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Cooperative marketing and promotions can help boost presence

Mississippi casinos cooperate to gain competitive edge

It is no secret that casinos are among the most competitive of businesses. But it is also true that, in some cases, Mississippi casinos are finding advantages in banding together for cooperative marketing and promotions.

Tunica casinos have been doing joint promotions for years. Because of their geographic locations, both the areas known as Casino Strip and Casino Center are clustered together at the end of a road. The Tunica casinos have found advantages to marketing the area as a destination resort.

On the Coast, three properties along Point Cadet in east Biloxi started doing joint marketing earlier this year at about the same time Beau Rivage Resorts opened. A shuttle bus service has been started to transport customers between the Isle of Capri, Grand Casino and Casino Magic, and a “Fun Plus Three” promotion is marketing the three properties together.

“There is some synergy from having a cluster of properties that brings a little more to the market particularly when they build new hotels and theaters to attract people,” said Ernie Stebbins, executive director of the Mississippi Gaming Association. “The Tunica casinos feel any large development that comes into the area like the Gold Strike Hotel, the most recent hotel to go up, is a plus for all of the properties, just like Beau Rivage is a plus for the properties in Biloxi because they will increase the tourist draw to that market.”

Jennifer Weissman, public relations manager for the Harrah’s Tunica Casino and Hotel, said that by pooling their money, casinos can offer more.

“You can offer the customer a bigger and better promotion than when one casino does it alone,” Weissman said. “It creates a destination area out of Tunica.”

For the past five years Casino Strip Resorts have done a large fireworks show on Independence Day. Harrah’s, Hollywood, and Sam’s Town Gambling Hall pool their resources for the fireworks display that gets bigger each year. This year the Isle of Capri, which is opening in late June or early July, will also join in sponsoring the Pyro 99 event.

Earlier this year the Casino Strip Resorts brought in the Bud Light Cup, a professional bullriders event that was aired on television. Weissman said professional bullriders have a huge fan base across the country, and a large number of people traveled to the area for the event. A special stadium was built for the competition, which was followed by outdoor concerts by Brooks and Dunn, and Hank WIlliams Jr.

Harrah’s, Hollywood and Sam’s Town also co-own a golf course called River Bend Links, which opened this past November. And all nine Tunica casinos have done advertising inserts in large daily newspapers within driving distance of the Tunica casinos.

While people will have their favorite casino, research has shown that they also like to casino hop. The average casino patron will stop at three casinos during a visit.

Steven Richer, executive director of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau, said that joint marketing efforts are smart because they bring more people into a specific areas.

“Any synergistic marketing is good,” Richer said. “Everyone is looking to put their best foot forward.”

Roger Derby, director of marketing for Casino Magic, said the joint marketing effort of the three Casino Row properties is something that was planned early in 1999 to take advantage of the additional people expected to be drawn to the Gulf Coast by the opening of Beau Rivage Resorts.

“We were interested in the opening of Beau Rivage because we knew they would bring additional people into the marketplace, and that they would be marketing from farther away than many of us in the past,” Derby said. “So we wanted to take advantage of the increased visitation on behalf of the Casino Row properties.”

The “Fun Times Three” promotion theme emphasizes the benefits of visiting the three properties together.

“A major part of our emphasis is on the proximity of three properties, and the convenience of visiting all three,” Derby said. “We have set up a combined shuttle with buses running continuously to provide transportation. But, in addition to that, guests can easily walk among the three properties because we are so close together.”

Advertising for the three properties is putting an emphasis on media in the Mississippi Gulf Coast area, Mobile, Pensacola, and other small markets in the Florida panhandle. In addition, money is budgeted for materials such as literature rack cards, banners for parking lots, employee buttons promoting Casino Row, and advertising at the Gulfport Regional Airport.

While some might expect that existing casinos on the Gulf Coast weren’t crazy by the competition provided by the $650-million Beau Rivage Resorts, Derby said the major properties in Biloxi have seen virtually no decrease in business since mid-March when the Beau Rivage opened.

“Actually Casino Magic in April and May exceeded our revenues from a year ago,” he said. “And we think it will be a very strong summer with the increased airline service available from AirTran, Beau Rivage reaching out farther with their marketing, and our Casino Row advertising. Also, travel plans across country are strong for 1999.”

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