Casinos are facing a double-barreled challenge in 2023. Post-pandemic effects are challenging marketing and operations, while inflation is slowly eating away at the bottom line. Some casino markets are forging ahead as revenues keep climbing over record profits in the past two years. Others are facing those unexpected record revenues and challenged by climbing a steep peak to beat last year.
The Only Thing Certain is Uncertainty
Stock and bond markets are turbulent. Financial information coming from our government shifts and moves like quicksand and most markets have been predicting a recession for 2023 for a year now. Some casino operators say we are already in a recession.
Not too long ago, there was a time when casinos could budget for the coming year based on predictive data that was based on long-tenured patterns. Budgeters and planners could state that based on “X” we have an uninterrupted data flow that demonstrates “Y” will happen. Not anymore. Casinos have been left guessing, and even the best management teams are kept on their toes – bouncing and turning as current trends emerge.
In an effort to understand how the “Evil Twins” of post-pandemic, operations and inflation, are affecting casinos, I interviewed Ravers across the country to get a handle on recent trends.
Insight from Wendy Long, Marketing Director, Indigo Sky Casino & Resort, Wyandotte, OK.
New Loyalty Program Behaviors
“Post-pandemic” feels so strange to say now that we just passed the three-year anniversary of our reopening after our initial closure. The uncertainty of those times felt like it would never end, but we’ve made it through to the other side,” Long said.
“After three years, we are still working data and trying to piece together the new trends. One of the new behaviors we see is that our loyalty program members are looking for any and all incentives … Pre-pandemic most guests just looked at their gifts, dining offers, and free play from the monthly programs. Now, they are digging into their tier discounts, weekly earn and gets, and even birthday free plays,” Long related.
New Player Portal Helps Value Seekers
“With inflation rates growing, our guests are using these loyalty offers more than ever. One of the biggest steps we took was putting all of these offers and incentives in the palm of their hands, literally!” Long stated.
“We launched our casino app and player portal in 2022, giving our guests a one stop shop for any and all offers they have available. They don’t have to dig through emails, text, or mail to see what they have. They don’t have to stop by a kiosk or rewards desk to check their point balance available discounts, or see what promotions are available. This single product gave our guests the ability to engage with our properties like never before.”
Suggestions from Laura Penney, CEO, Coeur d’Alene Casino Resort Hotel
Dealing with Increased Costs
“Coeur d’Alene casino has seen an increase in costs throughout the casino/resort. We have responded by aggressively renegotiating long-term contracts with vendors and opening up competitive bidding to include more vendors. Additionally, we have evaluated alternative, more cost-effective product and supplies. This involves quality assurance and supply chain evaluations to promote long-term effectiveness,” Penney stated.
We meet with departmental heads and key staff monthly for profit and loss reviews with deep dives into expenditures; We have strategically increased rates in our restaurants, hotel, golf course and our gift shops; We are encouraging cross promotion training and engagement with our staff.”
Strategic Positioning for Potential Inflation
“Fortunately, through COVID, we have learned to be fluid, efficient and work as a cohesive team. Our goal is to provide excellent entertainment services at a great price. We live in a competitive space and want to be the best option for our guests. Our COVID experience helped us focus on what is most important to our guests. The key for us is to prioritize development in areas where we can get our greatest return while providing that superb customer experience,” Penney said.
“Additionally, we are currently working on a five-year strategic plan where we are strategizing how best to maximize our revenue internally and externally while maintaining our service principle of ‘Welcome Home!’”
Thoughts from an Experienced Executive
“Our work force has changed. Today our employees are looking for value-based work, not only do they want to be paid well, they also want to be part of a culture. We at CDA Casino try to develop a culture of encouragement, fun and a caring atmosphere like a family,” Penney remarked.
Thoughts from Eric Larsen, Director of Marketing, Silver Reef Casino, Ferndale, WA
“Inflation has impacted all of our marketing strategies. We have had to look at our tactics and promotions to account for higher prices for goods and services while making sure to deliver a positive ROI,” Larsen said.
The Digital Trend
“Marketing for Casino Resorts post-pandemic has had to adapt to the changing needs and preferences of our customers. One of the biggest changes for us has been the shift towards digital channels. With more people spending time online, we had to focus more on digital marketing to reach our current and new customers. We focused our efforts on social media, email marketing, and targeted online advertising,” Larsen stated.
Looking for Deals and Good Value
“We also noticed that our guests are feeling the financial impact of post-pandemic effects and inflation; and are looking for deals and promotions that provide good value. We continue to look for ways to create value while not diminishing our product and brand,” Larsen said.
“Overall, while the pandemic caused changes in the live events industry, people are still attending live events. We found that inflation is increasing everything from the cost of the entertainment to the backline production; but guests very much want to experience live entertainment and are not averse to absorbing the increased costs to see live events,” said Larsen.
Feedback from Michael White, Director of Marketing and Player Development, Elk Valley Casino, Crecent City, CA.
Skyrocketing Top Tiers
“Recently, Elk Valley Casino moved from a location one mile off the highway the casino occupied for 25 years to a nice new, slick modern building on the highway,” said White.
“The biggest trend I see is an increase in spend per person with the top tiers skyrocketing. While the head count has not significantly increased, average bets and trips are up. We are seeing people moving up in tiers at a faster pace. Even the top players in Bingo are spending at triple the revenue,” White stated.
The new Elk Valley location reinstated a buffet restaurant and reopened the players club. “We are not doing as much with car drawings and continuity programs. “We are offering additional free play with a prime rib purchase and the Senior Day buffet promotion on Tuesdays has long lines and revenues are outpacing weekdays – it shows you how important amenities can be,” White remarked.
“We are seeing employees working full time for us taking other part time jobs and requesting overtime,” White stated.
“California minimum wages have reached $15.50 per hour, putting stress on payroll expenses, and employees are faced with gas prices that can reach $5.75 per gallon.” White advised that the tribe is building a gas station and plans to initiate an employee gas discount program.
Casinos are dealing with post pandemic markets and inflation by keeping options open and insuring planning is flexible. However, most casinos are unsure of the future where economic conditions can turn downward quickly and political changes are uncertain.
Most casinos are cautiously optimistic; but the key working theme is to remain hesitant. Only the future will tell which casino strategies will eventually reveal themselves as viable.