with in-house professionals from operations, entertainment and marketing to manage the opening and subsequent operation of the expansion.

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What Makes a Casino Comfortable?

What makes a casino comfortable? While this may sound like a simple question and whose answer may seem obvious, it is rarely asked during the design process of a new casino or the renovation of an existing one. Nor is it a particularly easy question to answer. To some, a comfortable casino is one that has a down-home feel. To others it may be a casino that provides an environment that is exciting and energetic. Still to others, it may be nothing more than a place where customers are greeted by friendly and happy employees. In reality, a comfortable casino is comprised of a variety of elements including sound casino design, quality engineering, employee training in customer service skills and a healthy dose of common sense.

In the early days of Indian gaming, comfort was often overlooked in the rush to build and open properties as quickly as possible. As casinos became more popular, operators added more machines to existing space or expanded their properties in order to accommodate as many customers as possible. The notion of customer comfort played a secondary or even a tertiary role in the operation of the business. What has evolved for many casino operators are properties that are decidedly uncomfortable to be in.

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What Players Really Want

Understanding the wants and needs of gaming customers has long been the mantra of the most progressive leaders in the gaming industry. Collectively, casino operators in the United States have conducted thousands of focus groups and interviews with casino customers in order to understand how to make gaming experiences better. Spurred by the input of their customers, casino managers have undertaken customer service initiatives, increased training in customer service, developed host programs and invested capital in improving the service delivery process. Yet despite these efforts, most casinos have ignored the one complaint that most irks casino customers: tight machines.

Research has long indicated that what customers seek most in their gaming experiences is “time.” Gamers visit casinos for a variety of reasons including socializing with others, escape from the mundane, recognition and excitement. What they ultimately seek is a diversion from their normal lives. Casinos offer environments that are dramatically different and customers want to
spend as much time as possible in those environments before going back to their regular world. While every customer would like to leave a winner, for virtually every customer, gaming satisfaction is measured not by how much money they have in their pockets at the end of the day, but by how much time they spent in the casino before they extinguished their budgets and went home.

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Rising Gas Prices and the Possible Effects on Casino Visitation

The steady rise in gasoline prices over the past year and the possibility of further increases in the near future is a growing concern among gaming executives as well as financial analysts that watch trends in the gaming industry. While casinos in a number of jurisdictions have recently enjoyed steady increases in visitation and gaming revenue, the question that is on many peoples’ minds is, “how will rising gas prices affect the gaming industry?” The question is of particular concern to managers of Indian casinos since the majority of Native American gaming operations are located outside of metropolitan areas in rural locations that require patrons to drive further and expend more fuel than if they were to participate in other entertainment options closer to home.

A recently completed survey by a research company in Nevada attempted to gauge the effects that rising gas prices will have on drive-in traffic from Southern California. The study noted that 48 percent of respondents said higher gasoline prices would deter them from planning vacations to Las Vegas and that 57% said fuel costs are affecting their decisions to go on weekend trips. At first blush, the results of this survey would cause casino managers in all US jurisdictions to be concerned. However, the Las Vegas Sun newspaper reported that as gas prices rose earlier this year, auto traffic to Las Vegas increased. From January to August of 2005, gasoline prices in California increased by 40% but auto traffic on Interstate 15 at the Nevada-California
border increased by 30%. Las Vegas continues to enjoy historically high levels of visitation and gaming revenues. Even with gas prices hovering at $3.00, people continue to drive into the city from Southern California for gaming/entertainment vacations.

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The Benefits and Challenges of Master Planning

Most casino owners, whether they are tribal entities, public corporations or individuals, have a vision for what they want their casinos to be. Transforming that vision into bricks and mortar requires a master plan. The benefits of master planning are obvious but the challenges and obstacles in the planning process are numerous and often difficult to overcome. This article explores those challenges and offers suggestions on overcoming them.

The master planning process is complex. It relies on a keen understanding of trends in the marketplace, the changing needs of consumers, actions taken by competitors, a certain tolerance for risk, access to capital markets as well as a healthy dose of gut instinct and intuition. When done right, a sound master development plan will allow the tribe’s gaming enterprise to grow and flourish, providing jobs to the community and a steady stream of revenue to meet the needs of the tribal government.

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