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Casino players clubs increasingly competitive

Few businesses are untouched by the current economic recession. But, it can be particularly challenging for businesses that provide services that are in the realm of discretionary spending. People have no choice but to continue to pay the light bill and buy groceries, but an evening of dining and entertainment is not essential.

Casino revenues are down in the state, as they are across the country. In times like these, casinos become even more competitive in the incentives offered to their regulars through players club offerings such as free shows, meals and hotel rooms.

“Our Tunica properties strive to create unique experiences to both retain loyal Total Rewards members, as well as attract new guests,” said Matt Ryan, vice president of regional marketing, Harrah’s Entertainment Mid-South Region/Tunica and Iowa. “Even during these economic conditions, people still want and need entertainment. It is imperative we create experiences that fit accordingly.”

Ryan said the challenging economic times make it vital that companies stay focused on both retaining existing guests while attracting new business. He said the common thread to both channels is continuously creating targeted value opportunities for guests.

“Value can come in many forms and packages whether it’s a round of golf at Cottonwoods, dinner at the Paula Deen Buffet before catching the Earth Wind and Fire show at Harrah’s or a prime steak dinner in Jack Binion’s Steakhouse followed by a few rounds of Blackjack at Horseshoe or playing some penny slots while enjoying a band at Sheraton’s Riverstage bar,” Ryan said.

Casino execs agree it is a challenging market. People are still visiting the casinos and having a good time. But, it is harder getting them in the door in this economy.

“Our industry is at the forefront of where disposable income is most impacted,” said Bryan Bork, vice president of marketing, Beau Rivage Hotel and Casino. “We are pure disposable income. People are still visiting casinos. But, because of the economic times, they are looking for more and more value.”

Bork said a lot of it is not that people do not have the money any more because they have lost their job or other sources of income. It is more a matter of consumer confidence. People are being more cautious with spending because of all the bad economic news.

A regional resort such as Beau Rivage, the largest hotel on the Gulf Coast with 1,740 rooms, does not only compete with other Gulf Coast casinos. It has to draw visitors from around the country, and to do that, it is competing with big casinos in Las Vegas, Atlantic City and other gaming destinations. Casinos in those areas — which have seen even greater gaming revenue declines than experienced in Mississippi — are offering big discounts on hotel rooms and higher comps to their players club members. Airlines are offering great deals, as well.

“The gaming market has intensified,” Bork said. “There are more and more promotions. There are more and more incentives. The way we look at it, we don’t see ourselves in any way, shape or form discounting what we have to offer. People coming here don’t want their experience discounted. We don’t do a promotion a night. We do want to offer value, but at a very competitive price.”

Frequent gamers expect to have comps. Win or lose, if they are going to spend the evening gaming at the casino, then it is nice to have dinner, drinks or perhaps a free room.

Other attractions are also important to attracting guests.

“We have a $50-million golf course,” Bork said. “People think very highly of the golf course. We have a beautiful theater with live entertainment almost every night. We have conventions that bring in people from many different areas.”

The Beau Rivage is rolling out a new players club later in March. While details were not available at press time, Bork said it will be very exciting and innovative.

“We are always trying to think forward with more ways to reach customers on a genuine, one-to-one basis,” Bork said. “We are planning things to deliver on that promise.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at 4becky@cox.net.

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