Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but everyone wins at Thunderclap Casino.
Corny, but true. If you put enough money in a slot machine, eventually fortune will smile upon you. But the occasional win doesn’t make you a winner per se. That takes… well, I don’t know what it takes. Pluck? Luck? Perseverance in the face of the irrational? A willful kind of stupidity that’s borderline self-destructive? The truth is no one knows. The players don’t know, nor do the people who market to them. The best thing we can do is treat them like sultans and sultanas when they show up, even if they drive a Ford Fiesta and shop at Target, as our demographic research shows they do.
What else do we know? Not much. But today I thought I’d share with you some of the truisms of the casino business.
You can’t turn a non-gambler into a gambler.
It simply doesn’t work. Gamblers are a different species of consumer. Most consumers are risk averse; gamblers are all about risk. No amount of TV spots, radio jingles, or newspaper ads are going to convince a non-gambler to take their rent money to the casino. They simply don’t enjoy gambling. Even if you were to give them $1,000 to play with, they’d spend the time thinking of better uses to which the money could be put. Either you’re wired for gambling or you aren’t.
So who are all those casino ads for? Gamblers. In the casino business, it’s all about trips. People move into the area to go to college or work at a job or in the military at more or less the same rate they move away or kick the bucket. So the number of gamblers remains static. The challenge is to maximize the number of trips, lure them from other casinos to our casino.
Let’s say Sally comes to Thunderclap four times a month (if that sounds like a lot, it isn’t). Chances are she doesn’t only visit our casino. She’s probably a member of the loyalty reward program at multiple casinos (as oxymoronic as that sounds). Even though it’s in her best interest to consolidate her visits at a single casino to maximize her rewards, she doesn’t go to the place where she wins the most, but the place where she feels like a winner. Big difference.
Seventy-five percent of our revenue comes from the top twenty-five percent of our guests.
Sometimes the split is 70/30 or 80/20, but the ratio is more or less the same across the country. By the way, this ratio also applies to car rentals, hotel nights, and airline flights. It’s no secret that your best guests are your most frequent customers, but this is why loyalty programs have tiers, so you can reward your most valuable customers with perks they’ll come to count on and feel they can no longer do without.
Racetracks, for example, put their best bettors up in condos for the entire racing season and provide them with free limo service to the track every day. That’s because it’s easier to make your best guests happy than it is to get an above-average guest to behave like a VIP.
The 75/25 split is dangerous way to do business, for a small portion of your clientele controls the majority of your revenue. It’s the opposite of diversification, but a casino can no more resist a big spender than a sailor can resist a dockside hooker. When one of our VIPs dies, goes bankrupt, or gets put in jail (for a multitude of reasons, including murder) we feel the hit right away.
The most powerful form of casino advertising is the testimonial. These take three main forms:
Lifestyle: The intent of these ads is to portray the casino patrons as winners in the game of life. The people are suave and stylish. Impossibly good looking, impossibly young. They are eroticized advertisements for the good life, like a beer commercial without the humor. Favored by high-end resorts & casinos that have beds to fill, they are selling a lifestyle of high stakes adventure with immediate rewards. Gamble here, these ads say, and for a few hours you can be a player. It’s a fantasy, of course. They speak to forklift operators and nurse’s aides who want to escape the drudgery of their anything-but-reckless choices. These ads invariably use actors and don’t speak to gamblers.
Slotgasm: The least subtle of the bunch, these show slot players at the moment of jackpot. Their faces are lit up as if they experiencing a visitation from a celestial being. Their body language suggests unbridled rapture. In television spots, they jump up and down in their chairs and chortle with ecstatic joy. The first person I worked for in the casino business despised these kinds of ads. “We do not show menopausal woman having fake orgasms at slot machines.”
Show me the money: These ads show real people with real money. They generally feature harshly lit photos (softened by Photoshop) of heavy-set middle-aged women, men whose faces are creased with wrinkles from spending days in the sun and nights in bars, elderly folks whose expressions are not of glee but relief, for now they can afford to pay off the second mortgage or buy health insurance. They wear t-shirts and baseball caps and may not have all of their teeth. The one thing they all have in common is they are winners and they’ve got the money to prove it. This is what gamblers want to see. Even better if you tell them how much money they won and what kind of game they were playing. Because when people at an Indian casino imagine themselves hitting it big, this is what they think about. Money, money, money.
I know this because I read the reports we ask the winners to fill out after they hit jackpots of $10,000 or more. They tell us how they felt when they won, how much money they’d spent before they won, and what they planned to do with the money. Most report they will pay off bills. Big winners say they will take a trip. What they don’t tell us is that they’ll come back and gamble some more.
But they do. I’m never surprised when the woman who won $43,000 in February cleans up again in March, or when the guy who took home $27,000 and change comes back the next week to “try his luck”—and hits another five-figure jackpot. I don’t look up their accounts to see how often they come to the casino, how much they’ve already lost this year, how many hours they’ve logged on the machines. I don’t calculate what it costs to be a winner. It’s enough to understand their lives don’t change, that winning changes nothing. The rest I don’t want to know.