Data experts talk the future of tracking casino customers beyond gambling

Data experts talk the future of tracking casino customers beyond gambling

  • Buck Wargo, CDC Gaming Reports
May 20, 2018 3:02 PM
  • Buck Wargo, CDC Gaming Reports
  • Other

Casinos tracking customers has come a long way since the days of the green sombrero.

Marilyn Janssen, vice president of marketing operations with Caesars Entertainment, said when she worked as a financial analyst for the company more than 20 years ago, she was assigned to track a marketing program in Atlantic City.

Janssen spoke about her experience about how the use of data has changed marketing over time as part of the UNLV Gaming & Hospitality Education series on May 17 that dealt with the use of analytics. About 50 people attended and more followed the program online.

Two decades ago, retailers and other companies marketed to a larger audience and tried to capture as many as they could from as large a group as possible. That’s changed today to one-on-one marketing that’s now possible with the many data sources and technology, she said.

“We can look at customer holistically,” Janssen said.

That’s a long way from one her first assignments in Atlantic City – determining whether $20 cash giveaways on bus trips to the casinos was generating a profit.

“It didn’t matter if you were 18 or 82, but every person got $20,” Janssen said. “That seems like a bad way to do business these days but back then that was perfectly acceptable.”

Janssen said the first thing she observed was that the program wasn’t being monitored and immediately questioned its profitability when she saw one person take their $20 and walk to a casino across the street.

Janssen said she went to the vice president of finance to get some answers, and he told her it was profitable and “making tons of money” and the green sombrero analysis of 1995 proved that was the case.

Janssen said she was baffled and had no idea what he was talking about. She learned of a study a decade earlier in which every person who got off the bus was given a green sombrero and by using security staff and surveillance, they monitored people at slot machines and how much they were betting. The casino tallied it up and proved it was profitable, she said.

“That was back in 1995 and at the time it was good, but I said this is 2005 and that we can do some more data analysis,” Janssen said. “We did a control and test group and it turned out we could make it even more profitable with improved marketing. We saw a lift. I love this story because it shows how data has progressed from 25 years ago. The data we get is so much richer and the way we analyze it (is well beyond) the green sombrero. We have taken huge steps forward.”

By tracking every person today, that enables the company “to give the right offer to the right guest at the right time,” Janssen said.

“That’s important today as we talk about omni-channels and notification,” Janssen said. “Is it better to give that push notification at 7 a.m. or noon?”

A $20 food offer may get someone in the door but maybe it’s better to give it at 3 a.m. when they’re at the slot machine and hungry, Janssen said. That targeting of guests helps increase their spending, she said.

“As we leverage new capabilities and new technology, we got more channels to communicate various data sources and make sure we use them appropriately, and that’s where we are headed in terms of the casino industry,” Janssen said. “We have some robust data we can leverage (whether food and beverage, entertainment, spa and hospitality).”

Having that 360-degree view of guests means at the end of the day there’s marketing across the entire casino, and it will lead to a better guest experience, Janssen said.

“We’re excited where we are going,” Janssen said. “Caesars has the ability to hone down and give you the right offer. We understand what works and what doesn’t for a single person.”

The seminar also featured David Norton, chairman of GALE Partners, who spent eight years with Caesars Entertainment – then known as Harrah’s Entertainment – as chief marketing officer. He helped bolster Total Rewards, the industry’s leading rewards program.

Norton called it an amazing experience going from the credit card industry to gaming and he’s gratified that Harrah’s/Caesars was able to transform the industry by using data to identify opportunities and sell throughout the organization.

Harrah’s had riverboats and some “not so great properties,” but had data to begin analyzing the business, Norton said. That use of intellectual capital in the late 1990s made a difference, he said.

Its loyalty program helped keep customers rather than have people move around by who offered the best deal that day or who had the best concert, Norton said.

“We wanted people to make decisions based on a deeper sense of loyalty,” Norton said.

A loyalty program with several tiers with the addition of platinum and diamond levels viewed as aspirational helped transform the industry, he said. While customer saw VIPs get special treatment with limos, others were important as well, he said.

“There were a lot of valuable $50-a-day players who were coming 100 times a year,” Norton said. “It changed the industry dramatically to start these tiers. The notion that better service leads to retention was something we believed in, and we put a ton of energy into data. We were getting hundreds of thousands of surveys back a year.”

Rob Jacks, vice president of professional services for Agilysys, told the audience that customers are requesting a lot more data today than the property management systems and casino management systems they drew from in the past. Whether it’s spending money at the spa or the golf course, it’s important for casinos to track those customers who don’t gamble, Jacks said.

That’s more of a focus for Las Vegas than it is for regional casinos, which continue to draw 75 percent of their revenues from gaming, Jacks said.

“For Vegas customers and big operators, we are finding how we take that data and build a loyalty program and how do we value those customers and what they bring and how they are treated when they come in,” Jacks said.

When a patron goes to a restaurant, casinos want to know their propensity to spend and what they like to eat and drink and what table or waiter or waitress they prefer.

“Operators are interested in understanding that portion of the population that doesn’t have a comp rating,” Jacks said.

He added the tracking is important because millennials are the group most likely to spend their money on entertainment, food and beverage and having a good time than spending money on homes and other large expenses.

“That seems to be the greatest opportunity as baby boomers move out of the marketplace,” Jacks said. “The question they are asking is how do we get those millennials to spend and where to spend it and how do we treat them when they come on the property?”