ICE North America Digital: How reopened casinos can make players safe


What will it take to win back customers when the gambling industry reopens more, and make them feel safe enough to come out and play? That was the big question at Day 3 of the ICE North America Digital conference, with four sessions analyzing every side of that

First up was a series of talks, starting with Kelly Tucky, Strategic Communications Consultant & Owner at Ithos Strategic Communications. She emphasized that customers won’t come back unless employees are treated well. Let staff know you have a plan to keep them safe. Before casinos and offices reopen, use supervisors to reengage staff, and emphasize restarting your company culture.

Next was Michael Soll, President of the Innovation Group. He gave some expected numbers for what the gambling sector can expect once stay in place orders are lifted. Nationally, he expects mid 60% to 80% range of returned business in the 12 months after reopening, but that number is heavily dependent on how much social distancing is required.

Those numbers change regionally though. In New England, the expected number is anywhere from the low 20% range to no higher than a low 60%. Meanwhile, in the mountainous states, the number is higher at 30% to 70%. All of this will be heavily dependent regulatory changes, he noted, but also customer sentiment and health of overall economy.

Ellen Whittemore, Executive Vice President and General Counsel of Wynn Resorts, spoke next. She noted her operators strategy is to work from the bottom up, not top down. They’ve been speaking with operational leaders to engage physical distancing, such as pit bosses and slot department managers. When Wynn properties can reopen, they’ll be focusing on the smaller details, like having doormen, handing out free masks, and performing temperature checks

Next was a discussion on how Data can be used to reach customers in this newly reopened environment. Bryan Edwards, Founder & CEO of Edwards Technologies Inc. spoke with Corey Padveen, Partner at t2 Marketing International.

Off the bat, Padveen said the best strategy is to deal with the variables we already understand, and expect a transformation in the industry. Edwards echoed statements made earlier in the day by adding that the industry will have to communicate with guests, but just as importantly, employees.

Padveen then suggested that resorts should look at a staggered approach to operationalization. He asked Edwards what makes the most sense to start with, offering re-education, and using marketing departments to highlight safety precautions. Edwards agreed, noting that casinos could improve their signage, communicating with players throughout the property, and in their rooms through the TV.

Padveen added that tech will have to be integrated in new ways. For instance, at restaurants with reduced capacities due to social distancing, to find ways to keep that capacity always full. But also use stuff like texting to inform customers when their room was cleaned, and how, to let them know how seriously their safety is being taken.

Followijng that was a panel lead by Scott Fisher, Ph. D., managing partner, Convergence Strategy Group. He was joined by Cynthia Kiser Murphey, C-Suite Gaming Executive, Lana Kotur, VP of Customer Success, VizExplorer and Bobby Soper, President and CEO of Sun Gaming + Hospitality. They discussed how non-gaming amenities will help bring customers back.

Murphey began by noting that resorts will have to rethink the customer experience. Use innovative ideas like using outdoor spaces in new ways, and areas of the casino for permitted group experiences, like families or couples.

Kotur emphasized that, with reduced travel, resorts will have to focus on the customers most immediately in their area, but emphasize entertainment above all.

Soper had to bring in some cold hard facts though, and they weren’t pretty. He noted that if this is anything like the 2008 downturn was, it could be 10 years or more before there’s a full recovery. That means we’re looking at a “very difficult journey.”

The panelists then discussed the question of things like meetings and conferences. Murphey noted that meetings will likely be more hybrid, with more video and conference calling, and events might go more remote as well. Of course, room occupancy will likely go down, and spacious event rooms will now have to be used in more creative ways by event directors, forcing event directors to get creative.

Finally, Ewa Bakun, Director of Industry Insight and Engagement at Clarion Gaming interviewed Ernie Stevens, Chairman at the National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA). Stevens gave the native perspective of what’s happening during this pandemic, and his hopes for the future.

The bottom line is that the industry is hurting from tribal casinos being closed, Stevens said, and service providers see how important tribal casinos are. Native casinos are the eleventh highest employer in the country, all industries included, and the amount of jobs that could be lost would be devastating. Everyone wants to reopen, but Indian country is first about health, safety and family, he said.

“It doesn’t matter who you are, our gender or skin color, we’re all in this together, and we all got to help each other through this and create the new normal, and whatever that is, we’re going to start seeing it soon,” he concluded.

Bakun asked if this pandemic might result in NIGA pushing harder for mobile and online offerings, but Stevens wasn’t that enthusiastic about he idea, noting he would much prefer to get back to the casino for a good meal, and a bit of slots.