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Gaming’s Lure: Raise Your Stakes to Stay at the Table

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Everyone is a player now. At least that’s the way it looks to me from my perch in Massachusetts. In a hard-hit economy, with cries for jobs never going away, gaming appears to be the answer across much of the nation.

In Massachusetts, with legalized gaming still some years away, major corporations have their eyes on various communities to host their operations. Incentives sparkle with the dialogue. In neighboring states, like New Hampshire and Rhode Island, the conversations to introduce and expand gaming are vigorous. Connecticut, home to Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, is nervously watching its gaming base deteriorate, challenged by the competition. New York, with a very pro-gaming electorate, is coming up with new initiatives (some in direct conflict with earlier tribal pacts).

New Jersey’s Atlantic City, meanwhile, is redesigning itself, having been hammered by Pennsylvania and the Keystone State’s very successful, newer operations. Significantly, after investing millions in Atlantic City, New Jersey is talking about a new Gaming Mecca in the Meadowlands.

Elsewhere, Florida wants to expand its efforts, especially in the Miami area. Kentucky is now talking gaming. Detroit casinos have begun to make money again and riverboats are moving ashore.

The scene in the Southwest and California through Washington and Oregon is more settled, as the shakeout of smaller and less dollar sound operations disappear. Nevada has begun to escape its doldrums, and Las Vegas continues to march to the ka-ching of its own drummer. Overall, though, the message is clear—get on board and bring the chips. Gaming is the joyous salvation.

Right now, the pro-gaming voices have the edge with their loud, resounding voice. For the affected states, cities and towns, that voice carries a seductive message: Casinos create jobs and bring monies to municipal coffers in hard times. And there is a good reason for that: Simply stated, this isn’t your grandparents’ gaming.

Conceptually speaking, gaming has evolved over the years. It is no longer typified by the free-standing bingo parlor, the slots and/or the tables that offer maybe a short-order restaurant or two. That type of operation simply does not constitute enough of a draw to woo back players, particularly in the aftermath of the 2008 global economic meltdown. Successful gaming operations are now full-service destinations, where players can still gamble but also enjoy diversified recreation, fine dining, marquee stores, luxurious spas, cozy quarters and top-flight entertainment.

You can see this new model everywhere. To manage a desirable destination today requires a much broader skill-management set than it once did. Or, to put it another way, it’s the difference between a croupier and a chief executive officer. Indeed, we’ve begun to realize that the revenue taken in by non-gaming business is comparable to, if not greater than, the revenue from gaming alone.

Successful executives understand that the full spectrum package—what drives their destination, focusing upon product, facility and services—is an almost holistic totality. They continually survey their guests and customers to gain insight, correct problems and manipulate their model for the future. This patron conversation is ongoing, leading to loyalty, advocacy and return visits.

Smart executives also validate their operational standards and protocols all the time, through quality assurance and mystery shopping, continually fine-tuning their operations. And they know that premium service creates a distinction and reputation that frames their customers’ experience and constitutes an ongoing message.

My prediction: Look for a deluge of new gaming operations that will represent an entirely different model from years ago, run by true hospitality professionals who can deliver on their promise. Gaming might not be a panacea for everyone. But certainly those driving it forward understand how to manage the full-service gaming destination and player experience better than did their predecessors.

For the past 10 years, John Hendrie has served as the president of Hospitality Performance in Merrimac, Massachusetts. He provides strategies to better define product/service, contain costs, increase productivity and enhance profitability within the hospitality industry, where success is measured by customer satisfaction.