The Challenges and Benefits of Marrying Slots and Table Games Into a Single System
Trying to marry slots and table games into a single system has caused many sleepless nights for marketers. So, what’s the point?
Most casinos use two systems to evaluate player worth for marketing purposes. One method is used for slots and video poker, and quite a different system is used for table games. On the one hand, you have points used for slots and video poker. On the other hand, you have table games, where direct observations of each player lead to a rough estimation of worth.
The task of combining slot, video poker, and table game play into a common points bucket is daunting. Nevertheless, that is the direction many casinos are moving. Of course, Harrah’s did this long ago. Their model is popular precisely because of its apparent transparency. But their secret formulas give no indication of how they solved the problems that came their way. One solution is to make a policy that is stingy; that way problems are reduced in scale and scope. However, if part of a marketing model is player loyalty in a locals market, being stingy is not an option. If you are considering making this change, here are just a few of the challenges you will face.
One of the first issues to come up will be resistance from table games players who are used to the rough justice they get at the tables. It is quite usual for table games players to get discretionary comps when they have a big loss. But slot players don’t get those discretionary comps; they get their points and that’s it. Once the systems are combined, pit’s hands may be tied with discretionary comps. There is nothing they can do to help their players. Any help would imply that table games players are treated better than slot players, and no casino wants to alienate their slot players. So either the table games players will complain because they can no longer get discretionary comps, or slot players will complain because table games players get something they don’t get.
Then there is the problem that table games staff will have to explain the new system to the players. Table games staff have become accustomed to saying, “Your comps are based on the game you play, your average bet, and how long you play.” Now, a player may come up to table games and ask for an explanation of how many points he’ll get. To get it right, staff is going to have to say things like, “You get 40 points per hour for every $1 of average bet at craps, for blackjack it’s 30 points per hour, but roulette will get you 72 points per hour.” Once when I was playing as a secret shopper and asked this question, I was shown a laminated sheet with point values for each game, along with a shrug of the shoulders. This is a new model to table games staff, many of whom have been at their jobs for years or decades. The learning curve will be tough for some.
Another issue that arises is game-specific comps. As an example, consider free play for slots versus match play for table games. Many casinos allow slot players to buy free play with their points. Say the player purchases $10 worth of slot free play using $10 worth of points. But $10 in slot free play is not the same as $10 in table game match play. To get a rough equivalence of value, a player should spend about $4.50 worth of points to purchase a $10 match play coupon for table games. Then the slot player will complain that he is getting a raw deal. From their perspective, they have to spend $10 worth of points to get the same thing as the table game player gets for $4.50. Imagine trying to explain the mathematics of match play versus free play to the player!
Finally, consider that the problem of accuracy in table game’s ratings has not gone away. All the effort to combine the systems has not fixed the basic problem for table games—ratings are notoriously inaccurate. Some players will still get far more points than deserved for their play, others will get far fewer points than they deserve. By combining systems, it may become more challenging to improve the rating system for these players at the games they play. Points that have a static value may suddenly be easier or harder to earn at the tables. If the number of points per hour changes at some future time, the player will notice that directly. It will not be hidden under the cloak of ambiguity of “game played/average bet/duration of play.”
In spite of these and other problems, I advocate combining systems. There are several obvious benefits. For example, consider players who play both types of games and are frustrated by having two different buckets. Giving them one bucket unifies comps and may encourage an incremental increase in play. Another issue that’s reconciled is when a married couple is split between slots and table games. At the end of the day the couple may compare their comps, which often leads to confusion and consternation. By combining points, their concerns will go away. Without points, assigning tier levels to table games players can be very frustrating for them. Slot players quickly reach high levels while table games players who are wagering far more per hand linger in the lower tiers. If table games players know that tier levels are based on points, they will be able to directly gauge the level of play necessary to reach the next level.
Trying to marry slots and table games into a single system has caused many sleepless nights for marketers. However, today’s modern database marketing systems become more efficient with a level playing field. Targeted marketing cannot be based on garbage data. Without a combined system, there will be a continued dual personality that will weigh down player loyalty, marketing’s efficiency, and reinvestment consistency. So, go for it, take the dive, but don’t be surprised when you get water in your eyes.
Eliot is the consultant of record for Raving Consulting Company, specializing in casino mathematics, slot and table games analysis. He’s one of Raving’s most popular speakers and has presented at the Casino Marketing Conference, the Indian Gaming National Marketing Conference, NIGA, and the upcoming Advanced Sales and Host Conference. He is author of two books, “Contemporary Casino Table Game Design” and “The Black Jack Zone.” He has been a Professor of both Mathematics and Computer Science. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.