Bally’s Corporation is one of the up-and-coming gaming companies, joining iGaming together with land-based properties. Mike Donovan was brought on several years ago to run the company’s Kansas City property and later was responsible for all the facilities in the Midwest. He was recently promoted to chief marketing officer for Bally’s, and will oversee the marketing campaigns for all 16 properties, including the temporary Bally’s Chicago, which is and will be the only casino inside the city limits. He previously worked in Lake Tahoe and Atlantic City, where he began the turnaround of the Ocean Resort Casino, now one of the most successful on the Boardwalk. He spoke with GGB Publisher Roger Gros on the exhibit floor at G2E in October in Las Vegas.
GGB: You started the revival of the Ocean Casino Resort in Atlantic City before joining Bally’s. How is that going?
Donovan: Atlantic City is a tough market. We own and operate Bally’s there. We’ve seen that property grow over the last few years we’ve owned it, and just coming off summer, we’ve been busy all around. It’s a great, dynamic market, and it’s a good blueprint for some of these other markets that are highly competitive as well.
It took a while for us to figure out what that property actually was going to be at the end of the day, and to develop that loyal following that we have. And we’ve been blessed with the team that we have there. A lot of them have been at the property for a really long time and deliver that high level of service that we expect. We’re going to continue to try to refine our marketing offers and make our product as attractive as we possibly can.
Why did you choose to join Bally’s when you were so successful at Ocean?
I got a call from Phil (Juliano) and he offered me a role running a property in a GM role. That was exciting to me. My goal in my career was to grow up and eventually operate and run a property, and all the challenges that come with that. Kansas City was a great market to come into, and I was blessed to have a phenomenal team there that over the course of the last three years has built this property. It was an old Isle of Capri property, and now it’s the brand new Bally’s Kansas City. We just opened the new expansion there. There’s a lot of development going on in the area on the riverfront, so we’re just very proud to be part of that story.
Let’s talk about Chicago. People were kind of shocked when Bally’s won that bid. And now you just opened your temporary casino at the Medina Temple, and I understand it’s doing great.
We’re still in the building phase in Chicago. But it’s interesting because you walk around downtown and you have all these phenomenal shops that are just a few blocks away, and there’s just a lot of foot traffic in the area. The temporary facility used to be an old Bloomingdale’s. It’s a beautiful building. Before that, it was a Shriners temple. Our development team transformed it into a phenomenal property. It’s three levels of gaming, and every level has brand new table games and new slot machines with the best technology.
How will you run that property?
We’ve got a great team in Chicago, and we’re excited to see what the next six months to 12 months will bring. We’re the first and only casino within the city limits, so we’re making a huge commitment to the city and to the residents.
As CMO, you have oversight of all the marketing at all the properties, and that includes building that database under your players club. Give us your strategy going forward.
We’ve got 16 properties in 10 states. Every jurisdiction’s different. Over the last 12 years, I’ve been in eight different jurisdictions and seen what is different from a local casino to a regional casino to a destination casino. Customers want more hotel, food and beverage at a local casino. They want more free play, gifts—those kinds of daily marketing offers that we see in Atlantic City. So every market has its own dynamic. Tying that all together is our Bally’s Rewards program. We just rebranded in the last two years, putting all of our Bally’s properties under one umbrella. That was a big push for us as a company.