What skills do you need to become one of the well-known and highly paid folks in the casino industry? How about acting, filmmaking, driving for Uber and playing slot machines?
That’s what Brian Christopher did, and now he’s one of most important folks in all of gaming. But, he’s not a CEO, CFO or ‘C” anything. He’s not even a “whale host.” He’s a “slot influencer,” and that category is quickly becoming one of our most important positions.
If you haven’t heard of Christopher and other slot influencers, you’re not alone. But you are also not an avid slot player or a progressive marketing pro. In your defense, this narrow profession is truly in its infancy. But not in importance. That’s why marketing consultant Julia Carcamo recently created a virtual series of eight webinars events titled “Winning Influencer Marketing.” The sessions are part of J. Carcamo & Associates’ “Casino Marketing Boot Camp,” exploring new and established techniques.
As this story was written, they’ve canned five webinars on “Marketing Influencers” and featured Christopher himself on the week of March 18th.
While the term may be new, the idea of using celebrities or personalities to pitch products is not. Mark Twain hawked fountain pens in the late 1890s. Doris Day lent her name to steamrollers for International Harvester in the 1960s. And today George Clooney is the front man for Nespresso.
You’d probably never heard of Salton electric grills until they decided to pay George Foreman a staggering $200M over the years to pitch what has now become the hottest-selling appliance ever, the “George Foreman Grill.”
But using celebrities to promote casinos has been limited. To highlight the opening of the Melco Crown casino on Macau’s Cotai Strip in 2014, the owners paid Robert DeNiro and Leonardo DiCaprio $13M to do a promotional film directed by Martin Scorsese. But that was a rare event.
It’s the internet that has taken things to a whole new level in almost every industry, including ours. Ryan Kahi, who is still in elementary school, is a “toy influencer” known as just “Ryan” to his 28.9 million YouTube subscribers. Forbes pegged his annual salary at $26M. Did I mention he is nine and still in elementary school?!
But he’s nothing compared to “PewDiePie.” His real name is Felix Kjellberg. He started his professional career as a hot dog salesman. Today he makes nearly $60 million a year as a “video game influencer.” That works out to just under $29,000/hour, or just slightly above the federal minimum wage of $7.25.
While Brian Christopher is not in PewDiePie’s league, he is the Number One slot influencer today. He has 350,000 subscribers on YouTube and another 275,000 fans on Facebook. Most importantly, those subscribers watch because they love slot machines. They subscribe because they want to learn about the latest slot games, how bonuses work; and they want to be part of the “reality show” that is Brian’s casino adventures. In contrast, it is doubtful that any of PewDiePie’s or Ryan’s fans will ever be visiting your casino (at least not for a decade or two).
In a recent “LV Review Journal” article, Jonathan Jossel, the CEO at the Plaza Casino in downtown Las Vegas, said, “Social media has transformed the casino experience, and we are very excited to partner with Brian on this unique space that I know our guests will enjoy.” They had such confidence in Christopher’s prestige that they dedicated an entire section of their floor to him. “For years, my fans have been asking which games were my favorite, and now I finally have a place where they can experience it for themselves,” Christopher said in a Plaza news release. “The new ‘Brian Christopher Slots’ at the Plaza is like having my own miniature casino. I hand-selected the games that represent everything I love about playing slot machines.”
It’s not just casinos that are on board. The game makers (the manufacturers of slot machines) are perhaps even bigger fans of slot influencers. Meghan Sleik, Director of Partnership Marketing and Communications at Aristocrat, said on a recent “Boot Camp” panel that the pandemic shutdowns last spring brought a new appreciation of the slot influencers that went both ways.
“The influencers were virtually out of content since all the casinos were shutdown. So, we opened our showrooms to them. While there was no money at risk, they (the influencers) did get to play the new games that we’re going to launch upon re-openings.” She added that it also helped them internally, “With the input from the influencers, we were able to keep our R&D department and game designers busy with good input about what was working and what was not.”
Interestingly, in the world of influencers and camera-equipped cell phones, she said that game designers often think about giving players the time to get out their phones when big bonuses are about to happen. That wasn’t even a design consideration a few years ago.
On the same panel, Daria Wu, the Slot Director at the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas, said it is important to train your staff to assist the influencers. While everyone on the panel had stories about security officers evicting slot influencers attempting to film slots back in the early days, the problems now, she said, are more related to handling the crowds and onlookers that accompany their live sessions. “With COVID-19 restrictions in place, we wanted to make sure that everyone is following the proper guidelines and that the live sessions reflect that.”
Jay Ellenberger, the Director of Casino Operations at Oregon’s Seven Feathers Hotel & Casino, added, “We needed to manage people and their spacing to make sure we placed the influencers in the right areas.”
All seven of the panelists in the “Influencer Marketing” webinar titled “The Slots & Operations Experts” agreed that, at first, they had no idea just how popular some of these folks were. They were surprised at the crowds they could draw just to watch and be a small part of someone else’s slot playing experience.
Each of them also stressed the importance of educating their team to be prepared for this new age of digital captures with good lighting, sound and, especially, the availability of high-speed internet on the casino floor.
There’s also a lot of work behind making it all happen in an entertaining way. “My friends are shocked by my success. I mean, all I do is play slot machines,” Christopher says, “What they don’t see is that managing a massive YouTube Channel is a full-time job, and I have had to hire a talented Editor and a hard-working Social Media Manager, just to keep up! I’m not complaining though, I love what I do – I was born to be online.”
He produces a dozen videos a week, each viewed by an average audience of 300,000. And it’s not just a Las Vegas thing. He says that 25% of his audience is international, including Canada (Christopher’s original home) as well as Australia and New Zealand.
There are several other prominent influencers with similar formats and impressive crowds of followers. Scott Richter from Colorado is also known as “Raja” on his “Big Jackpot” channel. He, too, celebrated 300,000 subscribers recently.
Sarah, aka the “Slotlady,” is another slot influencer approaching 200,000 followers. Recently, she has made some joint appearances with Christopher. Unlike Brian, she only uses her first name and seldom shares much about her personal life. The same goes for “NG Slot” out of Los Angeles who doesn’t share his real name but has also racked up 200,000 or more subscribers.
One reason reviewers praise Christopher as the industry’s best is that, despite a similar number of followers as others, Brian shares almost everything about his life. His videos are truly a casino version of a reality show. “My Dad doesn’t play slots at all, but he watches all my videos to learn more about what I’m doing and where I’m going. I don’t mean that we don’t talk and share privately, it’s just that he hears more about my adventures day-to-day on the slot videos.”
If it sounds like he’s been doing this for years, you’d be right. But only for five years. He began by simply watching random videos online shot by various players because he wanted to learn more about slots. With his background in filmmaking, he realized he could do a better job than what he saw at the time. It only took about a month before he made more money with the videos than he did with his day job as an aspiring actor/Uber driver.
He learned quickly. Aristocrat’s Sleilk said its almost embarrassing that, “I sometimes feel that the slot influencers know more about how our games work than many of us who work here.”
It’s the education element that earns praise from many casino operators. Ellenberger praised Christopher and other influencers for teaching his own staff about slots. “We cover the basics in orientation, but they can learn so much more by watching the videos.”
How do influencers make their money? According to Christopher, advertisers using his site are the biggest source of his income. Surprisingly, it’s not casinos or slot makers placing the majority of the ads. Using Google’s artificial intelligence algorithms, the ads will be unique for each user depending on their own “likes.” If you are a fan of both slots and ukuleles, you might find ads on “BC Slots” for ukulele lessons. Likewise, you may find commercials for cosmetics, air compressors, QVC or NFL football depending on what, and where, you’ve searched online in the past.
Christopher also sells a lot of merchandise, most of it with the brand “Rude.” To quote from the fan page, “The Rudies Club is a private group of people who have a common interest and love for gambling and especially my channel, Brian Christopher Slots, on YouTube. The name itself was voted on by its members and chosen based on my regular use of the catchphrase ‘RUDE’.” Accordingly, Christopher sells t-shirts, hoodies, ‘lucky’ wrist bands, bumper stickers and the like.
So how do you decide if Raja or Sarah or Brian or another influencer would be the right one to help you build brand awareness at your casino? Sleik says there are two important points in making that evaluation:
- Look at examples of their work on YouTube or other formats
- Have them share some basic demographics of their fan base
If there’s a good match, an influencer could be a positive force in your future revenue growth.
Stories abound that even table games players and/or video poker fans with little past interest in traditional slots were “converted” after just a few exposures to these YouTube stars.
So forget GM or CFO. The quickest way to fame and fortune in the casino world may be to spread a little influence on the slot floor.
Here’s some helpful links to follow up on this story.
Brian Christopher Slots
Casino Marketing Boot Camp
Sarah the Slotlady Gaming
Raja – Scott Richter- The Big Jackpot
Search “NG Slot” on YouTube