For Pete’s Sake…

Several weeks ago I had a visitor from Las Vegas at CEM’s offices in Fargo, N.D. This was quite a change for someone hailing from Las Vegas and, before that, Los Angeles, Calif. While I think she had been imagining some of our off time would be spent ice fishing, snowshoeing through the forest or building igloos, it was probably a pleasant surprise to know that North Dakota came complete with cities, restaurants, automobiles, highways, running water and even electricity. It was probably also pleasing that it was a toasty 85 degrees all week with not a flurry in sight.

As this visitor was a fellow colleague from the gaming industry, our conversations of course swirled around the casino business. She had heard that Minnesota was home to 18 tribal gaming properties but didn’t know much about them. Knowing that the population in the northern part of Minnesota was sparse, she questioned where casinos found their patrons. I explained that casinos in our neck of the world gather data and market to players just like anywhere else, but that patrons probably had to travel a little bit farther. I figured the best way to demonstrate was to pay a visit to one of our gaming establishments.

We ventured north to a Minnesota-style locals casino about 100 miles away. When we arrived at our destination, we walked the slot floor and pit areas, asking some of the staff members questions about the Class II and III machine mix and how their coin in compares. We also remarked on the presence of a SHFL entertainment electronic table game at one end of the pit—a somewhat novel initiative for the often traditional Minnesota player market. The table games staff boasted that on busy nights there was usually a line to get on the machine. I liked the idea of using a device that plays like a table game, but classifies as a slot machine to lure players into the pit. Bally Technologies has got to love that idea, too.

The casino was almost empty with only about 30 people around (at most). This was odd to me for a mid-afternoon weekend day in Minnesota’s lake country. After an hour or so of reviewing the gaming floor, we made our way to the players club and asked to sign up. We turned over our IDs and after the attendant checked the club database, we were given questionnaires to fill out. It asked the standard fare of questions about birthday and musical preferences, but also queried our interest in hunting, fishing and other outdoor recreations. I explained to my guest that these interests were highly relevant data points for the Minnesota and North Dakota markets and opened up many marketing opportunities.

As I began to fill out my interests, the attendant placed her hand over the form and said not to bother with that. Puzzled, I looked at her and asked what she meant, assuming I would be directed to a kiosk where I could provide the detailed information the form was requesting. She replied, “Naw, we don’t really need that sort of stuff!” I told her that I preferred to fill it out anyway and asked what her player development person would think of that. She said she wasn’t sure and had no idea who that would be.

This immediately told me why this property that boasts 1,000 slot machines and 33 gaming tables was being visited by fewer than 50 people. The woman at the player’s club desk obviously had no idea why she was gathering data, how it would be used and for whom she was gathering it.

I thought long and hard before writing about this experience in case this letter might be read by someone at the property and this poor woman might be fired. Truth be told, it’s simply not that attendant’s fault. She should have been taught the importance of data gathering for casinos. Furthermore, it is astounding that a front-line person at a property is not on a first-name basis with the managers in the department for which she works. While I don’t know the details, I’m guessing that a manager could get to know the staff if he or she wanted. Acting like you’re too important to mix with the little people is a toxic cancer in any organization, regardless of size.

This story also makes the perfect case for the importance of investing money in sending staff to training and education conferences. A typical conference costs between $500 to $1,000, plus transportation and lodging. A missed opportunity like mine could cost the property more than that in one weekend.

If you oversee folks at your property, please make sure you are accessible to your team. If you have a big ego, check it at the door because you’re probably costing your employer money and lots of it. Take the time to explain processes and each team member’s role in them. And for Pete’s sake, get them the training they need to understand and do their job professionally.

Peter Mead,
Casino Enterprise Management

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