Technology has influenced the gaming industry in hundreds, if not thousands of ways, and now casinos are using online gaming to give guest a preview of the experience at their properties.
“In my opinion, online gaming is a driver for an increase of customer visitation along with bringing brand awareness and attention to the players, especially ones in the younger demographic,” says Kelly Shaw, vice president of system sales and marketing for Aristocrat Technologies. “Once the guest visits the property and sees the amenities and begins to play, you can use analytics to draw correlations between the length of play and the types of games being played. It is also a reason to reach out to inactive players—if you get them to play the online game, they may well want to go back and experience the brick-and-mortar casino.”
The brick-and-mortar casinos have learned to embrace their online counterparts, a far cry from the initial adversarial relationship the two entities had about a decade ago.
“That fear from land-based casinos was rooted in the basic principle that anything competing for disposable time and income was a competitor,” says Mario Maesano, senior vice president of marketing at Maryland Live! Casino. “That old thought process has been proven wrong, and many of the naysayers have been pleasantly surprised with how a combined strategy can benefit the land-based casino.”
Now, in a 180-degree turn, both gaming technology companies and casinos are competing to create synergetic partnerships for a consistent experience, whether you are dressed to the nines in Las Vegas on a Saturday night, or stuck behind a computer in your pajamas on a Wednesday afternoon.
Perhaps the most relevant tactic in the online to land-based casino strategy is introducing games online at the same time that they are being introduced on the casino floor. This tactic has been the foundation to the success in the partnership between Maryland Live! Casino and Aristocrat Technologies.
“It is very important to us that we launch on the floor and online at the same time,” says Maesano, as Maryland Live! was one of the first gaming companies to jump into the online social gaming environment. “The synergy between the product online and the product on land is more important than ever before.”
That synergy is important for both regular players and casual or novice participants. Regular players are often attracted to the popular brand-name games they play at the land-based casino, while the younger demographic tends to play a wide variety of games offered to experience the different types of content available.“Casino operators want a seamless experience,” says Shaw. “They are still constantly searching through analytics to determine what particular personalities play which games. This is becoming even more valuable to our clients because popular games online can often become popular games at the brick-and-mortar property.”
The brick-and-mortar properties of MGM Resorts International are the focus of the self-touted “first social gaming project,” known as myVegas. Created by PlayStudios, a new game development company focusing on free-to-play games of chance, myVegas is a Facebook destination that delivers a new level of authenticity and play value as gamers participate in gambling games, unlock and explore a virtual Las Vegas and earn real-world rewards.
Through a partnership with MGM Resorts International, PlayStudios secured the exclusive social gaming and mobile rights for all of their Las Vegas properties: Aria, Bellagio, MGM Grand, Mandalay Bay, The Mirage, Monte Carlo, New York-New York, Luxor, Excalibur and Circus Circus.
“We have actively watched the explosion of the social gaming landscape, and evaluated the options for extending our brands through these increasingly important channels,” says Bill Hornbuckle, MGM Resort International’s president and chief marketing officer. “In our partnership with PlayStudios, we have created a platform that engages and entertains existing MGM resort customers, and attracts new ones, allowing us to strengthen our brands in a new and relevant fashion.”
Not surprisingly, the founder, president and chief executive officer of PlayStudios, Andrew Pascal, previously served as president and chief operating officer of Wynn Las Vegas and Encore after a career with Silicon Gaming developing groundbreaking slot games.
“MyVegas is at the intersection of gambling and social gaming,” says Pascal. “With the emergence of Facebook as a leading gaming platform, we saw an opportunity to offer deeper and more engaging game play that captures the true essence of Las Vegas.”
By playing a variety of games that include slot and table games, players earn loyalty points as they spend time playing the portfolio of games. These points may be redeemed for real-world rewards at any of MGM’s Las Vegas properties.
Rewards range from choosing the song for the Fountains of Bellagio or diving with the sharks at Mandalay Bay’s shark reef aquarium to gourmet dinners, luxurious hotel stays, Cirque du Soleil show tickets and access to Las Vegas’ hottest pools and nightclubs. Hundreds of thousands of discrete prizes are also awarded to myVegas loyalists, which amount to millions of dollars in value. As of November 2013, more than 100,000 players have already redeemed over $10 million worth of real-world rewards. This number is expected to increase rapidly with the myVegas expansion from the web to mobile devices.
“The mobile launch of myVegas slots represents a significant opportunity for our rewards partners within the M life loyalty program,” says Tom Mikulich, senior vice president of business development for MGM Resorts International. “It allows us to provide a unique and accessible way for our customers to engage with brands they already love—and to discover new ones that will equally delight.”
Real or Memorex?
Just in February, Foxwoods Resort Casino, the largest resort casino in North America, announced its partnership with GameAccount Network to launch the first-ever “Simulated Gaming” online casino experience in the United States. They have named the online casino “Foxplay,” allowing users the ability to enjoy the Foxwoods experience from their own electronic devices.
“This is another way for our guests to enjoy all that Foxwoods gaming has to offer,” says Scott Butera, president and chief executive officer of Foxwoods Resort Casino. “We think this cutting-edge technology will enhance the overall guest experience and allow them to bring the excitement of Foxwoods with them wherever they go.”
The Foxplay online casino is accessible to players across the globe through numerous platforms, including Android phones and tablets, iPhones, iPads and mobile formatted browser play. The simulated casino will eventually feature over 50 skill games from the GameAccount Network library as well as dozens of slot and table games. Promotional offers from Foxwoods are available to anyone who plays.
“With the changing landscape of online gaming we are excited to launch Foxplay,” says Dermot Smurfit, chief executive officer of GameAccount Network. “The Foxplay online casino will enhance the online game experience across the world.”
The World Series of Poker was one of the early entities to embrace online capabilities with its exclusive online satellite qualifier for the land-based World Series of Poker at WSOP.com. The 2014 satellite qualifiers started in February, so players in Nevada or New Jersey can play online at WSOP.com or players can participate in live satellite events at the Rio during the World Series of Poker from May 27 to July 7.
“The lure of online and affordable qualification into the World Series of Poker has proven to be a very successful model to drive attendance to the live event,” says Seth Palansky, sports entertainment director of communications for Caesars Entertainment, operator of the World Series of Poker. “Our attendance for the main event has gone from 839 in 2003 to 6,352 in 2013. Satellites play a big part in these entries.”
One of the immediate assumptions of the online to land-based theory is that the online participants are going to be drawn from a younger demographic and less experienced at a casino. While this may be true for many online products, both the casino and online vendors want to take the opportunity to look at each individual player and the value they could bring to the property.
“We like the ability to look at the player holistically so we get a full view of the players’ behavior to analyze the best promotional offers that drive personal interest in hobbies,” says Shaw. “It is a real opportunity to build loyalty with customers which will drive value in revenue into the business with brand awareness and increasing visibility.”
Maryland Live! Casino officials have reaped the benefit of a stronger connection with players, but were initially shocked by the demographics they observed.
“We were surprised at the age of our users,” says Maesano. “We thought it would be more of the 21-to-35 demographic, but our average user age is older, in the 45-to-60 demographic that is more likely to go to land-based casinos.”
Regardless of age, the average visit to the Maryland Live! site is between eight and 10 minutes, and the site already has over 350,000 monthly visitors. Site visitors log in from as far away as Florida, Michigan and even California. However, Maryland Live! stays focused on recruiting players from the Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. areas.
“We are well aware of what our market is, and we like our role as one of the region’s leading entertainment destinations,” says Maesano. “Our online integration with our casino management system is the foundation to attract more visitors for future visits to the property, and we are pleased with the results we have experienced. We are glad that the industry has embraced this trend, and it means a bright future for gaming and all of our guests.”