My Favorite Casino Scam

“What’s measured improves.” —Peter F. Drucker

In the early 1990s, I had the honor of being hired as Lyle Berman’s marketing person for Grand Casinos, Inc. We, like so many firms, had statements defining our mission, goals and vision that basically suggested that we loved our employees (we loved them so much we called them associates), we loved our customers (we loved them so much we called them guests), and we loved our shareholders (we actually just called them shareholders).

We were also committed to making sure we would make our shareholders happy by driving money to the bottom line, and we would also make our guests happy (in fact, we would delight them), by delivering excellent guest service. In other words, we were making solemn commitments on paper to the same groups and in the same spirit that essentially every other company on the planet was making.

When I was working within the industry, I noted that often the leadership of firms would make these commitments to both profitability and guest service. I also noted that these firms spent substantial financial and human resources developing metrics and capturing data in the financial realm of things, yet committed few financial and human resources in developing metrics and capturing data in the guest service realm of things.

In other words, we had a ton of bean counters working to make sure that we understood what was going on financially, but just a person or two empowered to figure out just what was going on in guest service. The point being, of course, that often guest service, while applauded as an important goal of so many organizations, is starved of talent and funding by these very same organizations.

It is easier to talk the talk than… Well, you know.

Lyle, as the leader of Grand, actually did believe that guest service was important (he seriously wanted them delighted), and he was also ready to commit resources to make an effort to measure the level of delight that we provided our guests. This ushered in our Exit Survey Program.

This program was designed to capture the impressions of our guests as they exited one of our properties in an administered intercept format, and we spent a substantial amount of time and money to ensure our efforts were methodologically correct, and we tried to avoid most of the common traps that can trouble these survey efforts. And each and every month we would publish the results for each of our properties, and this all became very important to damn near everyone in the company, mainly because it was important to Lyle.

In executing the Exit Survey plan for Grand’s two Mississippi Gulf Coast properties, we engaged a college student from the area, and this was his task. He was thoroughly trained on what was expected of him, and the many and varied steps he needed to execute to ensure the statistical integrity of the process. He then began providing us with his results.

This Exit Survey Program was an immediate success, and what I mean by an immediate success is that not only did we gain great insight into what our guests thought of us, but as a result of us capturing and distributing this information, the measures showed improvement each and every month—clearly testament to modern management and our brilliance.

Month after month, our surveys showed minor but positive gains, and Lyle was happy, and therefore, the folks in the divisions were happy. Then came a sad end to all of this. We came to understand that the individual who was handling the project found it was easiest and most efficient for him if he simply did the surveys from his home.

After all, Mississippi can get hot, it rains a lot, and actually asking people questions is a pain in the butt—so he simply filled the forms out at his house, tallied the results, and sent them on to us for distribution. And what was absolutely brilliant was that he knew that as long as the results were improving, no one was going to be exploring any of the details of his efforts.

It was clearly necessary for us to stop our use of this gentleman once we discovered his scam, and we allowed him to leave our company to utilize his creative efforts someplace else. We replaced him with someone who was less disposed to completing these surveys at home.

The initial results were, predictably, a lessening of the scores the two Mississippi properties had been receiving. Furthermore, sometimes the scores would demonstrate a decline on the month-to-month comparisons, and both of these facts often led Lyle to be less happy. And when Lyle was less happy, we found a great many people in property management began questioning the sample size and other elements of the research methodology.

It was this fact that led me to understand the true brilliance of this scam, and it is that people are quite accepting about getting good news about their efforts… even when it is nonsense.

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Richard Schuetz started dealing blackjack for Bill Harrah 46 years ago, and has traveled the world as a casino executive, educator and regulator. He is sincerely appreciative of the help he received from his friends and colleagues throughout the gaming world in developing this article, understanding that any and all errors are his own.

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