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Making New Markets

Making New Markets

God Bless the “Blue Hairs.”

There have been some disparaging comments recently in several forms of media on the one market that is really keeping the gaming industry afloat in several jurisdictions: the senior citizens.

This is not a new phenomenon. It’s been repeated over and over again in new and existing gaming jurisdictions. The gist of the comments is that casinos are “robbing” senior citizens of their retirement income and that casinos should be prevented from doing that by being banned, shut down or restricted in how they market their product.

Of course, this is just another projection of the “nanny state,” where the government must protect members of society who can’t protect themselves. And it is just another insult to this “greatest generation” that built the society and the privileges we all enjoy today.

It seems that the general theory goes that once you reach somewhere around your 70th birthday, common sense flies out the window and you become susceptible to all sorts of disagreeable scams, with casino marketing at the top of the list.

These contentions are, of course, hogwash. Senior citizens are no more vulnerable in a gambling environment than any other segment of society. These are people who have somehow gotten through their entire life, amassed a retirement income and in most cases raised their children with little or no help from the government or any other group. To intimate that they can’t take care of themselves in the twilight of their lives is not only insulting, it is plain wrong.

These folks have the luxury of leisure time after working hard their entire life. To tell them what they can and cannot do is the ultimate in insolence. But that doesn’t stop people who think they know it all.

In the gaming industry, we welcome all people who make the choice to partake in our particular style of entertainment. And because senior citizens are discriminating in their choices in many ways, casinos are obviously doing something right.

And it’s not just the slot machines that draw them to our properties. It’s the camaraderie, the recognition and the social interaction that they enjoy above any gambling experience.

And while we celebrate this market that is so loyal to us, we have to be concerned about a large falloff in other markets during these difficult economic times.

We had thought we were well on the way to lining up replacement markets for the senior citizens prior to the downturn. The ultralounges were packed with the X, Y and Z generations, plunking down hundreds of dollars for bottle service. Baby boomers were arriving in droves to listen to the bands from the ’60s and ’70s, and enjoy those slot machines themed on their favorite movies and TV shows. And they all enjoyed the gourmet restaurants and exciting shopping experiences.

But those “non-gaming” experiences have suffered as our customers watch their nickels and dimes. And even the gaming budget has been cut as players reduce their annual visits or stay closer to home. This is a disturbing trend, one that may only reverse itself when the economy improves.

The danger, of course, is that these former customers may not return.

So this is the time for our superior marketing departments to come up with some reasons that will keep people coming to casinos.

In Las Vegas, the hook has become the “value” offered by casinos. No longer can the fancy hotels of the Strip demand—and get—$300 a night and more in ADRs. I got an email the other day offering rooms in what is undoubtedly the Strip’s most luxurious resort—Encore at Wynn—for $149 a night. You can bet that the other casinos are offering corresponding rate reductions.

Other jurisdictions might use other solutions. In the early 1990s, Atlantic City was suffering the results of a severe recession in the northeastern United States. One of the ways it pulled out was to present championship boxing. Luckily, Mike Tyson was the premier figure in the sport and he fought frequently on the Boardwalk.

Day-trip destinations like riverboats or Indian casinos might try some of the tried-and-true marketing solutions such as cashback or bounce-back coupons.

I don’t have the answers, clearly. But we can’t just sit back and feast on the largesse of senior citizens. We must develop other markets and market segments so that when the recession ends—and it will—we will be prepared to serve a wide variety of expanding markets.

So while we welcome our existing customers, we need to have our sights set on the future, when things get better and people start spending money again. And we once again concentrate on growth, not survival.

 

Roger Gros is publisher of Global Gaming Business, the industry's leading gaming trade publication, and all its related publications. Prior to joining Global Gaming Business, Gros was president of Inlet Communications, an independent consulting firm. He was vice president of Casino Journal Publishing Group from 1984-2000, and held virtually every editorial title during his tenure. Gros was editor of Casino Journal, the National Gaming Summary and the Atlantic City Insider, and was the founding editor of Casino Player magazine. He was a co-founder of the American Gaming Summit and the Southern Gaming Summit conferences and trade shows. He is the author of the best-selling book, How to Win at Casino Gambling (Carlton Books, 1995), now in its fourth edition. Gros was named "Businessman of the Year" for 1998 by the Greater Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce, and received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Gaming Association in 2012.

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