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How to create unique casino experiences with less (of everything)

Apr 14, 2022

Indian casinos are exciting and glamorous destinations, made special by social interactions and attentive staff. How can they keep the experience alive when you can’t (or shouldn’t during a pandemic) rub elbows with guests? Never mind blowing on dice to influence lady luck.

To meet health and safety restrictions related to COVID-19, many casinos have cut back on popular amenities, like the all-you-can-eat buffet. According to data collected for Wipfli’s 2021 Indian Gaming Cost of Doing Business Report, 40% of tribal casinos have permanently closed their buffets.

Table games and machines are spaced farther apart now too, which changes the atmosphere on the floor and reduces the number of machines in play. Some locations with hotels have shuttered their gyms and pools out of a mix of caution and capacity limits. More than one-third of casinos have reduced staff since the pandemic.

The truth is, casinos have to do more to keep guests healthy and safe, but with fewer staff and, in some cases, less revenue coming in the door. How can they bring back the magic?

Here are three strategies to help tribal casinos create unique experiences with less:

1. Prioritize interactions

An important distinction to keep in mind: most casinos aren’t operating with smaller staff by choice. They are struggling to hire and retain good employees, and they may never reach pre-pandemic staffing levels. The national labor shortage is hurting tribal gaming just like every other industry. Lower-level jobs are especially difficult to fill.

With fewer staff, tribal casinos have to prioritize where and how each team member is deployed. Which interactions are most meaningful to guests?

Guests may feel more comfortable if they see cleaning staff working in high-traffic areas. And they may care less about the cleaning frequency around the pool (or whether it’s open at all). Services and amenities that aren’t impacting business or the guest experience have to be deprioritized until more resources are available. Look at revenue contributions and guest feedback to rank the to-do list.

2. Go digital

Technology can help casinos balance the need to do more with less. It’s the biggest opportunity for gaming operators to cope — and even thrive — with fewer resources. 

Many casinos and hospitality companies introduced electronic hotel room keys and digital check-ins during the pandemic to reduce person-to-person contacts and the number of front desk staff on duty. Kiosks can also be used for chip distribution, cashing out and managing inventory more accurately and efficiently. 

Workflow tools can connect housekeepers, desk clerks, dealers and food and beverage staff to changing needs. Tools like Microsoft Teams can be accessed on mobile devices to manage staff more efficiently, even while they’re on the floor.

For many tribal casinos, especially in metropolitan areas, marketing expenses increased during the pandemic recovery period. They spent more on marketing and promotions to keep guests engaged and attract new visitors. Were they effective?

Marketing tools, like customer relationship management systems (CRMs), can calculate efficacy for you. And, they can collect meaningful data about guests. Tribal casinos can apply behavioral data from CRMs to create personalized offers and experiences, build loyalty and increase guest satisfaction. They can also identify and prioritize top-tier guests and automate common interactions.  

Investing in technology is a longer-term strategy to address staffing levels. If those levels never return to pre-pandemic norms, then being short-staffed isn’t a hurdle to overcome — it’s the new reality.

3. Be creative

Buffets may be history, but the space is still available. Explore creative options to repurpose valuable real estate. Some casinos are exploring new dining concepts, while others are expanding socially distanced gaming. Reposition your floor to reduce walking areas, and to make sure every space is contributing to the experience or revenue.

This is a good time to try new revenue streams, too. If an amenity is important-enough to guests, you may be able to charge for it. For example, daily room cleaning or fitness access could become add-on purchases that help offset the costs to keep those amenities. 

The gaming experience has changed, but it’s not all doom and gloom. Guests understand the limitations and the pressures; they’re managing similar pandemic-related changes in their lives, too. So, get creative and deliver the most exciting and glamorous experience that you can. Customers need it and likely will appreciate it right now. 

How Wipfli can help

Our team of tribal gaming specialists sees opportunities instead of obstacles. We can help you improve your revenue and fuel your growth while meeting all regulations. From financial solutions and digital transformation to strategy and cybersecurity, we can help. Learn more on our tribal gaming services web page. If you are interested in learning more about our annual Indian Gaming Cost of Doing Business report — or want to participate in the next one — reach out to Nikki Pfrimmer.


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Wipfli Editorial Team