As we struggle to understand the COVID-19 effect on the casino business and predict the post-vaccine environment, who better to help than the “Wizard of Casino Marketing Research,” Mike Meczka.
Mike is a popular, sought-after speaker at major gaming summits, sharing his message based on years of research in the gaming industry.
Meczka started conducting market research for casinos in the 1970s when he founded MM/R/C. He never stopped trying to apply science to understanding gamblers and the gaming industry. Mike has developed research projects with the best-known gaming companies over the years.
Mike’s breadth and depth of experience understanding the gaming industry is without peer. During the company’s 35+ years as consultants to the gaming industry, over 1,500,000 individual quantitative interviews and in excess of 4,000 qualitative immersion focus group sessions have been completed. These studies have been conducted with patrons of gaming facilities located in virtually every North American gaming market, traditional and recently developed, as well as international markets.
The Gaming Ethos
Research over the years ingrained a singular ethos into Meczka’s casino worldview, best expressed in his signature phrase, “It’s the Gaming, Stupid.”
Mike’s gaming focus results from asking thousands of gamers to name the main driving force that gets them out of the house and into a casino or resort. The lesson learned by Mike after years of research trying to solve the answer is pure and simple. Casino guests like to game and are motivated by gaming-related incentives and amenities.
A Split Gaming Industry
According to Meczka, COVID-19 seems to have a split effect on the gaming world. Regional casinos that are gaming-centric are thriving. Resort casinos that depend on travel, hotel stays, MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibitions) and non-gaming amenities are challenged.
The gaming-dependent regional casinos have locked down expenses and are experiencing less of a loss in revenue. Resort properties like Las Vegas, which are dependent on air travel, non-gaming amenities and hotel occupancy are struggling against the currently overwhelming hesitancy to travel.
“If you go into a property and the spa is closed, the gym is closed, restaurants and buffet are closed or at limited capacity and traditional entertainment is absent, the appeal of that property is temporarily diminished,” Meczka stated.
Based on recent research conducted during COVID-19 throughout the casino industry, Meczka foresaw that the top driver of casino visits is … you guessed it, gambling.
Meczka conducted research after COVID-19 caused the shutdown of hundreds of casinos across the country and determined that slots would be the driver of returning casino guests. Research indicated that slots projected a high degree of acceptance; while amenities such as hotel, tables games and valet parking had low interest and mid-range acceptance.
Low on the choices for potential casino visitors were amenities like bingo, entertainment and poker with high touch potential for guests.
Meczka’s view of gaming as the chief motivator for casino visits was reinforced by research on promotional choices. Free play and point multipliers scored high in importance for potential guests, while “large promos or car giveaways” scored low.
“Gaming guests during COVID-19 want gaming-centric activities,” Meczka said. “They want games within games within slot devices for bonuses, more free play and more time on device.”
Meczka also sees evidence over the years that, given the choice, casino guests prefer smaller to mid-sized promotional prizes over large rewards and prizes, because “the enhanced ability to win more often is preferred so that gamers can use the winning to stay in play.”
Meczka’s research is supported throughout the casino industry as property after property discovered that returning guests are primarily gamers at this stage of the COVID-19 era.
According to Meczka, current COVID-19 era casino guests are there for the gaming. So, what does the Wizard of Marketing Research see for the emerging post-vaccine environment? I asked Meczka, “How do we motivate casino guests to return after long-ingrained habits have had ample time to change?”
“The best way to attract returning casino guests is to ask them what they want in their post-COVID-19 casino experience. Once that is determined, then let’s deliver. We may be surprised at how modest the guests’ requests will be to keep them playing in the casino.”
To Meczka, the message has always been clear. “As an industry, we want to give rewards to people who give back to us. We should care about the 20% of guests who generate 80% of our revenue.”
So, when you’re off to see the wizard, the message regarding the survival of the casino industry is distinctly “back to basics.”
When you ask the Wizard of Marketing Research to grant the wishes of returning guests, he is likely to tell you that the answer is “It’s about the Gaming, Stupid.”
But we already knew the way home, as long as the ruby slippers have bonuses stacked inside.