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Tribal Gaming Evolves Into Full-Fledged Destinations

A column by John Hendrie about tribal gaming and the experience of players.
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Perhaps Foxwoods was the model, even for way smaller operations. Reaching accord with the State of Connecticut, the Foxwoods enterprise grew methodically with new construction of facilities, property amenities and newer affiliations, particularly restaurants, shops and entertainment. The possibilities were endless and alluring—quite a gaming model. But, just like many hospitality businesses, it hit a trough in the past few years—the economy, competition and a diversified portfolio which did not perform up to spec.

Tribal gaming has seen a transformation, even in remote locations around the U.S. and Canada. It flourished initially, something new and fun. Flush, operations began to expand—more tables, more slots, an upgrade in the restaurant space. Management began to understand that if people spent the night, they would spend more in the casino and gaming halls. A hotel was added and RV parks began to sprout, all to feed the action. But, people cannot gamble 24/7, so other amenities were added, such as a Spa, perhaps a marina, certainly a golf course. If that were not enough to attract the crowds, let’s offer entertainment—music, acts, an occasional star. Now, we have the full package to market to a ready consumer.

However, that consumer, buffeted with the same recessionary blues, was wary; they wanted more, something different. They sought value, authenticity, some standards—basically, some differentiation for their discretionary funds. For many tribal gaming operations, this was news, for they had not been really following or listening to their patrons. Feedback mechanisms were somewhat shallow and rudimentary. “Open the doors and they will come” had been the mantra. But, now they weren’t. The focus had been almost exclusively on gaming activity; now, you had other business facets (your lodgings, restaurants, etc.) which required a whole different expertise and approach. What to do?

Listening and hearing are two different arts. When you hear and act, you prevail. Your public was not going to settle for the same old. Let’s pay attention to what they are saying and do things differently. Managing a casino operation is very different than running a resort facility.

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That activity is usually wrapped around service, product and facility; each needs to be revisited. In today’s marketplace, service is the great differentiator. You can freshen the product, repaint the facility, yet, you need to make me (your player) feel special, respected in all your venues. Behavior shapes the experience. Quality assurance is the means to attain this level of magic, which is quite real.

Foxwoods, the grand daddy of tribal gaming, may be challenged in the current market economy, but they shall survive, perhaps handsomely, for they have the basics at hand. They listened to their guests, learned from that insight, established meaningful standards, trained their staff consistently and constantly, striving for excellence. That is the lesson for other tribes during their transformation to a full destination. That attention will lead to the memorable player experience (they will return, too).

John Hendrie provides strategies to better define product/service, contain sosts, increase productivity and enhance profitability. Focusing upon the guest and player experience, he helps companies establish standards and best practices, measure performance and excel in delivery. He holds a Masters from Cornell University.