Social media influencers find increasing acceptance from gaming industry

March 21, 2023 9:24 PM
Photo: Kelly Koffler of Slots 500 Club at a casino.
  • Rege Behe, CDC Gaming Reports
March 21, 2023 9:24 PM
  • Rege Behe, CDC Gaming Reports

While trying to establish an acting career in 2009, Brian Christopher’s life changed during a casino visit. Not because he hit a huge jackpot. Nor did he meet an agent and sign a lucrative acting deal.

Brian Christopher Slots, via YouTube

Christopher’s life changed when he filmed his slot play and posted it on YouTube. It did surprisingly well and he started to post more videos.

“I thought that would be the end of it, but those videos just took off,” he says. “Never in a million years had I any plans to make this a career.”

Fast forward to 2023. Christopher is arguably the gaming-industry’s most popular influencer. His BC Slots’ platforms on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok have 1.5 million followers and subscribers; his videos have been viewed more than a billion times. BC Slots employs a staff of 10 and Christopher’s schedule is booked for about 85 percent of 2023, despite a decision to visit only smoke-free casinos and gaming spaces.

He even has his own branded slot machine, Brian Christopher’s Pop’ N Pays, developed by Gaming Arts, and a dedicated non-smoking area that bears his name on the gaming floor at the Plaza Hotel & Casino in downtown Las Vegas.

As casinos increasingly compete for entertainment dollars, Christopher and other influencers add value simply by appearing at venues.

“Social media has transformed our daily lives, including the casino experience,” said Plaza Hotel & Casino CEO Jonathan Jossel via email. “People want to share the fun they have playing, the thrill of winning, and watch others do the same.

“We’ve found that many of our players enjoy watching social media personalities playing their favorite game. That’s why we embrace social media influencers. Brian Christopher is a trailblazer in this regard with his YouTube videos and we’re proud to work with him and build on our successful partnership with his expanded space in the new smoke-free casino area debuting later this spring as part of our Main Street Reimagination project.”

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When Kelly Koffler started filming table games play two and a half years ago, she admits it was a learning experience – and not only getting the right angles, lighting, and sound for videos posted on her Beyond Blackjack platforms. The former schoolteacher, who has a master’s degree in education, admits that she’s a “flawed player, as most of us are.” But her conversational approach has translated into more than 50,000 followers across platforms that include Koffler’s channel Slots 500 Club.

Well-versed in blackjack, Koffler took a different approach when playing other games such as Mississippi Stud, Ultimate Texas Hold’ Em, or pai gow poker.

“I thought it would be cool if I learned to play on film,” Koffler says, “because the problem with learning before and then going to a table and trying to show how to play is that you forget what people don’t know. I wanted to go to a table and ask the questions in tutorials that people would never ask. Can I touch my cards? Can I show my cards to other players? Etiquette is one of the most intimidating parts of a table game. I wanted to learn about that on camera, so people could learn with me.”

Koffler employs another device that endears her to followers: She laughs constantly, maintaining a cheerful disposition even if she’s on a losing streak. She doesn’t enjoy losing, but Koffler maintains that watching a video where a person is complaining or angry isn’t purposeful.

One of the reasons that Koffler can maintain her equilibrium is that she never bets beyond her means.

“If I lose only $300 or $400, I’m going to be upset about it, because that’s within my budget,” she says. “I think some of these other (influencers) have these huge budgets and it’s not a good feeling for anyone to lose $2,000 or $3,000. It’s not a good look to show people this is the feeling you’re having about a game from a gaming perspective.

“It doesn’t make the game look good to see people leave the table so upset and angry. And from a viewer’s perspective, it’s not very entertaining to see people unhappy.”

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YouTuber Josh Duffy, aka Slotaholic

Josh Duffy was having a few drinks with friends a few years ago, talking about his nascent YouTube channel that featured him playing slots. Before he knew it, a name for the channel, Slotaholic, emerged, as did a tagline that perfectly described the gist of his endeavor: Sip, Spin, and Win.

“I know branding and I know marketing,” says Duffy, a musician who also owns a retail gift store on Bourbon Street in New Orleans. “We wanted something fun and we came up with Sip, Spin, and Win pretty quickly.”

Duffy’s approach to filming is akin to hosting a party with his best friends. Like an exuberant cousin posting family videos on social media, Duffy’s tone is always upbeat, even if he’s losing.

“As a child I was very shy. But as I kept getting on stage (as a musician), I realized that we’re all the same,” he says. “We all just want to be entertained and have fun, so that’s what I try to do through the videos.”

Duffy also insists on posting videos when his results aren’t optimal.

“If I’m not winning big or it’s a mediocre win or a losing video, I still post it. That’s the reality of gaming,” Duffy says.

Duffy admits that he’s not in the same league as other influencers who wager much larger amounts; he usually limits his slot bets to $2-$4 per spin. But what he shares with Christopher, a successful actor in his native Canada for 20 years (starting at age 11) before moving to the U.S., and Koffler, the former schoolteacher, is a palpable sense of ease on camera. They come across as friends or neighbors, not media stars.

“I think a lot of people probably watch me, because I make the game unintimidating,” Koffler says. “My sizing isn’t intimidating, it’s more like an average person. Also, I don’t claim to play everything perfectly.”

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It wasn’t that long ago that a person filming in a casino set off alarms and was quickly confronted by security. But as more influencers gain followings on social media platforms, casinos are increasingly willing to host them.

According to El Cortez General Manager Adam Wiesberg, the downtown Las Vegas casino and hotel was the first in Vegas to allow livestreams from table games, which started five years ago. The El Cortez has rules for filming posted on its website, including gaming prior approval, only showing gameplay, and no use of equipment beyond cell phones or small cameras. The hotel and casino also asks that influencers refrain from using off color, political or controversial comments.

Filming also is limited to slots except for special approval provided to select influencers.

“We continue to be one of the premier locations for influencers to create gaming content,” Wiesberg says via email. “There are challenges to allowing filming in the casino, but we’ve found that it does help with brand exposure and it provides a great organic marketing platform. It requires oversight and hands-on management, but we feel it’s worth it.”

Sometimes, filming involves a lot more than just walking into a casino, setting up a camera, and pushing play. Brian Christopher can’t walk into a casino unnoticed. That’s what happens when you have 1.5 million followers, the most avid among them known as Rudies, a riff on one of Christopher’s catch phrases, “That’s rude” when a promising spin doesn’t pay off.

“Even if I go to a casino and no one knows I’m going to be there, I’ll run into fans,” Christopher says, noting that he recently was at a casino in Washington state and  “couldn’t walk five feet without getting asked for a photograph.”

Without the right mindset, such attention could be annoying. But Christopher embraces, and is grateful for, the recognition.

“I love that time to connect with the audience,” he says, noting that on a recent BC Slots-themed cruise, 550 “Rudies” represented 18 percent of the passengers. “The cruises are wildly successful and beyond comprehension,” he added, noting that later this year, he’ll embark on a cruise that visits Australia and New Zealand.

While she’s not yet at Christopher’s level, Koffler is starting to be recognized during casino visits. During a recent visit to Seven Feathers Casino Resort in Canyonville, Oregon, and then a trip to Las Vegas, she admits to being exhausted by the end of the trip.

But no matter how tired she is, Koffler tries to remain upbeat.

“You can’t ever just zone out. People come up to you and want to talk, because they feel like they know you,” she says. “I wasn’t even playing toward the end of the trip, just hanging out with friends and having meetings. There were times when people came up to me and I was having a conversation, and they were so excited it instantly changed my mood, feeling that you’re making people happy, making them smile.

If there’s criticism of influencers, it’s the accusation they aren’t playing with their own money and their play is comped. Christopher says he gets comped “like all players do, based on play.” But because he wagers so much money, the remuneration often covers some expenses.

“With all my coin-in, I get free rooms, food, freeplay, and the gifts like toasters,” he says with a laugh.

Koffler also admits that she’s comped because of the frequency of play and bet sizing, but it’s generally just rooms and food.

“I definitely wish that the casinos would give more recognition to influencers in terms of free play and/or resort credit as a ‘thank you’ for marketing their casinos,” Koffler says. “But other than the really huge channels, that doesn’t generally happen. And I guess I understand that maybe it would be hard to keep track of, since anyone could basically say they’re filming for a channel. There would have to be some oversight to that, but it sure would be nice.”

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As audiences continue to grow, so does the impact of influencers on the gaming industry. Duffy and Koffler, through their good-natured play, are models of the best way to gamble: even-handedly and most of all responsibly, not wagering beyond their means.

But Christopher has taken his influence to another level. In February 2023, he appeared before the New Jersey Senate’s Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee to advocate for smoke-free casinos. His testimony came one day after Christopher said he would no longer visit casinos and gaming spaces that weren’t smoke free.

The feedback he’s received, from casino patrons and especially workers, has been overwhelmingly positive.

“A lot of my fans are thanking me for what I’m doing,” Christopher says, “Someone needs to do something, because everyone’s fed up with it. A lot of a people just feel like they just don’t have a choice. They can drive five or six hours to a smoke-free casino or go to their local, which is 15 minutes away, and suffer through it.

“We’re at a point where only 12-1/2 percent of the country smokes. It no longer makes sense and it can no longer be the argument that (casinos) will lose money because (of smoking bans). The majority should be ruling here.”

Rege Behe is lead contributor to CDC Gaming Reports. He can be reached at rbehe@cdcgaming.com. Please follow @RegeBehe_exPTR on Twitter.