Casinos find gold in player database

Oct 7, 2008 5:10 PM

by David Stratton |

Last week, GamingToday reported that Harrah’s has expanded the scope of its Total Rewards program to include non-gaming expenditures such as guest rooms, dining, live shows and entertainment, golf, spas and retail outlets.

Not to be outdone, Boyd Gaming last week announced it was consolidating its players club program, effectively uniting the California, Fremont and Main Street Station casinos with Boyd properties across the country.

"With one card our Las Vegas regulars will be able to earn and redeem benefits at both our downtown and locals casinos (Suncoast, Gold Coast, The Orleans and Sam’s Town)," said Paul Chakmak, executive vice president and chief operating officer for Boyd Gaming.

Of course, earning and redeeming credits is the public relations mantra, but benefits to the casinos extend beyond the obvious goal of encouraging more expenditures with the players card.

By extending the reach of a player’s card, casinos gain valuable tracking information – where, how much and how often customers spend their money – that can be used to fine-tune marketing efforts.

Marketing experts say the database created from player rewards programs, as well as other sources, is an invaluable tool that periodically needs sharpening.

"There is an undeniable trend for robust and integrated databases to allow marketers to launch more effective and targeted marketing campaigns," said Jeff Barela, chief operating officer of Dovetail – The Marketing Database Company. "Furthermore, this database must be easily accessible to robustly build, execute and measure direct marketing campaigns."

Barela said today’s casino databases are a far cry from the old 3x5 cards that the cage used to keep on rated players, and outgoing mail was cranked out on an Addressograph machine.

"There are so many … database systems and types, ranging from the most sophisticated CRM system on the planet to an Excel spreadsheet on a desktop PC," Barela said.

MGM Mirage told GamingToday that challenging times call for new approaches to satisfying customers, and expanding its rewards program is one of them.

MGM Mirage President Jim Murren told columnist Phil Hevener the company is "amping up" the use of technology to understand casino customer interests and spending patterns, specifically, the company’s players’ club card used to bring more business to non-gaming amenities.

But where do casino customers want to spend their money? It’s a question on which technology behind the card is being focused as strategists seek to increase revenue.

"What we have done," he said, "is spend more time on improving our understanding of the gaming customer like our competitors have done…

"We don’t think we’ve led the market from a standpoint of loyalty programs, customer acquisition, database mining. We haven’t been the leader there but we will be. It’s not particularly difficult, it just takes some time and that is absolutely an emphasis. We are not going to compete as a price leader. We don’t have to. We have the best properties. But we can provide more value to our customers as other companies have done and that is an emphasis."

The data collected by MGM and other operators – and used to personalize marketing campaigns – ranges from casino preferences (dollar vs. nickel slots, for instance) and gambling budget (playing time on a given game) to dining habits (2-for-1 buffet specials vs. steakhouse twice a week) and gift shop purchases (an occasional pack of cigarettes or complete wardrobe of logo merchandise).

Once a casino has a grasp of how their customers behave, they have a better handle on how to market to them.

Anyone who uses a player’s club card in Las Vegas has seen the handiwork of the casino’s marketing department. Every week their mailboxes are flooded with offers and invitations, announcements and coupons, all tailored to the player.

For instance, a blackjack player isn’t likely to receive an invitation to a free slot tournament, nor will a video poker player find an announcement for weekly Texas Hold’em tournaments.

While most players look forward to the offers – who doesn’t want a free buffet or $20 dining certificate? – some find the direct mail onslaught both annoying and intrusive.

"I use a player’s card in order to track my play for tax purposes," said Jerry, a Las Vegas player who asked for anonymity. "But beyond that, everything else is just junk mail.

"I also resent that so many of the new promotions are tied to the whims of a kiosk or scratch card," Jerry continued. "If I spend X-amount in the casino, I expect to be rewarded correspondingly. I shouldn’t have to swipe my card ‘for a chance’ at some sort of benefit."

Jerry’s sentiments seem to be shared with many high-limit players, who are accustomed to dealing with a casino host and having their play tracked.

By being tossed into a marketing database with lower-limit players, some regular customers say their play isn’t being fairly or accurately rewarded.