Frank Floor Talk: Hard Rock in Indiana appeals to Asian American players with a focus on baccarat

Frank Floor Talk: Hard Rock in Indiana appeals to Asian American players with a focus on baccarat

  • John G. Brokopp, CDC Gaming Reports
July 20, 2022 2:00 PM
  • John G. Brokopp, CDC Gaming Reports
  • Other

Asian demographic studies and analysis typically revolve around the continent of Asia, home to 48 independent nations, and, with more than 4.4 billion people, 60 percent of the world’s population. Narrow the topic to gambling, and statistics reflect similar staggering figures. In 2021, Asia’s gambling revenue of $40 billion was the largest in the world.

However, there is much more to Asian Gaming than Asia. Based upon population studies and statistics from the 2020 U.S. Census, the United States presents attractive opportunities for regional gaming markets in the present and moving forward.

Asian Americans were the largest growing racial and ethnic group in the U.S. from 2000 to 2019, with nearly 20 million people identifying as such. The population grew by an estimated 81 percent during that stretch.

The significance of the Asian population in the Midwest is something to which the state sanctioned casino gambling market in the Northwest Indiana region has paid particular attention.

There are significant Asian populations living and working in Chicago, which borders Northwest Indiana and for a majority of residents is little more than a half hour drive away. The casino properties in the region, among them Hard Rock Casino Northern Indiana in Gary, Horseshoe Casino in Hammond, and Ameristar Hotel & Casino in East Chicago, compete among one another for the Asian gaming component.

And with good reason.

The most recent census data revealed that household income for people of Asian descent is higher than the average U.S. household income.

Greater than one-third of Chicago’s Chinese population reside in the city’s historic Chinatown on the South Side of the city, one of the largest concentrations of Chinese people in the United States. Another significant Asian population in Chicago are the Vietnamese, with an estimated population of 74,000 people.

Casino marketing divisions routinely study their guest demographics and construct promotional plans around them. It is not unusual to target the senior component with special perks, dining discounts, and clubs which are connected to the player loyalty programs.

The Asian component, however, is an entirely different ball game. It’s a serious and very specialized area that is very much coveted by the gaming properties which go to extraordinary lengths to cultivate the market and create brand loyalty.

There is no more illustrative a case study than Hard Rock Casino Northern Indiana in the City of Gary, which opened as the first land-based casino property in May of 2021.

By June of 2021, its first full month of operation, Hard Rock was the state’s leader in revenue from its baccarat tables, taking the distinction away from longtime kingpin Horseshoe Hammond, which is located a relatively short distance away in the Northwest Indiana market.

Baccarat is by far the most popular table game in the global Asian gaming market, popularity that has carried over to the Asian American population.

Hard Rock hasn’t looked back. In the most recent table drop statistics compiled by the Indiana Gaming Commission for the month of June 2022, Hard Rock stood at $25,648,819 to Horseshoe’s $10,678,549.

Properties seeking to win over Asian gamers create attractive, dedicated baccarat table areas or even dedicated rooms. The rooms are typically associated with a food and beverage venue specializing in authentic Asian cuisine prepared by culinary experts of Asian descent.

Hard Rock followed the traditional game plan, but that’s where the similarity ends. Joe Branchik, the property’s vice-president of marketing, used his two decades of experience in the executive sector of gaming to go to extraordinary strategies to win over the baccarat crowd.

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Jenny Moy

One of the first decisions Hard Rock made was to bring Jenny Moy on board as the director of Asian player development.

Moy, a native Chicagoan who still resides in the city, began her career in the gaming industry as a table games dealer. Her personality, charm, and knowledge of the industry in general, and the Asian market in particular, quickly “hitched her wagon to a star”.

After assembling a specialized player development team, Moy went about making preparations for what has become a text book marketing strategy.

“One of the most important factors involved here is to have a thorough understanding of the gaming culture side of the Asian community,” said Moy, whose reputation and credibility as a member of the Hong Kong Club of Chicago Chinatown enhances her ability to communicate with the target audience.

“Of equal importance is making a point to be heavily involved in community activities such as parades, Chicago’s annual dragon boat race, charities, sponsorship of special events, and celebration of holidays specific to the Asian culture such as Lunar New Year and Moon Fest.”

Superstitions are a component of every game of chance on the casino floor. Craps players do not like to see the dice fly off the table, and blackjack players hate to see a player “take the dealer’s bust card”.

For the Asian community, numbers can be very important. For example, the number “8” is associated with good fortune. On the other hand, the number “4” (associated with death) is avoided at all costs. The number “4” is conspicuous by its absence in the baccarat area.

Superstitions are especially prevalent at the baccarat tables, even where bets are settled by a structured, situation specific process coordinated by the dealer.

“There are many important behaviors that you must be aware of,” Branchik observed. “Good luck is coveted in the Asian community. As part of this aura, baccarat players are very mindful of the gaming area. They will observe what is in their view at the tables, refrain from touching a player on the shoulder, and are aware of any casino personnel in the area performing cleaning duties which ‘could sweep away luck’.”

“Our baccarat dealers take cultural sensitivity training for situational awareness in the baccarat area,” Moy added.

Baccarat may be the traditional game of choice for Asian players, but they are known to try their luck at some of the other table games or even slot machines, which are heavily focused on Asian themes.

“It’s the simplicity of the game and the luck factor that is most appealing,” Branchik said. “As a matter of fact, we have seen a more diverse crowd at the table. Baccarat seems to be gaining in popularity among other demographics.

“The low house advantage makes it attractive, as well as the variety and increase in the side bets that we are offering at our tables.

“Our players are very much focused on the patterns of banker-tie-player winning bets. You will observe a lot of concentration at the tables.”

Moy observed that there appears to be as many women as men playing the game, representing all ages.

When Branchik first entered the gaming industry at the beginning of state-sanctioned gambling in Illinois and Indiana in the mid-90s, the baccarat sector was insignificant.

He credits Jack Binion for being the first executive to recognize the potential of baccarat and the Asian gaming community in the Chicago area gaming market.

The creation of the YOUYU Noodle Bar, located adjacent to Hard Rock’s dedicated baccarat area, was a pivotal development for success.

“The venue serves traditional dishes prepared to authentic Asian recipes, something our guests appreciate,” Branchik said. “Food is very much a piece of the puzzle for our Asian guests. At the same, it is important to understand that comps are made available to our guests in a way that they never have to ask. This is practiced out of respect.”

Hard Rock’s complimentary entertainment offerings on the casino floor every weekend, as well as the big-name acts that appear on a regular basis in Hard Rock Live, are also a component of the experience Asian guests expect at Hard Rock, not to mention the impact the world-wide brand resonates with people.

For example, Em Gai Mua, a performance inspired by one of the most popular Vietnamese songs of recent time, will be presented on July 24. Jimmy O. Yang, a Hong Kong-born standup comedian and actor, will be appearing on the Hard Rock Live stage on September 9.

“Our player development team members are fluent in many Asian languages, which brings a feeling of comfort to our guests,” Moy explained. “It assists in our communication with members of the community as well as on-property to make our guests feel special and welcome.”

Giving back to the community, cultural sensitively, and overall respect for the Asian gaming sector are the keys to success for Hard Rock Northern Indiana.

Fortunes are won and fortunes are lost at the tables, but Branchik’s reminder is: “Don’t sweat the money. When our players are winning, we want to celebrate with them.”

It’s a formula for success and a casino business model that will be closely followed in the years to come.

John G. Brokopp is a veteran of 50 years of professional journalist experience in the horse racing and gaming industries