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The Personal Touch

Remember the days when coins would drop into the hopper, clanging happily, piling up for all to see?

The Personal Touch

The gambling experience is something that has been in decline now for several years. Slot revenues across the country have been flat or declining during this period, while table games, for the most part, have increased marginally. So, let’s think about what makes one experience different from another.

At the table games, you sit down at a table with several other players, generally. Behind the table, you’ve got a dealer and probably a supervisor/pit boss. The dealer is actually required to speak to the players to explain the course of the game (in most cases, anyway; I’ve actually seen dealers who didn’t utter a word throughout an entire shift). The other players often chime in on what they think the best moves are, or even just making small talk having nothing to do with the game.

At the slot machine, the player plants himself in a chair, slides his currency into the bill acceptor and pushes buttons until he wins enough money to quit or his money disappears (much more likely these days). He or she rarely talks to other players, probably never even sees a casino employee, and can now get a drink by tapping the service window on the machine, eliminating much of the interaction with cocktail waitresses.

So, you can clearly see the difference between these two experiences. At the tables, there is personal interaction between casino employees and players in all variations. At the slot machine, the player is only interacting with a faceless machine, providing that player no human touch and therefore stranding him on a lonely outpost with little chance for feedback.

It wasn’t always that way. Remember the days when coins would drop into the hopper, clanging happily, piling up for all to see? The slot attendant or change person would run over and congratulate the player, all the while rooting for them to win. There were often manned carousels, where employees would prowl the tops of the machines, urging the players on to victory.

And when it came time to reward the player for his or her loyalty, a slot host would sidle up to them, passing out a comp for the buffet or even the steakhouse if it was a good enough player. Yes, the slot host (and often the slot attendant) knew the player by name, and recognized him or her upon arrival.

In those days, there was a theory among players that the highest-paying machines were near the entrance to the casino, because the casino execs wanted people walking in or even walking by to see people winning. And that was a solid theory—something subscribed to by many a slot player eagerly in search of that machine with the 97.4 percent payback.

But no more. The impersonality of the casino is duplicated by the machines. Sure, there are tremendous themes, with high-tech sound, amazing graphics, and even story lines designed to get the player interested and excited. Yet, these fabulous machines have not been able to stop the slide of slot revenue over the past several years.

And this impersonality extends to the properties, too. At one time, the casino was the center of attention, people spilling in and out, coins creating a clatter, music coming from the surrounding lounge. Today, it’s the flower garden display, or the pool, or the nightclub, all segmented away from the casino and other parts of the resort. The casino is often an afterthought.

Yes, I know this is going to make me sound like an old man (which I am), but I think the soul has been cut out of the casino today. The lack of personal interaction with all players is a problem. The high cost of casino entertainment (high-hold slot games, very unfavorable table game rules, drinks that cost double digits) has chased off the marginal player and not replaced him with anyone.

The friendly people players used to interact with on the casino floor are gone. Now, I know in this age of the penny pinchers, there’s not going to be a wholesale re-hiring of slot attendants and change people. But there are technological aids that can direct the remaining personnel to the best players, so something approximating the camaraderie felt in the heyday of slot machines can be returned.

Let’s bring back that personal touch. Let’s make sure our customers know how special they are, and that they’ll have the time of their lives in our casinos. Let’s bring back that old-time gambling experience.

Roger Gros is publisher of Global Gaming Business, the industry's leading gaming trade publication, and all its related publications. Prior to joining Global Gaming Business, Gros was president of Inlet Communications, an independent consulting firm. He was vice president of Casino Journal Publishing Group from 1984-2000, and held virtually every editorial title during his tenure. Gros was editor of Casino Journal, the National Gaming Summary and the Atlantic City Insider, and was the founding editor of Casino Player magazine. He was a co-founder of the American Gaming Summit and the Southern Gaming Summit conferences and trade shows. He is the author of the best-selling book, How to Win at Casino Gambling (Carlton Books, 1995), now in its fourth edition. Gros was named "Businessman of the Year" for 1998 by the Greater Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce, and received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Gaming Association in 2012.

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