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Coast casinos battle it out for local customers

MISSISSIPPI GULF COAST — When some of the larger casino resorts first located on the Coast, a lot of locals felt they were being shunned in favor of patrons from outside a 100-mile radius of the Coast.

For example, some locals weren’t happy that when Beau Rivage Resort and Casino originally opened, valet parking and reservations at some of the restaurants were open only to hotel guests.

But locals may finally be getting the respect they deserve. If current marketing campaigns are any indication, there is now increasingly brisk competition for attracting local patrons.

“We know some of the larger properties initially felt they were going to attract their patrons from the outer market,” said Bob Peyton, assistant general manager, Treasure Bay Casino, Biloxi. “But I think they came to realize that local business is a very important segment, and they have changed their strategy and become more aggressive in pursuing the local clientele.”

Treasure Bay has always tried to position itself as a local’s casinos. Peyton says that while having friendly employees who provide good customer service is important to the mix, so is offering loose slots and great food at a good value.

“And many of our promotions and giveaways are designed primarily for locals,” Payton said. “When we give away cars, boats or cash, the local people have the opportunity to earn the most tickets for those giveaways. Also, we offer free live entertainment nightly. That’s a big draw. The local people know on any given night they can come down to Treasure Bay and find free, live entertainment at the casino.”

Biloxi casino analyst Jay Osman said a combination of a weakening economy and a largely saturated tour and travel market has led to more targeting of local’s business by Gulf Coast casinos.

“In doing so casinos have increased and improved their full value food and entertainment venues, while loosening their slot machines,” Osman said. “Food and entertainment are critical to attracting the local customer base. A perfect example of that is Boomtown Casino, which despite its challenging location has been able to do a terrific job attracting locals primarily using their food offerings.”

Another casino that isn’t a Johnny-come-lately to targeting the locals is the Isle of Capri in Biloxi. Spokeperson Kea Bird said a large majority of their loyal players are locals who come from a radius of 50 miles.

“We have various promotions that cater to our local players like our daily slot tournament,” Bird said. “Something that has been working really well for us is the Paradise 50 Plus Club. It’s a promotion every Tuesday and Thursday where members 50 and above get a complimentary buffet with 30 slot points, and a 25% discount on logo items in the gift shop. And what we have found to work really well with this program is they get to double their points, up to 200 points, after a day’s play.”

Keith Crosby, general manager of the Palace Casino Resort in Biloxi said he doesn’t differentiate between the local and outer market. He thinks it takes largely the same things to attract both, but that locals are more discerning because they visit more frequently.

“The more familiar they are with the product, the more discriminating they are,” Crosby said. “Locals have higher expectations and are more difficult to satisfy. The goal of saying you are a local’s property is that you have been able to satisfy someone who knows your business and is a more discriminating customer.”

Crosby said the Palace gets some of its best feedback from locals, which can mean people from as far as New Orleans or Mobile. Those customers probably won’t spend the night, but they will end up coming more often than visitors from farther away.

“If you can satisfy the high-frequency local business, then you obviously want to hold that up to the outer market and say, ‘These people come here more often, are more familiar with the product, have visited more of my competitors, and therefore are a better judge of the product’,” Crosby said. “When we built our hotel our regular local players said, ‘We hope you don’t lose us in the mix.’ And we said they aren’t mutually exclusive. If anything, the foundation of your business is the locals.”

Beau Rivage Resort and Casino also has been targeting the local market. Mary Cracchiolo, public relations manager, said their Coast Club geared to players within a 100-mile radius offers food specials, entertainment and special promotions . She says the Beau’s entertainment in particular is a big draw for locals.

“A lot of folks say that the Coast Brewery is the Coast’s hottest nightclub,” Cracchiolo said. “We have a lot of locals who go there. It is a popular spot.”

While locals are good, casinos are also trying to grow the market by attracting more customers from outside of the area, says Duncan McKenzie, general manager, Grand Casino, Biloxi, and president of the Gulf Coast Gaming Association.

“We certainly do things for the locals, but we also try to bring more tourism to the Coast to expand the base of customers,” McKenzie said. “That is better for us and the Coast.”

McKenzie said the Grand Casinos continue to be involved in cooperative agreements with AirTran and Beau Rivage to bring customers into the region. And last year the Gulf Coast Gaming Association joined with the Harrison County Tourism Commission to do advertising in Tampa and Houston. The gaming association has voted to do similar advertising again this year.

Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at mullein@datasync.com or (228) 872-3457.

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