My friends in the esports community use a word when they advise casinos how to get involved in that potentially lucrative business. They say anything you do in that area has to be “authentic” because without authenticity, the possible participants will sniff it out right away and your business will go bust before it even gets started.
But how do you know if your planned event, campaign or esports lounge is going to be authentic? Well, of course, you have to hire them to make certain.
OK, that’s a little callous. Authenticity is a slippery concept. Does it include social media and the participation of the social movers? Does it mean your website must contain all the latest bells and whistles? Is it just an “aura” that exudes an authentic vibe? I guess you won’t know until you try it.
But the concept of authenticity doesn’t just start and stop at esports. It should really encompass everything a casino does, from slots to tables, from buffet to gourmet, from Engelbert Humperdinck to Arianna Grande.
Let me give you an example from my past experience (and despite the characters in this story, it is not political!).
In the mid-1990s when I was working at my previous magazine, we decided to put Donald Trump on the cover in his capacity as owner of three Atlantic City casinos. This wasn’t unusual. In the 10 years of his involvement in Atlantic City, I believe he was on the cover of our magazine a half-dozen times and I interviewed him at least twice a year.
So I traveled from Atlantic City to New York City to meet with him in his office at Trump Tower (yes, the same one as on The Apprentice). At this time, Trump wanted to re-brand Trump’s Castle, the property in the Marina district of Atlantic City (today it is the Golden Nugget).
As I sat down, Trump and his casino guy, Nick Ribis, asked me if I had ever stayed at the Hard Rock in Las Vegas (this was the only Hard Rock casino at the time, long before the company was bought by the Seminoles). As it happened, the Hard Rock was my go-to property in Vegas, mostly because it was easy to park and get to my room without walking five miles like you would in most Strip properties.
So Trump and Ribis started peppering me with questions about the property. Apparently, they had been approached by Hard Rock to re-brand the Castle as a Hard Rock. (And I guess it’s kind of ironic that the former Trump Taj Mahal is now the Hard Rock Atlantic City, but I digress.)
So I explained the ambiance and “hipness” of Hard Rock, how the public space was imbued in rock history, and how the rooms were very modern and clean. And I tried to explain about the “cool” employees, who were very casual with the guests. But they didn’t get it when I related a story that the Hard Rock GM at the time, Gary Selesner (now Caesars Palace president), told me about the culture.
“All I have to worry about is how many piercings they have visible,” he said. Selesner’s intent was to explain how Hard Rock allowed employees more latitude when serving guests, but Trump and Ribis didn’t really get it.
So eventually there was no deal with Hard Rock, but Trump apparently liked the rock ‘n’ roll theme, so when Trump Marina became the re-brand, it came complete with guitars on the wall and rock memorabilia scattered throughout the property—but with none of the ambiance or the hipness of the Hard Rock casino.
And of course it failed. In a few years, the guitars came down and Trump Marina became simply a Trump-on-the-water disappointment.
The lesson is that Trump Marina was far less than authentic. Hard Rock has a lock on that when it comes to rock ‘n’ roll. Those of us who grew up during the rock era knew immediately that Trump Marina didn’t get it. It felt fake. It felt forced.
There really is no handbook to explain what is authentic and what isn’t. Authenticity comes when your event, campaign or location is designed with the knowledge and experience of what you are trying to create. If that means hiring consultants to assist with that, do it. If you have people on your staff with the passion for the theme, maybe that’s all you need.
But for me, whether I’m familiar with the subject or not, it’s the reaction of your intended audience that will tell you instantly if you are truly authentic.