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Player Hunt

Consultant help and new products help casinos get the most from player tracking systems

Player Hunt

Nearly 30 years after the first slot accounting and player tracking systems appeared, some 95 percent of casinos have their slot machines linked to an online card-based loyalty program. However, many casino marketers have yet to realize the full value of the data generated by such systems.

Database marketing is still maturing three decades after the databases were created. Customer loyalty programs are still maturing as well, often with consulting assistance from some of the professionals who pioneered such programs.

Meanwhile, the newest technology available has enabled casino marketers to mine and exploit the mountain of information generated by casino management systems with an immediacy not even imagined when companies like Bally, Aristocrat, IGT and Konami began their system partnerships with casinos.

The key, of course, to effectively using the technology allowing real-time offers and promotions is to know the customer. Casinos of all sizes have turned to consultants such as Randall Fine to help them mine the data being generated by casino management systems. Fine gained prominence in the marketing field at the former Harrah’s Entertainment, where he was one of the architects of the industry-standard Total Rewards national players club program. His Fine Point Group, founded in 2005, offers consulting and operations help in all management disciplines, but its core function has always been to help casinos develop effective customer loyalty programs.

“Most of our business is consulting to typically smaller operators who want the sort of horsepower the bigger operators get, but who can’t afford it,” Fine explains. “We have the ability to bring world-class loyalty marketing and analysis to smaller properties that can’t afford the full-time people to do those kinds of things.”

The Fine Point Group starts with the database that was created by a casino’s card-based loyalty program, and separates the customers into segments—unique groupings of customers based on frequency of visit, gender, age, marital status and other demographics. The goal, says Fine, is to customize the marketing for each group. “There are lots of ways we can group customers and speak to them in a more customized way,” he says. “Each customer can be sent a perfect set of offers for them, but almost no casinos are doing that. They send everyone four cash coupons.”

Fine says a good player loyalty system will offer personal demographic information, and track what customers play and when they play it, as well as what other amenities each customer likes. “Once you have all that raw data, you can figure out what to send that customer,” he says. “Operators should be sending each customer a unique offer based on them.”

Keeping Score

The more data collected and analyzed, the more tailored those marketing programs can be to each customer. “The first thing any casino needs is some kind of data reporting where every single transaction of the customer is tracked,” says Marco Benvenuti, principal of Duetto Consulting, which recently built a comprehensive strategic marketing platform for Tucson’s Casino Del Sol and has been involved in major customer relationship management projects for other large casinos.

Benvenuti, who created business intelligence and marketing platforms as an executive of both Wynn Resorts and Caesars Entertainment, says the starting point for customer loyalty programs should be establishing a way to calculate a score that gauges each customer’s total worth. “We all know what to do when we evaluate a gaming player—you look at ADT (average daily theoretical), and that’s how you calculate the worth of that player. When you look at everything, it becomes a little more complex. We come in and help operators develop their own score, which we call average daily theoretical profit.”

The theoretical profit combines assumptions on what a customer will lose at the tables or slots with assumptions on what the customer will be spending on F&B, the spa, entertainment and other non-gaming profit centers. Duetto’s Revenue Management Tool Kit uses the scores to forecast demand based on past transactions, and produce pricing recommendations for different customers. “This particular customer gets your casino rate, another may get an offer with F&B or spa or gaming chips, another gets a comp, depending on what they’ve done before,” he says.

Gifts That Fit

In addition to customizing promotions, information in an operator’s customer data warehouse can be used to customize gifts. This is where companies like Rymax Marketing Services come in.

New Jersey-based Rymax creates customized incentive programs that casinos can use to offer loyal players gifts from a selection of 250 brands and more than 1,000 products. Currently, Rymax offers such services to MGM Resorts properties around the country.

“We have all name-brand, high-aspiration products,” says Paul Gordon, vice president of sales for Rymax. “Brands like Salvatore Ferragamo, Apple and Samsung are driving play, because the products are highly desirable by the end user.”

He says Rymax also gives casinos web-based programs that will permit customers to view the products from home—and, of course, come back to the casino to redeem the gift. Gordon says it’s a relatively new phenomenon that’s steadily gaining steam in the casino industry. “Eighteen months ago, operators were still saying, ‘We want to give away 5,000 muffin tins,’” Gordon says. “That’s not going to bring people in. People want something that’s hot at the moment.”

The Here and Now

Gordon says the biggest success stories among Rymax’s casino clients involve casinos using all available media, to engage players online, using mobile devices, or at the property itself.

It’s part of a trend now emerging to bring marketing full-circle from what was once available only in the mailbox to bring promotions and communication to the player, regardless of where that player is at the moment. Large companies like Bally Technologies are going in this direction—Bally Interactive, formed after the company acquired a mobile platform, is dedicated to helping casinos interact with customers in all media.

One company helping casinos add the mobile element to the marketing mix is Joingo, LLC. The company was founded in 2008 by biotechnical industry pioneer John Finney and Stephen Boyle, the telecommunications wizard who co-founded the company that first brought data services to cellular phones in the 1990s.

Joingo offers casinos a ready-made mobile platform to add to their customer loyalty programs. The groundbreaking Mobile Loyalty System, with five patents pending, gives casinos what Boyle, the company’s CEO, calls “the capability to create their digital front doors today.” The company also is working with slot manufacturers to offer their games on mobile devices for free play, with the natural evolution to for-wager play to be made quickly where mobile gaming is legal.

However, for now, one of the biggest advantages offered to casinos by Joingo is the ability to make communication and player rewards immediate, from the casino to the player, on the customer’s mobile device.

Boyle says the key to doing this effectively is to use the information in the patron database. “We have a system that taps into the patron management system, and we can look at that live information, and our customers have the ability to create an infinite number of demographic segments, and then target those segments independently or in combination for promotions,” he says. “And because it’s mobile, you can see it within a matter of seconds; you can do very time-sensitive things.”

Brenda Boudreaux, Joingo’s vice president of sales and marketing, adds that mobile marketing allows casinos to quickly personalize promotions for a customer while he’s still on the property—reward them for their play with dinner at their favorite restaurant, give them a quick birthday present, or any of an infinite number of other possibilities. “You can talk to them about things that are happening at the hotel, and give them information relative to their location,” she says. “This gives you the ability to react, and you don’t have to wait until they get home and find something in their mailbox.”

The other channel for instant, real-time promotions is the ticket printer on each slot machine. Companies like FutureLogic, Inc. and TransAct Technologies have developed thermal printing products that link to a property’s computer network to send players comps, gifts or other rewards before they even leave the slot machine.

South Point in Las Vegas recently installed FutureLogic’s PromoNet couponing solution. According to Nick Micalizzi, FutureLogic’s vice president of sales and marketing for North America, one of the main objectives of the solution is to help casino operators identify valuable players, whether carded or not. “One of the main objectives is to reward valuable players who have not yet joined the club,” Micalizzi says.

When play reaches certain pre-set triggers, players are issued a coupon through the ticket-in/ticket-out printer as an incentive to join the club. “We created an intelligent couponing system that links promotions, in real time, to game play, and delivers promotions exactly where and when they are needed,” Micalizzi says.

TransAct’s Epicentral system also allows casinos to make relevant real-time offers to players while they are at the slots. “The offers are intelligent, and personalized based upon the link between the player tracking system and Epicentral,” says Tracey Chernay, vice president of sales and marketing for TransAct. “With Epicentral’s Campaign Center and its view into the player tracking database, Epicentral can manage limitless types of offers, but tailor them directly to a specific player who qualifies based on a tier or a designated trigger such as time on machine or coin-in.”

Epicentral recently completed casino floor testing on 1,100 slots at Connecticut’s MGM Grand at Foxwoods, and Chernay says the company is set to go live with another 1,000-plus installation in the near future.

As more new technologies appear, the sophistication of customer loyalty programs will increase even more. Any way you slice it, we’ve come a long way from depending solely on the casino host and the snail-mail coin coupon.

Frank Legato is editor of Global Gaming Business magazine. He has been writing on gaming topics since 1984, when he launched and served as editor of Casino Gaming magazine. Legato, a nationally recognized expert on slot machines, has served as editor and reporter for a variety of gaming publications, including Public Gaming, IGWB, Casino Journal, Casino Player, Strictly Slots and Atlantic City Insider. He has an B.A. in journalism and an M.A. in communications from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. He is the author of the books, How To Win Millions Playing Slot Machines... Or Lose Trying, and Atlantic City: In Living Color.