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The Road Back: Day four round-up

Insight | Analysis

ICE North America’s Road Back series concluded with a discussion on how operators can retain a sense of fun and excitement at their properties while maintaining new standards of health and safety. 

Watch a replay of the webinar here.

The final day’s panel began with the panel discussing the market conditions created by the pandemic. Consultant Buddy Frank admitted that he had been surprised by the number of customers returning to casinos after reopening, but warned that the situation was constantly changing. 

He pointed out that Nevada had quickly moved from making masks optional to mandatory, and noted the recent closure of bars in casinos as a result of a rise in cases in the state. 

“The virus is setting the rules more than we are,” he said.

While this creates difficulties for an industry already counting the costs of shutdowns spanning up to three months in some states, Josh Swissman, founding partner of The Strategy Organization, said this disruption could prompt a wave of innovation. 

He explained that operators were likely to have to do more with a smaller team, adding that “the workforce of the future isn’t going to look like the workforce of last year”. However, he added, the industry has been through challenging times before, and in almost every case this has resulted in new technology and new operating models.

Discussion then turned to guests’ reaction to the safety protocols in place upon reopening. Mohegan Sun president Jeffrey Hamilton said the operator had made a major effort to ensure customers felt safe when they arrived, while not detracting from the casino experience.

This extended to making safety part of the experience, such as having players offered a squirt of hand sanitizer when they sat down at a gaming table, and having cleaning staff and security visible throughout the venue. This “silent service”, Hamilton explained, not only created a sense of safety and of protocols being followed, but in turn made guests more likely to comply with the measures. 

Virginia Valentine of the Nevada Resort Association described the approach to health and safety as the “Goldilocks rule” – a case of trying to make the new measures not feel to much, but also not too little. Visibility was crucial, from the regular cleaning on the gaming floor, to publishing health and safety plans on operators’ websites, to having plans to prevent transmission of the virus verified by health experts.

But in creating this visibility, it became all the more important to follow the measures to the letter. The one time staff failed to comply with the processes would be the one time someone would notice, she said.

“We live in a world of social media so it takes a few seconds to share you not doing something right,” Valentine warned.

These health and safety measures would in turn become an important part of an operator’s marketing, Swissman added. The safety of customers would become a selling point and should be incorporated into a business’ brand positioning and creative. Furthermore, considering the economic impact of Covid-19, highlighting value for money would also play an important role. 

The operators that weave these elements into their marketing going forward will be the ones to succeed post-pandemic, he said.

Swissman said that “pent-up demand” was becoming something of a buzzword, around the return of customers, but stressed that it was not a sustainable business model. This initial influx of customers were very gaming-focused, and over time this would start to normalize. At that point, non-gaming amenities will become increasingly important, as people use casinos for staycations or fine dining begin to return.

Ultimately, Frank said, the industry was dealing with a situation so unprecedented it would force executives to “re-learn” everything they thought they knew about their jobs. This, according to Russell Sanna of the International Center for Responsible Gaming, extended to social responsibility.

He said he had been encouraged by news that the Nevada Gaming Control Board had been reminding operators to refresh their responsible gambling training with so many new factors to consider. 

State regulators, Sanna added, would be a valuable partner at a time when operators were likely to make adjustments to their gaming offering, either by adding new technologies to the casino floor or moving their services online.

The Road Back series has now concluded, though all of the webinars in the series are available to watch on-demand here.