Category Archives: Casino Host Culture

Money Can’t Buy Them Love

I’ve been interviewing PD professionals from across the country for my next book, The Strategic Host. I’ve been hearing a lot from Casino Hosts about the challenge of not having enough hooks, give-aways, comps, offers, freebies to be able to give their players.

But then I was speaking to Jim, a Player Development Executive. Jim said “If I know a guest is coming in at 9pm, then I am out at Valet Parking at 8:45pm, to be ready to greet them with a smile, every time. Every time.”

Wow! My neck flipped around. Jim took me back to the old-fashioned basics.

Maya Angelou said: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

High net worth gamblers can buy almost anything they want, but no-one can buy an experience and, to quote the Beatles, ‘Money Can’t Buy Me Love’. So Jim focuses on creating a warm and positive experience, and not on what he can give them.

Yes, the Casino has a limit on what we can give in comps, events, tickets, amenities. But there is no limit on the care and consideration that we can give the guest in the way we greet them, treat them, and follow up with them.

So now we all have a secret weapon! Give them some Love.

Drive, and, Host Defensively!

I want to share a story that has been rolling around in my head about Casino Host ethics, integrity, and not crossing the invisible lines.

In the last article, 6 Reasons People Gamble; and Why a Host Should Care, I wrapped up with this thought: ‘Are you a friend? Of course not. Don’t get too friendly or you can easily cross a line that leads to no end of trouble for you.’

An Executive shared an old story with me regarding a Host who crossed a line and ended up in trouble. It involved a Host becoming ‘too friendly’ with some guests and going off-premise to join them for food and drinks. Because, of course, the Host could not drink on property. An F&B Manager was aware of this, and even ended up joining the group off-property! The story did not end well, and it raised all kinds of HR issues about Who Said What, and Who Knew What, and What Really Happened.

In my own professional life, I have found myself in a bad situation where it was all about ‘My Word against Their Word’ but it was a fellow employee and not a customer. If you are the employee and ‘they’ are the customer, then you are immediately less likely to be believed.

And even if you are believed, there is still the terrible PR issue of the customer’s complaint. The Casino must take responsibility for your actions, or perceived actions, and the Casino must clean up the mess. So, you are going to be in big trouble.

Let’s go back to this story.

tsaThe F&B Manager should have known better because a Manager must be even more Squeaky Clean than an individual contributor.

The F&B Manager should have told the Host to cut it out and, if the activity continued, the F&B Manager should have told the PD Manager.

As the TSA poster says, ‘If you see something, say something”.

Both the Host and the Manager should have thought a little more deeply about why they cannot drink on their own Property. It is not to be mean. It is because alcohol removes inhibitions and even if the employee can hold their drink, it doesn’t mean that the customer can. You drive defensively, watching out the other idiots who may run a light, not give a turn signal, or text and drive. As a Casino Host, you must work and live defensively, watching out for customers or fellow employees who might cross a line and drag you with them.

  • How might it look if you are drinking off-property with a VIP customer?
  • How might it look if you are up alone in the Penthouse with a group of guests drinking? Take someone with you!

Here’s the brutal reality. It doesn’t matter what you are doing, it matters how it could be interpreted.

Of course, on property, you have the added protection of cameras so if a customer, or employee, accuses you of impropriety then Surveillance might be able to pull the tapes. Off-property, you don’t that extra layer of protection.

And what about off-hours? Does the Casino own your entire life and so you cannot go bar-hopping or dancing? Well, for one, it probably depends where you live and how likely you are to run into your Coded Players! And what about friends? Can the Casino tell you that customers cannot become friends? Lovers? Of course not, and of course it is going to happen in some cases.

The point is that you must Host defensively. Tell your Manager as soon as there is any reason to do so. Just so they are not taken off-guard and, perhaps, they can re-code the guest. I remember being told “I cannot tell my Manager because this high value player is a married woman’. Well, don’t be having an affair with a married woman, let alone the best slot player!

And as for friends… We all have friends, and we might have friends that play in the Casino. But if your fellow Host meets a bunch of party animals in the Casino and follows them off-site to hang out with them… then those are not their friends! The motive was not friendship but a good time, and parties can go sour. If you See Something, Say Something!

It is all about perception and managing perception. Last night’s news was all about the revelation that Michel Cohen named Sean Hannity was a client. Sean Hannity says he was not a client. It is a ‘Him against Him’ story. But Sean Hannity has spent the week lambasting the FBI raid on Michael Cohen while pressuring Cohen to keep him out of the story. My point is that I don’t know the truth; I just know that Sean Hannity is now dealing with a major news story because he tried to avoid disclosing a minor news story.

Did the PD Manager know about the Host going off-property and whooping it up with guests? If so, they should have Said Something but perhaps they dismissed it as harmless or just gossip. By avoiding that minor conversation with the Host, the PD Manager was pulled into an HR nightmare.

If you See something, Say something! First to the person themselves and then, if necessary, to management. It may be embarrassing or difficult to speak to someone about their behavior, or a rumor of their behavior, but it will be MUCH worse when you get pulled into HR, or the Gaming Authority, to explain what you knew and when.

A Casino Resort has a dangerous mix of heady-entertainment, alcohol, hotel bedrooms, and Casino Hosts have the extra burden of having to be ‘nice’ to guests. So, Drive and Host Defensively!

6 Reasons People Gamble – and Why A Host Should Care

I found an article on Why People Gamble. I didn’t quite agree with the original article so I’ve re-written some of the reasons!

But more importantly, I was thinking that if we focus on Why people gamble, then we can think about How to make them love their Host. And if a valuable player is loyal to the Host then they often think twice about playing somewhere else.

So here we go, with thanks to Samantha Gluck, the author of the ‘PSYCHOLOGY OF GAMBLING: WHY DO PEOPLE GAMBLE?’.

The Chance to Win – Yes, people gamble because they have a chance to win, and they enjoy the sense of anticipation, and the hunt for the winning game. As Casino Hosts, you can create new chances to win. Create 10 baskets of chocolates and play Find Your Host. The first ten players that find you on the Casino Floor between 5pm and 6pm, win the goodies.

Escapism – the Casino provides an escape from everyday life. As Samantha says “for the time that we are taking part we can be surrounded by different people, different sounds and emotions, all of which stimulate and arouse our senses.” As the Casino Host, you want the valuable player to think of you as part of this special world. They are deliberately taking time away from their job, family, relationships, stresses and strains. They want their Casino Host to consistently give them an unconditional and reassuring warm welcome. Strive to be an important part of their alternative life.

Glamour – Samantha writes about the portrayal of a’ stylish, sexy, fashionable image of gambling… There is often a suggestion of ‘high society’ and attending at ‘a place to be seen’.

Certainly the decor of the Casino is designed to be upmarket and to make people feel that they are in a ‘special’ place. But, in this day and age, I suspect people are not looking for glamour so much as wanting to feel important. So many people feel worn-down, under-appreciated, and that they are slipping behind compared to the stars of the Reality TV shows. When they walk into the Casino, they can feel important again and especially if they are greeted warmly. (I remember Therrin Protze of DNC pointing out the value of a warm welcome from the security guards at the main entrance at Jumers Casino & Hotel.) As the Casino Host, you want the player to feel that you see them, that you appreciate them. This extends beyond the Casino Floor to sending messages and cards, placing calls, and reaching out when they have not been on property.

Your body language and facial expressions are really important in making people feel comfortable and welcome. As a Casino Host, you need an immaculate control of your body language, and use of Emotional Intelligence, so that you convey open friendliness to the most *#&@^ personalities.

Importance – so let’s talk some more about importance! Guests love to interact with executives when they can. High-end guests feel as though their patronage should give them a seat at the table, so why not give them one? Light hors d’ouvres, light cocktails, and round tables surrounded by comfortable seating set the stage for a dialogue that will make your most valuable players feel important. Just remember, make no promises in response to their suggestions!

 

Social – Samantha writes that people gamble for ‘social reasons’. Yes, people visit the Casino’s as couples, with family, and with a group of friends. As the Casino Host, you can track the relationships and use them to your advantage. For example, if someone tells you that they are off to Vegas with friends from out of town, then tell them to let you know when those friends are next in town, and you will take good care of them.

Which leads me to Loneliness. You all have those players who visit regularly, even daily, because they are filling a void in their lives. When they come to the Property, perhaps by limo because they can’t get around, then they are happy to lose money in return for being welcomed into the family. As their Casino Host, you can become a trusted friend.

Are you a friend? Of course not. For those of you that are new to being a Casino Host, be careful to always set boundaries around your interactions with guests. For everything that I have said above, there can be a down-side and you will see this during your career in Player Development.

  • Don’t be too generous or you will be seen as a walking ATM machine for free play and comps.
  • Don’t make them feel too important or they will feel entitled to throw their weight around and be demanding.
  • Don’t blow hot and cold so they feel rejected and want to complain about you.
  • Don’t get too friendly or you can easily cross a line that leads to no end of trouble for you.

But, at the end of the day, people are choosing to spend time and money at your Property instead of at the competition. They would like to see and feel some gratitude and, as the Casino Host, you can convey that sense of gratitude in a personal way with how you listen, laugh, commiserate, and genuinely thank them for coming in.

So thank you, Samantha, for your article that inspired this one!

Why do casinos need player development?

I’ll bet your property sends out a lot of mail. Tons of it.  Right? I remember when I was on the seed list at my last property, and it seemed like I got a LOT of mail…and that was just the stuff from my own property!  The mailers I got from checking out the competition weren’t as numerous, since I wasn’t a high roller, but I got a pretty fair number of those, too.

There is a lot of e-mail communication, too. I get something at least once a month, even from properties I haven’t visited in some time. So I know casinos are reaching out and doing database marketing; in fact, I believe casinos do this better than many other businesses today. There’s certainly room for improvement, particularly in terms of “if this, then that” marketing, but that’s another blog post…

Casinos do a lot of things to bring players through their doors.  They post giant luxury cars onto multiple billboards, radio ads let patrons know who is going to be in the showroom soon (and more billboards sport the same message), postcards alert tier card holders there’s a continuity gift program for the upcoming holiday, and reservations agents are scheduled overtime to book the hotel once the coupons arrive in mailboxes market-wide. There’s clearly a lot going on to provide incentives for players to visit a particular casino.

Events are held, show tickets are handed out, food is served, prizes are awarded, and guests show up. So, why do casinos need player development?

Casinos need a true-to-life player development department because it can generate revenue the programs and activities above don’t get for them.  Sure, a player who has had a “pretty alright” experience at your property in the past may come in if you dangle the right prize or giveaway or food coupons at them. But to get the right ones to come in more often, there’s nothing like the personal touch.

A host can make it easier and more inviting for a player to return to a particular property than any other service you can offer.  A host can simply provide the final push a patron needs to commit to the trip your coupons got them to consider.  A host can find out whether a particular guest enjoys tournaments and invite them. A host can let them know when it looks like their favorite progressive is about to hit. A host can get them to share the tale of their bad experience and convince them to give your property another chance to get it right.

There are any number of ways to get a player to come to your casino for a visit, but there is nothing quite as effective as a casino host when it comes to bringing back players or potential worth.  These players expect more than coupons and promotions as a “reward” for their patronage.  Many of them know they are worth a lot to you and expect to be treated as such. Targeting new players who aren’t yet loyal, finding players who are at risk of defection, and reaching out to those you have already lost are cost-effective ways to boost revenue, and there’s no one better than a host to bring them back to you. A well-trained and equipped host team can drive revenue that will have a significant effect on your property’s bottom line.

If you aren’t sure where to start, or if your team needs additional tools or resources, find a PD partner who can show you how to refocus your host team and target the right potential players in your database.  You’ll be pleased with the results.

 

This post is brought to you by Harvest Trends. We specialize in Player Development (PD). Please take a look at PowerHost, a comprehensive way to drive revenue from your team of Casino Hosts and Player Development Executives. Or contact Paul Cutler at 561.860.2621 or pcutler@harvesttrends.com.  Paul will overnight you an informative package along with pricing.

What do I do about the underperforming hosts on my team?

When looking at your host team’s performance, no matter how often, you are looking at the same kinds of things, such as theo generated, player recency, frequency, incline or decline of play, reinvestment, exceptional comps, profitability, contacts, and events support. Hopefully you and your team can see these numbers on a regular basis so you always know how you’re doing. (You can certainly use monthly numbers to tell how well your team and the individuals on it are performing. More often is better.)

Often, the results are sort of a mixed bag. Some are ahead of pace for theoretical, but behind in reactivation or acquisition goals. Others are bringing people in, but those folks aren’t playing as expected, so the host is behind in generation of theoretical revenue. This can even happen while the property itself is performing well, depending in large part on the level of the host’s efforts.

So what can you do about it? First, check your program for opportunities to underperform. Most important of all, please give your hosts measurable goals. (It doesn’t have to be complicated, though it certainly can be.) Start with contact goals: make XX phone calls, mail XX letters, speak on the gaming floor with XX players every week. This single objective set means your expectations have been outlined and can be measured, so your hosts will know what you have assigned to them to do each day. You can, of course, give each host or the team a theoretical revenue target to reach, and/or you can set achievement numbers around separate functions such as new player acquisition, list growth, maintenance and reactivation. Setting measurable and achievable goals sends a message to the hosts to tell them how to be successful in their jobs. (This works best if you’ve aligned your team’s targets with the overall trajectory of your property’s marketing programs.)

Once you’ve set and communicated goals to the hosts, you have to measure the results in order to provide them feedback for improvement. Document everything. Have them sign the goals when they are communicated, and regularly share results in team or one-on-one meetings. Schedule these sharing sessions for two days after you receive results, whenever that is. This keeps you accountable. In the meetings, provide suggestions for ways to build relationships and follow up on opportunities, ensure they understand the guidelines and tools provided to them, and hold them accountable for their performance. This includes both praise for pacing well, achieving goals, and exceeding expectations as well as proper coaching and discipline in accordance with your property’s rules when they don’t do as well as they should.sittogether

If you’ve looked at your program and found other opportunities for your hosts to underperform, make a list and determine how you will turn things around. Do you have hosts who love to hug the usual suspects but don’t make a lot of phone calls? Communicate a specific number of hours each shift you expect them to actively make outgoing phone calls, then hold them to it. Are there hosts who spend all day on the phone but never hit the gaming floor and talk with patrons? Set a specific number of interactions to be reported to you along with the location on the gaming floor where they spoke with that guest. Do you have someone who seems as though his or heart just isn’t in it anymore? Have a frank conversation about why they have this job and come up with a plan to help them re-engage, or find a way for them to gracefully move on to greener pastures. Alternatively, you could even follow up with guests to verify that they are talking with and satisfied with their host.

Do all of you have all the tools you need to set, measure, communicate, and target goals? If not, resources are available in many forms. A number of technology partners can slice and dice the data for you and help you find the opportunities already in your database. (This is true of the entire database, not just those patrons whose play warrants a host’s attention, by the way.) Use a CRM to provide continuity of contacts, preferences and play history in an ever-changing world. Use analytics to target the right patrons, and you might even use your Casino Management System to code and track play from hosted payers. You’ll also need reporting to show how many contacts have been made, which players have been in, who redeemed what, and what that all means for your host team and your property. Mostly, you have to ensure a steady stream of information about what your hosts and their players are doing in order to keep things on track and make changes when they’re not.

What are some of the specific things you can do to help an underperforming host do a better job? The first thing to do is ensure understanding of the tasks and responsibilities of the role. Start on the same page and check in regularly to stay there. Then, once a week or more, make quick notes about the hosts’ performance. It only needs to be a couple of sentences, but note things like whether you saw her going over and above, if his milestones are consistently being reached or not, and add your thoughts on the numbers in the goal period to date. This is also a good place to compile tardiness, absences or extra work hours, patron feedback you’ve received, time management concerns, strengths or weaknesses (and how they’ve progressed or not), and other measurable data specific to that host’s performance. Then once a month, sit down with each host and share your thoughts on the work history you’ve now compiled over the course of the last few weeks. Doing this ensures you are looking at the data and providing the hosts with the necessary feedback, coaching and support they need to be more successful.

When you’ve done all this and the host just isn’t achieving all he should, it’s time to have another frank conversation about the host’s future. It’s critical, especially at this stage and in this situation, that you document everything. Have the host sign documentation related to your expectations, any special arrangements you have agreed upon, milestones and dates for follow-up, and all the steps that have been taken by both of you to rectify the situation to date. Then keep detailed notes along the way. If expectations aren’t being met after all this, it is probably time to make a change.

It’s never easy to let someone go, but when it opens the door for another person who really wants to do the job, it is likely to make the team stronger in the long run. The effects of having a coworker who isn’t pulling his weight can be devastating to your team. Resentment, rumors, and a general malaise can set in and undermine everything you need your host team to be: courteous to a fault, responsive, and cooperative. Hosts who are frustrated with a co-worker are stuck in what they see as a no-win situation. It’s tough to stay motivated and present a happy face to your guests when you’re feelings about work are uncharitable. Whatever the specific issue, the hosts who are performing will appreciate that you held an underperformer accountable and those who are on the fence will understand that you expect performance at a higher level.

The Importance of Internal Relationships

During my casino years, I saw all kinds of relationships in various stages. We regularly had new players who were just meeting the people who worked at our property, so relationships began with the host assigned to follow up to retain the loyalty of those patrons. Other patron-employee relationships had been solidified for years; many of these have continued beyond the confines of the casino’s walls. Among the casino’s associates, there were romantic relationships, work-spouses, friendships, mentoring pairs, and (of course) difficult relationships among all sorts of people. This is to be expected, because the reality is that in any service industry, relationships are the driving force behind the business’s success (or lack thereof).

In Casino Player Development, one must obviously build effective two-way relationships with casino guests. (We discuss how in Relationships 101.)  That’s the biggest part of the job. With this in mind, It’s surprising how many hosts don’t intuitively begin building relationships with co-workers as well. These relationships enable a host to be as successful as possible. Imagine trying to get steakhouse or hotel reservations made and confirmed without the assistance of a co-worker…particularly when fulfilling those ever-present last-minute requests from a big player. Or think about how difficult it could be to enhance a patron’s visit when you plan to surprise her with a spa treatment, but they tell you they’re all booked up and can’t accommodate you. While it is certainly paramount to develop strong working relationships with patrons, the relationships built among co-workers are arguably more important, and are likely to last a lot longer, too. I am still in contact with several former co-workers and know I can count on them even today if I or someone important to me needs their help.sidebyside

Casino guests rely on a number of employees to make their visits go the way they expect, and when hosts can work together with those other employees, everybody wins. In many situations, guest satisfaction can only be achieved through teamwork. That teamwork must, like any other collaborative relationship, be built on a solid base of understanding and communication. 

In the post “A Highroller Told Me,” we learned that a good host works together with both the VIP patron and the associates in the departments the patron utilizes in order to provide the experience that player is hoping to have. This player’s host not only makes appropriate reservations to prepare for his visits, but she coordinates with fellow employees to give them a heads-up that he is coming in and remind everyone about his (and his wife’s) expectations. This host reminds and encourages her co-workers to provide the best possible service to their shared and very valuable guests.

How can you build this sort of relationship with the people who work with you? It’s really not that different than the way host/player relationships are built. Show your appreciation for their efforts. Thank them honestly and effusively, share appropriate gifts and perks, and tell your guests which of your co-workers contributed to their positive experiences. Learn something about them and use that information to refine your efforts to continue growing your relationship. Remember that in order to have a friend, one must be a friend. Find ways to help your co-workers’ jobs easier, make sure their supervisor(s) know how much you appreciate their assistance, and remember that you’re all working toward a common goal: return visits from satisfied, loyal patrons.

Relationship building is certainly important from both an internal perspective as well as from a guest-facing one. Make sure that all the relationships you build are solid. Show how much they mean to you in small ways and make that a habit if it isn’t already one you have. Praise and positivity are always welcome. Use them freely. Everyone will benefit, both in-house and those who visit you.

Amy Hudson

Link in with me at https://www.linkedin.com/in/hudsonamy/

Snail Mail 101 for Casino Hosts

Many years ago, in a casino industry vastly different from the one we live in today, hosts usually didn’t send much snail mail to their players. Player tracking was relatively new, so the marketing department did the lion’s share of the work in sending out mailed player communications. Much like today’s core mail pieces, they were often newsletter-y and mostly advertised the upcoming mass promotions, plus they offered free buffets and room rates to known patrons of worth. Hosts mostly glandhanded players on the slot floor and high-fived the familiar faces in the pit. They wrote comps and issued tiered cards to the property’s favorite frequent visitors. Sign-ups were the order of the day: get cards into player’s hands.

Hosts sometimes mailed those tier cards, or made phone calls to support the direct mail campaign for an upcoming tournament, but very rarely did anyone but the “old school” crew take the time to hand write more than a greeting card or thank you note to a player. It wasn’t the priority; relationships were built face-to-face while folks were playing or at VIP events. Loyalty was a lot easier to come by in those olden days. There wasn’t another casino just across the state line or even several from which to choose in the nearest big city, so there wasn’t a real need to send a piece of mail to each and every player the host took care of.

letterwhen

In the current landscape, where a casino could lose a patron to a competitor at almost any time, those relationships are more important than ever. Making patrons comfortable in your casino is certainly the responsibility of every person who works there, but casino hosts are tasked specifically with securing the patronage of those guests from whom the property has the most to gain. It can be both tedious and time-consuming, particularly for a host who is attempting to do it right. And doing it right means you communicate with your players in multiple ways, using their preferences as a guide.

Here are some pitfalls to avoid when sending out snail (or even e-) mail communications to your hosted players. Obviously hosts need to build positive relationships with these folks to provide them an incentive to return to your casino… so the relationship-building can continue in person while that player is enjoying a visit with you. Doing these things may harm your chances to have that face-to-face opportunity again.

  • Failing to proofread thoroughly can cause serious headaches. How do I know this? Once, an Executive Host was going to send out a letter to his patrons, and I quickly read over it, then approved its release after suggesting a couple of minor changes. I assumed that the host had verified the property’s toll-free reservations number…and long story short, he had not. A string of angry voice mails greeted me the following week, because the prefix (888, 866, 877) in the phone number was wrong and had led the callers to a charge-by-the-minute porn line.  Does anything more need to be said here? Double-check everything for accuracy.
  • Addressing the mail to “Dear Sir or Madam” or anything like it is insulting to your high-worth and high-potential players. Use mail merge to personalize each piece of mail. Also, be sure to correct misspellings of recipients’ names and FIX ALL CAPS before merging the file. If correspondence is coming from a player’s casino host, it ought to be more personal than mail addressed to “…or Current Occupant.”
  • One-size fits all letters are for the Direct Mail team to send out. If you are writing a letter to your entire coded player list, please use mail merge and/or variable fields to include information that is pertinent to the individual who will be reading the letter. Don’t send a summary of every single event going on in the next few weeks. Track preferences among your players and use that to determine which upcoming calendar items will be of interest to which players, and create several versions of the letter to address common interests.
  • Always relying on a printer means your patrons won’t ever receive a handwritten mailer from a host, and that is a mistake. Think about how you feel when you receive a greeting card from your grandmother or favorite aunt. When you see the cursive script on the address panel, you know someone took the time to choose a card and handwrite a message to you. Doesn’t it give you warm fuzzies? You can send the same warm fuzzies to a casino player by handwriting a letter, greeting card, or other note and dropping it into a mailbox. Take the time. The positive impression you’ll make is totally worth it.  
  • Never sending snail mail to your players is a failure as a host, in my opinion. To make the relationships you share with your customers feel more real, you need to communicate with them in a variety of ways, including sending appropriate snail mail. Do you have a player who has been sick? Send a greeting card. Are there players you haven’t seen in a while and you aren’t sure why? Write a letter specific to that issue and send it to the players to say you’ve missed them and invite them back. At the very least, you’ll get some calls and learn why those players haven’t visited recently. Even better, some of them will return because of your letter.

Long story short, hosts should send personalized snail mail communications to their players every once in a while. A host who is responsible for 300 players should send at least 30 pieces of mail each week, meaning they’ll send each patron at least one mailer per quarter and additional cards and letters as appropriate for birthdays, anniversaries, tier card upgrades, illness, new member introductions, or for reactivation purposes.  Broken down this way, a host only needs to generate half a dozen pieces of mail each shift, which should take no more than an hour. That hour (or less) will result in return visits, incoming guest calls, reservations, answers, and increased revenue.

Trust me or test it. That’s my challenge to you. See how much revenue a structured host mail program can generate. Tell us in the comments how it worked for you!

A High Roller Told Me

What things do casinos do that make their high rollers crazy?

I had the opportunity recently to become re-acquainted with a gentleman I’d met some months ago. His wife is my friend’s sister, and my friend kept telling me that her brother-in-law and I needed to have a chat about his casino experiences so that I could gain a deeper insight into the player’s mind. As a Casino Player Development pro, this was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.

This gentleman is the sort of blackjack player most any casino would be happy to have. He’s worth millions in gaming revenue each year, and he is fully aware of the fact that the odds are in the house’s favor. He’s a methodical player who is willing to play a higher minimum per hand in order to keep less experienced players off his table. Let’s put it this way: if he loses, it might mean that table games hits their number for the day, but if he wins it won’t tank the day’s drop. He is looking for the gambling plus a high roller experience that he can share with people who are important to him. If the value is there, he doesn’t so much mind leaving some of his hard-earned dollars behind at the end of his visit.

We sat down in his suite at a Mississippi Gulf Coast casino last week, and after I’d given him a quick breakdown of my experience and my current role, I asked him what casinos do that makes him crazy. This man delighted me by answering that question and then following up with examples of things they do right. I was delighted because many of the things he says are done right are all foundational concepts in casino player development. Basically, this high roller confirmed what I believed to be true about how a strong PD team can contribute to a property’s bottom line.

Since this was where we started the conversation, it’s where I’ll start:

What’s Wrong?

  • Casinos send offers in the mail that aren’t remotely of interest to the player. This player only plays blackjack, but more than one casino sends him slot free play every month. He’s not a tournament player, but his ADT is high enough that he receives multiple invitations to blackjack tournaments. He’d love it if you’d send him something that is meaningful to him instead, and he knows the information necessary to make that happen is in your system somewhere, if you’d only leverage it.
  • Rewards programs veiled in smoke and mirrors. As a player who keeps track of his spend, this gentleman already has a good idea what he’s worth to the casino, and he expects that his rewards will be in alignment with his worth.  It should be easy to tell a patron how many points he needs to earn to advance to a higher tier, whether or not he can receive a comp based on his play, and what his average bet and time played are in the system. If it’s too complicated for your employees to explain, it’s probably too complicated.
  • Being made to haggle over comps. To his point, this guest understands how the system works. He told me about an experience at another South Mississippi casino where he had to make a case for getting a pack of cigarettes comped. He was frustrated by this because he’d just dropped roughly $15,000 at a single blackjack table in a few hours and felt like he was being made to beg for a comp he had surely earned. FYI: He doesn’t go to that casino any more.
  • Employees who don’t have access to pertinent player information. When this guy asks for anything, he anticipates that he has earned it and that his request will be granted. He expects that when a host approaches him, that host will know who he is, how much he’s played, and what rewards are available to him because of that information. He even suggested that hosts should have a smartphone app which would enable them to quickly access such information wherever they are in order to provide the best possible personalized service.
  • Casinos who forget who pays their bills. The casino this patron frequents near his home has recently made some changes that make him feel as though his long-term (and significant) patronage is no longer appreciated. He went from having an executive host who anticipated his needs to having a junior host who will have to call him back when he wants a room or show tickets. Remember, this patron is worth literally millions in gaming spend. But this property is apparently trying to attract even bigger players, and in the process is likely to lose many like this man, who would help to balance the scales when a bigger player wins.
  • Failing to get the details right. When I talked with this player, we were sitting at the dining room table in his suite, smoking cigarettes while we talked. He was staying in a non-smoking suite despite the fact that he’s a smoker…whose cigaretters are sometimes comped by the property. While the casino hotel operator in me cringed, I thought, if you know he’s a smoker and you put him in a non-smoking suite, shouldn’t you expect him to smoke in it?
  • Sharing the high roller experience with players of opportunity. He related a story from his “home” casino where he headed to the pool only to find it closed for a private party being held for a lower card tier than his. It was exclusive to those patrons who had that level of player’s card. He thought this was a good idea, because he saw the promise of aspirational play from those patrons who attended the party. He wasn’t even annoyed that he couldn’t use the pool because he understood the business reasons for having the party.
  • Hosts who understand and anticipate his needs. His wife isn’t a gambler, but she is definitely interested in the pool, the spa, some of the shows, and the restaurants at the casinos they visit. His host here on the Mississippi Gulf Coast does a pretty good job of keeping track of the things this player will want during a weeklong trip, and she even goes so far as to alert associates in other departments when he (or his wife) is going to be utilizing their services. The special personal touches this property provides mean this player will return again and introduce people in his life to the benefits his play earns. He may take 4 extra people to the steakhouse or ask to exceed the usual number of cabana guests, but his play warrants that and his host doesn’t make him ask: she offers what she knows he will want.
  • Protecting the player’s benefits from unauthorized use. On the flip side of the coin, the casino in question always asks for ID or a room key before anyone redeems or room charges anything. His wife kept her maiden name, so she is sometimes asked to provide identification to ensure that she is who she says she is. While I was with them, the service was exceptional and included accommodation when she didn’t have her driver’s license readily available. She told me about her first visit to the spa where a new employee didn’t recognize her. After a quick call to the player’s host to verify his wife’s bona fides, her request was handled efficiently and professionally, and she appreciated the extra effort required to ensure that her husband’s (and, by extension, her) benefits were being protected.

All in all, I’d say the casino where I talked with this patron gets about an 8.5 out of 10 for their handling of this high roller and his expectations. He agreed that they get it right more often than many of the other casinos he’s visited. That tendency to get it right more often than not has earned that property this high roller’s loyalty and repeat business.

Amy Hudson

Link in with me at https://www.linkedin.com/in/hudsonamy/

Learn What Your Customers Want

My mom worked in a casino for a number of years, all in table games. She started as a dealer, but loves the challenge of a good math problem…so she ended up being a Pit Manager for a while before she retired. Craps was her favorite. When we spoke last, she told me the story of a patron she enjoyed seeing, while everyone else rolled their eyes when they saw him coming.

The patron, who we’ll call Tom, usually played about $250 per roll on the layout, and he bet a variety of hardways, so doing the math quickly was a little bit of a challenge. Tom made it tougher, though, because he wanted his bets to stay up (something that was perfectly alright to do), so when he won or lost anything, the dealer(s) had to figure out how to pay him or how much to collect to leave his bets on the table for the next roll. My mom enjoyed the mathematics challenge, and Tom liked playing when she was at the table in any capacity because the game moved faster when she was doing the math. He didn’t have to keep leaning across the table; he could collect his winnings and/or toss in what he needed to replace lost bets. Because of this, he would occasionally get in a groove and place a quarter bet for the dealers, also on a hard win so they did pretty well whenever he did. Win/Win, right?

Any person who works with the public should pretty quickly see the lesson in this anecdote: Utilize the strengths of the associates on your team to cater to your customers’ quirks whenever it’s possible and within the guidelines of the associate’s role. If the patron requires a little bit of extra work, and his spend is profitable, it’s worth the effort to make him happy and keep him spending his hard-earned dollars with you rather than have him shopping around.

Tom enjoyed playing his favorite game even more when he didn’t have to work so hard at it himself. The house and the other players benefited, too, because the game moved faster; and when Tom bet for the dealers, other players would too, sometimes. Tom would stay and play longer, the shift moved along faster, toke rates were good, and my mom’s brain enjoyed its math exercise.

How can you benefit from learning about your customers’ quirks and catering to them? Well, in most cases, very little separates one brick-and-mortar establishment from another. Stores have displays with merchandise, restaurants have food and a “system” for getting it to you, hotels have rooms in which you can rest; even online experiences are pretty much the same…you see where this is going, right? What makes one better or more special to a valuable customer are the little things your place does better for them than anyone else.

Personally, there is a local restaurant that I truly enjoy going to. There is outdoor seating, right next to the water, so the view is fantastic with a lovely breeze even on the warmest evenings. That alone is a pretty compelling reason for me to go there, but they also have great food and the staff is really friendly. We’ve had some hits and misses in terms of the skill of our server from time to time, but since everyone in our house who is old enough to have a job has waited tables at one time or another, we get that it can be a tough job to do well. We assume they’re new and cut them a little slack, because the food is really good, and there are little surprises from time to time. Simple things, like logo sunglasses from one of the beers they were featuring, the birthday girl’s name written in caramel sauce on the plate containing her free brownie a la mode, a visit from the chef (who came bearing balloons for all the kids).  All these things made up for the waiter who didn’t know what draft beers were available or the lack of a certain menu item that day.

Learn what your customers appreciate, however you need to make that happen. Interact with them. Try things to delight them and measure the response. Set up a tracking system so you know what they like and what they don’t. Play different music on different days, toss a free sample into a shopping bag, give a discount to people whose driver’s license number ends in 9, whatever. Heck, you could even send your customers a survey and ASK them what they like or wish you did to show your appreciation for their patronage.

Doing so might be the difference between you getting their available spend or having them shop around to find a new place to spend it.

Communications in Casino Player Development

Casino hosts have a responsibility to develop working relationships with their players. In addition to this, they are often tasked with identifying worthy patrons who would benefit from a host’s service and beginning to build relationships with these folks, too. Then there’s the inevitable situation where a host has to mollify an upset guest…and all of these important host roles require effective communication.

To put this into perspective, imagine that you have moved to a new town or city. You don’t know many (if any) people there, and you need to start building a local support network. You are introduced to new faces and have to find some common ground in order to begin getting to know them and determine what place they may have in your “new” life. It works much the same way when you are a host, except you have to do this with literally hundreds of new people.

Getting to know you…

Learning about a person you don’t know is simple: ask questions and remember what you discover. Offer information about yourself that is relevant and will allow him to determine what place you may have in his or her life. Sharing anecdotes, discovering common interests, and listening to learn (rather than listening to respond) all indicate that you are investing something of yourself to build something of benefit to you both. This takes only a short time if you hit it off right away, but it might take longer if you don’t have a lot in common in the beginning.

Expressing an  ongoing interest…

By asking questions, you allow your new acquaintance to tell you all about his favorite subject: himself. When it’s your turn to reply, indicate your understanding by repeating what you’ve just learned in your own words, then inquire further to either gain more understanding or clarify that you truly “get” what that patron has shared with you. Then, in subsequent communications, confirm your interest by sharing only what is of interest to that individual.

In Casino Player Development specifically, that means not inviting a slot player to a blackjack tournament. Don’t send a mass e-mail to all your players with a listing of every single event that’s coming up. Instead, write a handful of variations that focus on topics of interest to a subset of your patrons. When you send out greeting cards or notes to your guests, be sure to include something that ensures the recipient will understand that you see her as an individual.

Take notes and reference them

One of the most legendary hosts I ever heard of was a gentlemen who had left my first property before I was hired. He was legendary because he remembered things about his players that most people wouldn’t. The story that I was told first about him has stuck with me for many years: he had a guest whose dog, Jake, had suffered a broken leg which had to be put in a cast for several weeks. This host sent the guest a handwritten card to wish Jake a speedy recovery and to express his dismay over Jake’s injury. Rumor has it that the patron refused to go to another casino as long as this gentleman was his host because he’d taken the time to send well wishes to the guest’s dog, who was the man’s four-legged child in a sense.

Since most of us aren’t equipped to remember this level of detail about several hundred people (and those who are important to them), it’s critical to keep track of the information you gather about your players. Whether you write it down, enter it into your CRM or CMS, create your own “database,” or do something else, this effort will endear you to your players because they will know you’ve paid attention to their priorities.

Always follow up

This may seem like a  no brainer, but it needs to be stated clearly: don’t drop the ball! (And when you do, own it and fix it as quickly and painlessly as possible. It will happen. Be an adult about it.) Whether it’s a reservation confirmation, the answer to an inquiry, or simply a reply to a guest communication, make your responses timely and accurate. Don’t leave your players waiting or guessing. Instill confidence in your service by being on top of the details and communicating them to the pertinent patron. Being dependable is one of your biggest assets.

Remember the basis for your relationship

Many hosts with whom I’ve worked have some players with whom they are close on a more personal level. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, it can go too far. Sharing things of a very personal nature is potentially problematic, as it changes the dynamic of your relationship. Spending time with a player outside the casino’s walls is sometimes a part of the job, though there are instances where a host can find himself “owing” a guest for the experiences shared elsewhere. Instead of having the patron see you as their personal casino “concierge,” they may begin to see you as a friend, and they’ll expect your relationship to feel like an ordinary friendship, even though there are some boundaries you might soon find yourself banging your head against (or breaking).

Always remember that the player’s first loyalty should be to the casino you represent and not to you personally. Keep in mind that you know this person because you are supposed to provide caring and consistent service to them. Don’t let a too-personal connection get you into trouble either personally or professionally. As in any relationship, things will go awry at some point and the host will be at a disadvantage when a team leader inevitably has to step in.

Keep it real

Another no-brainer, but I’ve seen it often enough to include it here: don’t make stuff up and don’t tell lies. The truth will come out eventually, and trust broken is extremely difficult to regain. If you don’t know the answer to a guest’s question, say so and pledge to find out and follow up with them (see that point above). Instead of speculating or guessing, demonstrate to the guest that you want to know the answer, too.

Patrons talk with one another and sometimes they know more than the hosts think they do…so always be honest. This doesn’t mean that giving someone proprietary information is okay, either; use professionalism and discretion to determine how to respond accurately and diplomatically at the same time.

For example, if a host is handling communication with a patron who is upset at her failure to receive an invitation to an ADT-based event, the best recourse is to explain that her play during the qualifying period wasn’t quite what it needed to be and give her a basic guideline for qualifying for future events in which she’s interested. Don’t tell her the ADT number; instead, tell her how many points she needs to earn in future visits to make it onto the list. This tactic works for those who are upset about card tier status, mail offers, and promotions as well.

Communicate based on the patrons’ preferences, not your own

So you don’t really text very well, or maybe you don’t like to talk on the phone. That’s something a host needs to put aside because the best way to communicate with a guest is the way the guest prefers you to. If I’m your player and I tell you I’d rather you text me, then text me. I’m going to be annoyed if you insist on making a phone call or if you send me an e-mail when you have something to share with me. When one form of communication goes unanswered, choose another method to inquire as to the most convenient way to get information to that patron.

If you take away only one thing from this post, it should be this:

It’s not all about you

Keep this key concept in mind, and remember to communicate with patrons based on their preferences and interests. (Reading that sentence, it seems this post could have been a LOT shorter, because that sums it right up.