this article was written by Nick Sortal and originally published on CDC Gaming Reports
Tribal gaming is facing challenges similar to their commercial casino counterparts, panelists said Monday afternoon.
There is more competition. Customers are spending their dollars elsewhere. And there’s a challenge in keeping longtime customers happy while also bringing in new faces.
Their session was titled ‘Let’s Grow: The Biggest Trends in Tribal Gaming,’ featuring Andrew Burke, senior vice president of slot productions for AGS; Jeff Hartmann, chief executive officer of The Hartmann Group; and Conrad Granito, general manager at Muckleshoot Casino in Auburn, Wash.
Many tribal casinos can offer only bingo-style Class II games. Those who negotiated compact agreements with their states are allowed Class III Las Vegas-style slots.
“The biggest trends in Class II is that the product is as competitive today as it is on any Class III floor,” said Burke, whose company started off by producing Class II games. “I don’t only say that, I have the data.
“I went to Desert Diamond in (Tucson) Arizona, and it’s a Class II, but I had a hard time telling the difference,” Burke said. “And I’m in the business.”
Burke said tribal gaming has advantages that commercial casinos don’t.
“For example, players are more dedicated in tribal markets,” he said. “They’re coming more frequently… multiple times a week, multiple times a month.”
Granito agreed, noting that the “vast, vast majority of tribal casinos are local casinos.
“You go there to get food (and) play games and cash your check on a Sunday,” he said. “The idea is to make it a multichannel, interactive experience.
“But at base, people to come to our property to lose their money. That’s a crazy business model. That’s what we do.
“So make that experience fun. Throw in something extra.”
Muckleshoot now has a virtual reality two-player game in its nightclub.
“On our dark nights you can come in and shoot zombies,” Granito said. “It’s $5 for an experience, but it averages 30 to 50 people per night and they’re setting up a tournament to see who can kill the most zombies.” He said Pepsi is paying for the prizes, with $3,000 to the winner.
But, like commercial casinos, customer interaction is vital.
“It’s two simple questions: ‘What do you like about us? What can we change?’” he said. “It’s amazing that it’s that simple.”
When new games are introduced to the floor, he said, the players develop a sense of community.
“Within the first day guests are showing other guests,” Granito said. “It’s the most amazing thing you’ve seen in this business. If you put a new game on a floor everyone wants to play it. We put up a new carousel and it was almost like raw meat.”
But things have changed in that the lifespan of a slot machine used to be five to seven years. Now it’s more like two to three years, if that.
Meanwhile, Hartmann agreed that a complete casino experience has become an expectation.
“Tribal operators do deliver an immersive entertainment experience, from the time you first pull up onto the property,” he said.
Burke noted that while casinos talk about attracting new gamblers, it’s very intimidating for a person unfamiliar with a game.
“If you’ve never sat at a poker table, never placed a sports bet, it’s very intimidating. You have to know the jargon,” Burke said. “And for a generation that grows up texting each other, those interactions are awkward.
“They make people feel inferior, which is the exact opposite experience that you want.”
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