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New locals casinos win with old strategy

Nov 5, 2002 1:06 AM

   The spectacle isn’t nearly as bright and boisterous as a new resort opening on the Strip. The news usually doesn’t make it on the BBC, and the TV cameras usually belong to the stations within the community. But people come — by the thousands.

   Just like the grand opening of a new restaurant, opening night for a new locals casino-hotel attracts them in just the same way. And no one does it better than the moguls of Las Vegas.

   Locals casinos seem to have an advantage over their Strip counterparts. The reason? Without getting into the complicated bureaucracy of any single operation, I’m going to make one simple 3-word observation — video poker inventory.

   It turns out these are very powerful words in the 21st century, and to those who understand this it could mean the difference between success and failure. Let’s see why.

   Mega-resorts on Las Vegas Boulevard depend on a bevy of tourists to keep their bank accounts healthy. Yes, they want them to come back, and there’s a good chance many of them will. For most, all it takes is a sly casino ambassador prowling the floors for people at machines who are not using a slot club card. “Sign ”˜em up and reel ”˜em back” is their one responsibility.

   Since most players are a bit on the cheap side, this looks attractive to them. But they command nowhere near the loyalty level the off-Strip casinos do with their clientele, and for a very good reason. Locals casinos are built with video poker machines as their basic foundation.

   Being a very fun, challenging, and addictive game, the casino execs know most of their regular players either will not or cannot stay away for more than a few days at a time — if that. So they load the floor and bars with video poker machines of all types — and mostly in lower denominations.

   By now you’d think the playing public would have caught onto what it is they are really facing when they become enthralled by new openings nearby their homes. Prior to opening and indeed on grand opening night, interviews with the owners and casino executives tell the tale as clear as a bright sunny day, but I’ve never seen anyone actually interpret it in the straightforward mode.

   Statements like “We’ve studied what our customers really want, we understand how they want it, and we’re giving it to them!” or “We’ll have loose slots, full-pay video poker, and the most favorable table games around!” “That’s why this will be our most successful operation yet.” My absolute favorite is “We’re offering the customer an overall great selection of entertainment, a variety of fine dining, and somewhere that they can come over and over again while getting a good value for their entertainment and gambling dollar”.

   With announcements like that, no wonder we can’t stay away. But let me help you decipher what they are gently whispering into our ears. When the owner proclaims how successful his new gem expects to be, what he says is that it’s the loyal local customer who will pay for every bit of that success by playing in his new casino. The fact that he offers “loose” games only further exemplifies his genius. Every “advantage” player, every math whiz, and every dreamer will be knocking at that door before the paint has a chance to dry. With a bundle of 100% video poker machines all over the floor, the local writers will turn into pied pipers — with a following of thousands who are told, and believe, that if it’s 100.01%, they’ll win! It’s over-the-top for sure! A match made in heaven? Not quite. But then again, who ever said it would be difficult?