Smaller giveaways, free play, and continuity help drive regional-casino revenue, conference panel says

July 12, 2022 11:38 PM
  • Buck Wargo, CDC Gaming Reports
July 12, 2022 11:38 PM
  • Buck Wargo, CDC Gaming Reports

Ditch the big-ticket prizes such as cars and cruises and focus on continuity, targeted free play, and spreading out cash giveaways as a way to “move the needle” at regional casinos in the aftermath of COVID, gaming executives said.

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A casino-marketing roundtable on how to drive additional revenue in gaming operations nearly two and a half years from the onset of the pandemic helped kick off the first day of the Casino Marketing & Technology Conference at South Point Hotel, Casino & Spa in Las Vegas. It’s hosted by casino and hospitality company Raving.

Ryan Bevens, regional general manager for Maverick Gaming, said continuity was a staple for them before COVID and remains so today.

“What we realized was that post-COVID, the big splashy events like the Jeep giveaways and trips lost value for us,” Bevens said. “We took an approach that was less money going to more people versus a huge prize for a small group of folks. We wanted to get more people involved.”

Bevens did admit that it was difficult for him to get rid of the big giveaways, as properties were crowded, but the mistake was in assuming that being busy meant making money.

“It took us a long time to realize we no longer needed the big splash,” Bevens said. “People don’t want to be in a room together, regardless of the reasons why. We took a hard shift of less money to more people. For a $30,000 prize, we broke it up into five or six different events. It made it far more profitable for us than to pack the house for one or two nights. It’s been very successful for us.”

Mark Schrecengost, general manager of Harrington Casino in Delaware, said his property originally struggled with upping the number of visits they were getting from customers.

“Since COVID, we’ve been focused on generating a lot of trips,” Schrecengost said. “We’re not doing (giveaways like cars and boats), but are giving away a lot more free play. Revenues are going up.”

Schrecengost said customers like to leave the property with something and free gifts help. Other customers who don’t get them ask how they can and that’s helped increase play, he said.

Michael White, director of marketing and player development at Elk Valley Casino in California, said customers feel value when they get something. Giving away tickets to the show rather than telling them it’s a free show carries more weight with them, he said.

Shannon Redmond, vice president of marketing for Rivers Casino Pittsburgh, said that they learned that if some measures didn’t drive incremental revenue, they stopped them immediately.

“If we can’t track the incremental, and that’s the goal of the promotion, I don’t know why we’re doing it,” Redmond said. “Our guests want free slot play more than anything else, but for us, like I am sure it is for everybody else in this room, the question is, what’s the line you don’t cross? Are you overinvesting? Because that becomes the issue. We’ve done a ton of focus on how we allocate free slot play, who we allocate it to, and more important, when we are using that as the key piece, that we need to drive traffic.”

In a hypothetical example, Redmond said a competitor might be doing a better job with the Kentucky Derby, because they have horse betting. For Rivers Casino, it would be best to use free slot play earlier in the day; they won’t get the horse bettors later.

Redmond said when concerts and other events are being held at Acrisure Stadium (the nearby former Heinz Field where the Steelers play), they impact core gaming customers, who won’t come to the property.

“What promotion we would normally do (that day), we book it for another day of the week,” Redmond said. “It’s about being highly strategic with the free slot play to make sure we don’t overinvest. That has been the key to what we’ve been doing to drive incremental (revenue).”

Redmond said they also learned they could “move the needle during the week” with an intimate event for their top 300 players, who need only to drop off an entry for a promotion.

“If you would have told me 10 years ago you don’t have to be there to win, I would have said you’re crazy,” Redmond said. “We do it the same day, so the trip has been driven, and we track everything on whether it was incremental revenue. Because we focus on a smaller group of high-value players who drive our revenue, we’re finding success with things.”