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Secrets of Digital Success For Land-Based Casinos

| By iGB Editorial Team
More US casinos are turning to digital not only to grow market share profitably and sustainably but also to fend off the challenge posed by social casinos. Alana Levine of Income Access Group talks to those heading up some of the most successful efforts in the space to find out more.

At present, there are over 1,500 brickand- mortar casino properties across the US, according to Statista. This equates to nearly one casino for every 155,000 people of age. To give context to this, the country with the next greatest number of casinos is France, home to 189 land-based casinos, or one casino for every 265,000 people of age. Taking into account population differences between the two countries, the United States casino market is nearly twice as competitive as that of France, and continues to grow. In such a noisy market, maintaining a stable business and growing market share profitably and sustainably is a common challenge for casino owners and managers. This competitiveness has become even more intense as social casinos go to grab even more market share.

The question all casinos are asking is how to achieve the biggest bottom-line impact with finite resources and budget, and there are several land-based casinos within the US, regardless of size or market share of their property, that have responded to the challenge by launching a variety of digital social casino products.

These include Penn National Gaming, a group of 26 casino properties in 18 states; FireKeepers Casino Hotel in Battle Creek, Michigan; Fantasy Springs Resort Casino in Indio, California; Mohegan Sun Resort Casino in Uncasville, Connecticut; and American Casino & Entertainment Properties (ACEP) group based in Nevada.

As well as being innovative and different in their own right, it’s also possible to identify several commonalities in their methods and some key takeaways from which we can learn and inform our approach.

Clearly define your motivation to go digital

A theme common to all of the properties listed above was setting realistic and measurable goals for their social casino products. For Doug Burr, Internet Marketing Manager, and Don Casper, VP of Marketing, at Fantasy Springs, their driving motivation was an acquisition and retention play: “We aimed to stay ahead of the competition and create customer loyalty. Having launched in September, we’ve already exceeded our breakeven point and created a steady revenue stream to the property.”

According to, at Mohegan Sun, “In the last six months our social gaming platform has succeeded beyond our expectations. In addition to seeing significant revenue from our social casino, we’ve managed to engage our existing database not only to play their favorite games, but to visit our property more.” The team at Penn National Gaming recognized they were missing out on a great opportunity. “HollywoodCasino.com acts as a customer retention and loyalty tool as well as an acquisition channel for the land based business through new card sign-ups and reactivated players. We are seeing very encouraging results for both our online and offline casinos,” said John Worthington, Product Manager of iGaming.

A different perspective is provided by two properties whose goals involved making successful transitions through multiple products. In launching a new social casino web product and app ten months ago, the aim for Jim Wise, VP of Marketing at FireKeepers Casino, was to extend the brand’s vibrancy and energy at the casino to their customers on their laptops or mobile devices. “At the outset, we are still focused on delivering a quality experience in a stable environment. The additional revenue is a bonus.” For Alec Driscoll, Director of Gaming Development at ACEP, it was important to find a solution that was appropriately aligned with the property group’s vision for the space, while their second motivating factor was for a product that could monetize the group’s growing customer base.

Know your audience

There is no sense launching and marketing a product that doesn’t reach your audience or address their needs. A key factor in this success is evaluating not just spending habits, but how your customers are consuming media, content, and how they currently choose to spend their entertainment dollars.

Chris Sheffield, Senior VP and Managing Director of iGaming at Penn National Gaming, led the discovery charge by performing customer research among their current customer base. The team learned that over 40% of customers were already playing social games, and so launching a Hollywood Casino social product was a natural next step.

Jim Wise at FireKeepers Casino looked to their land-based property offering and customer interests. “The floor is only 80% slots, which means there remains an opportunity to address the remaining 15-20% of our audience that prefers table games. In the long-term, we’ll look to diversify our product to match the demand.”

In addition, given their predominantly older core audiences, nearly all of the properties chose to launch a web product in conjunction with their mobile product, and saw greater success through this medium. “Our strongest performance by registration and purchasers remains non-mobile web,” said Driscoll. “This is in part because we have not done a formal marketing push to showcase the mobile product, and is also relatively indicative of the demographics we appeal to.”

The size of your team doesn’t matter

A key consideration of all of the casinos when launching their social offering was team resourcing, i.e. who will manage the product and customer service and market the product? Some casinos, such as Penn National Gaming, started with one hire at launch, and have expanded to nine full-time employees plus one dedicated IT resource in the short span of six months.

Other properties such as Fantasy Springs continue to operate with a team of one; Doug Burr, who manages all things digital for their property and social casino product, ranging from email marketing to search engine optimization. Alec Driscoll at ACEP suggests his team will grow in size relative to their product’s performance. “The team is at five people with two more coming on board in the next 60 days. We started off with one internal champion and grew to three and then five after we prepared for our free-toplay poker product.”

Find efficiencies with what works

A holistic approach to marketing also unified all the aforementioned properties, and is considered a key contributor to their success. As a property group, the team at Penn National Gaming relied on insights from each of the individual properties. “We have seen our properties customize their marketing assets to tailor messaging to their local markets. Email and digital marketing channels have been our top performers to date,” said. For the team at ACEP, the most successful efforts seen thus far are integrated with the property and offer tangible opportunities such as bonus chips and purchase matches. “Inclusion in the property messaging is a massive value. They have brand affinity with our properties and an existing relationship,” explained Driscoll. “For instance, we offer free slot play for signing up, and are currently preparing for launch at all properties, including on-property signage, email campaigns, and player parties.”

That said, don’t be apprehensive about experimenting. Driscoll and his team have trialled free bingo retention campaigns that “drove excellent returns and a lot of visitation of the online database to the property.” Fantasy Springs grew their email database by a multiple of 17 in three years by implementing incentivized campaigns such as free t-shirts and five-dollar offers for email sign-ups.

Set meaningful goals

Be realistic with goal-setting and understand what resources are realistic to achieve the goal. Use metrics that are also easily measurable. Some are standard to social products and include daily active users (DAU), monthly active users (MAU), average revenue per daily active user (ARPDAU), and lifetime player value. Property groups such as Penn National Gaming are also looking at other digital factors such as the “K-factor,” or the growth rate of a customer base, calculated by the number of invites sent per customer multiplied by the conversion rate.

Traditional metrics on the land-based side across all properties include new player card sign-ups, overall customer value, and reactivations to the property. The ACEP team focuses on similar metrics such as unique logins and frequency and value of stakes. In particular, Driscoll stresses finding easy ways
of ensuring the products meet your goals. “If you are interested in driving property visits, then engage players who are likely to do so.”

Using time to benchmark success is something the teams at Fantasy Springs and FireKeepers mentioned as core components to their goal-setting. “Our goal by November [in three months] was to break even with the product and achieve a certain number of downloads, which we accomplished,” said
Casper of Fantasy Springs.

Be prepared to face challenges

Whether it’s finding ways to educate core customers or learning how to market a new product and measure its success, there are inevitable hurdles to overcome. And sometimes it is in the challenges that the real nuggets of success are found.

The one thing we can learn from all of these properties is that there is no onesolution to operating a social casino product. The key to success is simply getting the basics right.

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