The Plaza’s “Brian Christopher Slots” area, a special section of the slot floor stocked with dozens of Christopher’s hand-picked favorite games
Something remarkable happened last July at the Plaza Hotel and Casino in Downtown Las Vegas. It was a confluence of three forces in today’s slot machine market—an operator, a slot manufacturer, and the newest phenomenon in the slot market: the “slot influencer.”
The occasion was the launch by slot-maker Gaming Arts of its new game “Brian Christopher’s Pop’N Pays More,” hosted by YouTuber Brian Christopher, one of the earliest and most successful practitioners of a new art in the slot world, that of the slot influencer. This growing group of slot players has achieved success—often big-money success—by live-streaming videos of themselves playing slot machines to YouTube, Facebook and other social-media outlets, and to their own websites.
The influencers have become internet stars. Hundreds of thousands of followers tune in for millions of views every week of videos made by these new celebrities, who enthusiastically narrate their own slot play, cheering on wins, making catchphrase comments on near-misses, and guiding viewers through the game. Followers flock to special events to see them play in person on cruises, casino floor tournaments and more.
The practice has exploded. Manufacturers are now using influencers as an integral marketing channel. It’s free advertising on social media that not only describes a game but shows it being played for money. Players can see how a game works, how the bonuses play out, how winning big is possible, and how players react to those wins.
Slot operators, as hesitant as they were at first to allow anyone to record a video on the casino floor, now see the marketing value as well. In fact, Christopher’s event launching the Gaming Arts slot took place at the Plaza’s new “Brian Christopher Slots” area, a special section of the slot floor stocked with dozens of Christopher’s hand-picked favorite games.
Lisa Melmed, marketing manager at the Plaza, says influencers like Christopher bring loyal players to the slot floor.
“I think it brings in a wider audience, because when you follow an influencer, you consider them your friend and you trust their opinion,” Melmed says. “So, it’s much more persuasive to see someone playing a slot machine and saying how much fun they’re having.”
“Influencing is another type of media form,” comments Erica Kosemund, senior director, gaming brand & partnerships for the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. “We view it as a time that people can connect with an audience that we may not have access to. We are one of the largest casinos in the country, but we’re located in southeastern Oklahoma. One the main benefits we get (from influencers) is not only the casino floor experience—we have an incredible casino floor of over a 7,400 games in our flagship property—but the experience and the amenities of a luxury resort that people may not have been aware of, closer to where they are.”
“Social influencers have been a way for our casinos to connect with and engage new customers for several years now,” says Jennifer Weissman, senior vice president and chief marketing officer for Penn Entertainment. “Our customers are highly engaged with social media and often with influencers. Connecting our guests with influencers they are engaged with has been a great way to create a unique and memorable experience. Several gaming influencers have quite a following, and we often see new customers visit our casinos for the first time to meet the influencer in person.”
Many of the top slot influencers will tell you they never expected to do this for a living. Most, like Christopher, began taking cellphone videos of games they were playing mainly for their own use.
“I didn’t have any plans of becoming an influencer or making this a job,” says Christopher. “I literally just recorded some videos of my play and posted them for fun to YouTube without any expectation of uploading another video ever again. And only because those videos were so successful did I decide to post a few more, and they just kept doing well, so I stuck with it.”
That was in 2016. By this year, videos on Christopher’s BC Slots website and YouTube channel surpassed 302 million views and 528,000 followers, adding 5 million views each week.
As his fan base grew, Christopher became known to bring crowds to casinos, adding live viewers to the thousands online. The introduction of the Brian Christopher Slots area at the Plaza was followed quickly by Gaming Arts’ partnership with him to create his signature slot game, which features an avatar of Christopher hosting the game, and reacting to game events as he would if he were live-streaming.
“We started working with Brian in 2019, and we built a partnership with him,” says the Plaza’s Melmed. “He’s really great to work with, and his slot machine space is really popular. It’s always busy.”
According to Melmed, Plaza CEO Jonathan Jossel had Christopher as a guest on the casino’s “Corner of Main Street” podcast, and asked him, “What is your dream?” Christopher said it was to have his own slot section and his own machine. Both were launched at the Plaza. This year, it was expanded, and at Christopher’s request, was made a smoke-free area.
Christopher says the new BC Slots policy is to only stream from smoke-free casinos.
“We work with tons of casinos,” Christopher says. “Every week, we’re in a different one.” That includes casinos in California, Las Vegas, Oklahoma, Minnesota and other markets. He stages tournaments, takes fans on Carnival cruise events, and stages a variety of other special events—all surrounding his live-streaming a variety of slot games.
As his following has grown, Christopher has cashed in on his unplanned popularity, to the point where he has expanded the range of games he streams to include high-end slot sessions involving tens of thousands of dollars, as well as a good selection of streams involving more common bankrolls in the hundreds.
“I try and show a good marriage between the two—I want to show smaller bets and larger ones,” Christopher says. “They each hit a different audience. People want to relate to the players, so lower bets are better for that. And it also attracts a newer audience and a larger audience when you do those bigger bets.
“My biggest worry for slot channels—because there are hundreds, if not thousands right now—is that they are trying to break into this, and I 100 percent welcome them all, but they’re jumping into it expecting to make a fortune, and they will figure out very quickly that there’s not enough money in it to cover all your losses, and your expenses. That’s why these partnerships are needed—they help keep us afloat.”
For sure, the numbers of slot influencers are swelling. Melmed at the Plaza says she works with between 20 and 30 influencers at any one time. Kosemund at Choctaw places the number of influencers she works with at “well over 75,” including not only slot influencers, but influencers with blogs on lifestyle, food & beverage and other non-gaming amenities.
“We’ve definitely made a concentrated effort to build that up over time,” she says. “As the influencing marketing channels change and evolve, we’re continuing to grow and learn with them.”
Weissman at Penn also works with influencers in both gaming and non-gaming areas. “Gaming and lifestyle influencers regularly visit our casinos, dine in our restaurants, stay in our hotels and experience the entertainment we offer,” she says. “We work with a number of lifestyle and gaming influencers. Some have national following, others have more local followers.”
On the slot floor, the number of influencers is still on the rise, not only with the few that travel around the country, but with influencers in each of the casino markets finding a niche in their local casinos.
One of those more localized influencers is Jackpot Beauties, created by a husband-and-wife team in the Tampa, Florida area. Influencer Ariana (she asked her last name be withheld for privacy reasons) says her husband discovered slot channels like BC Slots, and after the couple investigated the phenomenon, they were fascinated.
“I came to find out that, oh, wow, there is an entire community of people that watch other people play slots,” she says. The couple decided to launch their own channel. Despite early opposition, Jackpot Beauties gained a foothold in the Florida Seminole Hard Rock casinos.
“My home casino is (Hard Rock) Tampa,” Ariana says. “We wanted
to get authorization to film because we would be frequenting that casino the most. At the time, they were only allowing a few people to do it.”
Early on, the business at Jackpot Beauties was interrupted by the Covid pandemic, but by the time the casinos reopened, officials at Hard Rock and other casinos were much more receptive to social media marketing using influencers. “They did a lot of research on their end,” Ariana says. “They would take a look at what kind of videos we were posting, and the context of the videos. We obviously met their standards, and were able to have the authorization to film.”
Jackpot Beauties went on to become a full-time job for the Tampa couple, who branched out to the Hollywood, Florida Seminole Hard Rock property, and then expanded to Foxwoods in Connecticut, and west to Nevada. The channel just hit 27,000 followers on YouTube and 17,000 on Facebook, with TikTok numbers climbing fast.
In Las Vegas, Jackpot Beauties records video at the Cosmopolitan and Venetian on the Strip, as well as the Plaza Downtown. Ariana says the channel has done events at Hard Rock to launch new games from various manufacturers. “We were able to create some relationships and have a contact person with the manufacturers, when they have new games that are coming out. We’re able to feature those games firsthand on the channel.”
Another up-and-coming slot influencer operation is The Slot Cats, started by husband-and-wife team Fred and Heidi Clemons.
“We just started this as a hobby, and didn’t really think that being an influencer was a thing,” says Heidi Clemons, an accountant who, like so many others, became aware of the influencer phenomenon as it grew.
The couple began looking at slot videos on YouTube around four years ago, according to Clemons. “We thought, oh, why don’t we just do that?” she recalls. “We started it as a hobby, but it’s turned into something full-time, for sure.”
Clemons says Slot Cats has around 18,000 subscribers. “We’re not like the big high-limit-type slot channels,” she says. “We pretty much bet like what an average person would do. A lot of people can really relate to that, and like watching it. We have a very loyal following that supports our channel.”
The Slot Cats are one of the few influencers that post regular videos of live bingo. “We live-stream every week from Resorts World,” Clemons says. “One of the things we did during Covid when the casinos were closed was to host virtual bingo every Saturday night. I emailed bingo cards to members of our Cat Club, and we would Zoom bingo.” That has continued with regular videos from Resorts World, the Plaza and other casinos.
The Slot Cats began in Southern California, but the couple has since moved to Las Vegas, where they have built partnerships with several slot manufacturers to stream as they launch new games. “We’ve done a lot of world premieres for Light & Wonder,” Clemons says. “We’ve done live streams with AGS, Everi, Incredible Technologies and others.”
Slot manufacturers, in fact, have incorporated influencers as an important marketing channel for new games. Mike Trask, vice president of product marketing and communications at Ainsworth Game Technologies, comments that his company provides several influencers free passes to Global Gaming Expo, and has even brought them to the Ainsworth showroom, as well as utilizing them for events to launch new games.
“They’ve found a very cool niche,” Trask says. “A lot of them have very devoted audiences. It’s definitely become part of the industry. Today, when we put a game out—even without contacting influencers—it’s usually a matter of days before videos of the game show up online. Our game developers are watching YouTube videos all day of games. They set up an alert and they look for their game, to immediately see what people think in real time.”
Randi Topham, vice president of global marketing and communications for Light & Wonder, says her company also uses influencers frequently to launch new games.
“In 2019, I was fortunate enough to have a member of my team who really took ownership of this,” Topham says. “She was great at curating content on Facebook and Instagram for the influencers, and she built up a relationship with them. And so through her work, I really was able to see the benefit of what this group of people can do for you from a marketing perspective.
“You get a lot of eyeballs on your game in a short amount of time. Our game designers love this community. They follow influencers themselves. Certainly, they love to see the reaction to their own games, but I think also from competitor games as well.”
Trask, Topham and other slot manufacturing officials now see influencers as an essential part of their marketing. Operators regularly utilize them for game launches, tournaments and other special events.
“I think the influencer phenomenon is in a growth phase,” says Choctaw’s Kosemund. “I think you are seeing some evolution. You’re seeing people staging meet-and-greets and slot tournaments. They are making their own slot machines. People who are serious about it are doing a lot to evolve to a total marketing program.”
“Influencers will continue to play an important role in marketing efforts,” says Penn’s Weissman. “Influencers are able to create a unique two-way dialogue with customers. This allows a casino to learn about the needs and desires of customers in a way that other forms of advertising don’t.”
“It’s been a very successful and great addition to our marketing strategy,” says Melmed at the Plaza. “I think it’s here to stay.”