My first meeting with Mike Meczka in the 1990’s concluded with Mike telling me to check out “24/7 Polka Heaven,” an online polka station that I immediately passed on to my mom.
That was the thing about Mike.
You started out working on research and somehow it became about real life.
Mike was a person who was later described as “a class act,” a “stand up guy,” “Such a professional and a wonderful guy,” “common sense, dedication, knowledge and a dose of humor,” “a gem of a human being,” “Truly one of a kind, and so gracious,” and “a genuine, generous person.”
The accolades and tributes were piled high on LinkedIn after the shocking news of Mike’s passing reached the casino world.
The best tribute to Mike is Dennis Conrad’s piece “If I Could be Like Mike – A Tribute to a Late Great Friend, Mike Meczka.” If you knew Mike and haven’t read Dennis’ tribute on LinkedIn, you should.
In the early 2000’s, I had a great time spending hours with Mike touring the country “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” style to develop a research program for the Isle of Capri’s many casinos.
I’ve watched hundreds of Mike’s unique and slightly volatile gaming convention presentations; spent countless hours hanging out with Mike at gaming summits, late night sessions, and many phone calls.
I was fortunate enough to call Mike my friend and my mentor.
The Thing About Mentors
Mentors have experience and skills.
The thing that separates a mentor like Mike from the rest of the crowd was that Mike cared. He cared and gave his time and shared his knowledge.
When looking for a mentor, seek out the people who care. Caring is the shining trait of a good mentor. It makes all the difference.
Mike cared deeply about the research knowledge he shared and cared deeply about people.
Meczka’s Guiding Principles
Along the way, I absorbed some of Mike’s guiding principles on the gaming industry, which I am happy to share with direct quotes. The quotes below certainly do not represent everything Mike considered vital in his long career. But it gives you a good picture.
A Numbers Guy with a Big Picture View
Market research is an analytic, systematic, methodical, and logical discipline.
Meczka started conducting market research for casinos in the 1970’s when he founded MMRC. 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.
His breadth and depth of experience understanding the gaming industry was without peer. During the company’s 35+ years as consultants to the gaming industry, over 1,500,000 individual quantitative interviews and more than 4,000 qualitative immersion focus group sessions were completed. These studies were conducted with patrons of gaming facilities located in virtually every North American gaming market, traditional and recently developed, as well as international markets.
The Wizard of Marketing Research processed years of highly analytical and scientific experiences and out came the Big Picture.
“It’s the gaming, Stupid.” was Mike’s playful phrase to help focus his vast audience.
Mike’s face would light up when he said it; he wore buttons and he used it frequently.
Behind that simple phrase was Mike absorbing decades of gaming research.
It was Mike sitting down face to face with 4,000 qualitative immersion focus group participants and developing research projects for 1.5 million quantitative interviews that manifested into his core beliefs.
The Reason People Visit
“The reason people visit casinos is the gaming,” said Meczka. “The rest is just window dressing!”
Mike Meczka’s central belief was that “gaming is escapism.”
On Casino Gaming Devices
“Gaming patrons want gaming centric activities,” Meczka said. “They want games within games within slot devices for bonuses, more free play, and more time on device.”
Why Bother with Other Benefits?
Explaining a recent research project measuring rewards and benefits, Meczka said “Look at how free play overpowers all other benefits. Why do we still bother with other benefits?”
“People come to the casino to gamble.”
“We keep losing site and we want to do every other thing except allowing guests time to gamble,” Meczka said.
Food Is Fuel
“Food is just a given, particularly at the high end,” Meczka said.
So, in Mike’s view, marketing departments are not getting happy face stickers from guests for offering food. Guests just expect it.
Simply Ask Them What They Want
“The best way to attract returning casino patrons is to ask them what they want in their casino experience. Once that is determined then, let’s deliver. We may be surprised at how modest the patrons’ requests will be to keep them in the casino playing,” Meczka said.
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.”
What Fuels Return Visits
“People want time on device. They want their budget to last as long as the time they allocated for gaming. People want to feel appreciated, and they want escapism.”
“They want a positive experience and it’s incumbent on us to give good gambling value,” Meczka said.
“Players have told us time and time again, I’ll give you my entire budget, just give me time on device for the time that I’m in the casino. Players tell me they are not here to win big. They are here to be in action and to play.”
“They are here to be entertained,” Meczka said.
The Never-Ending Smoking Debate
“We’ve discovered that guests play the same amount of money wether smoking is banned or not banned. We have precedent in the card clubs in California. It takes a while until people become accustomed to it and eventually play more,” Meczka said.
Meczka added that smokers represent 15% to 20% of markets.
“The overwhelming issue is that nonsmokers want to be in a clean environment; and they are bringing revenue and time on device in bigger numbers.”
Big Ticket Promotions
Over the years, Meczka often repeated that, given the choice, casino patrons prefer smaller to mid-sized promotional prizes over large rewards and prizes because “the enhanced ability to win more often is preferred so gamers can use the winning to stay in play,” he said.
Mike felt the pandemic stripped out non-profitable amenities and promotions and warned casinos not to go back to cookie cutter, money losing programs.
“We have the template here for how to create max profit potential, yet are we going back to giving away a car a day and doing things that hardly pencil out?” Meczka said.
Mentors and Luck
Years ago, when I met Mike Meczka, I was not remotely looking for a mentor.
Yet, over the years, I was lucky enough to know a guy who would share his knowledge, his friendship, and his unique vision of the gaming industry.
“My mantra is, it’s the gaming, stupid.” Meczka always said.
According to Meczka, the core of what we produce in the gaming industry is escapism and entertainment. We should never forget that.
I will deeply miss the funny, brilliant guy with the booming voice and the great big heart who always greeted me with Polish phrases and a big, eye twinkling smile.
If you are looking for a mentor in life, find someone who cares.