Have you ever walked onto a slot floor and looked at the different players? They come in various shapes and sizes, each unique in their presentation and personality. If you stopped and had a conversation with just 10 of them, you would find 10 different reasons why they were at your establishment and each of them would be looking for a different experience. Similarly, the machines on your floor also have different presentations and personalities. If this is the case, why do we treat them all alike? If each machine has a unique functionality and a special feature, why do we throw them on the floor with little regard to placement and expect them to produce buckets of cash?
The truth is, layout and placement of the games on your floor is vital to maximizing casino revenue, especially in Indian country, where it is not unusual for the slot product to generate up to 90 percent of a facility’s total revenue. Even though you may have the newest and most enticing games available, placing these games on the floor without a comprehensive plan can significantly limit the amount of revenue the floor can produce.
There is a lingering preconception in our business related to wide area progressive and participation products and their placement on the casino floor. Many slot operators would tell you to place these games in the lowest producing areas of your casino in order to draw players to that area. The theory is clear enough on the surface: If I can get the players to visit that locale with the lure of a trendy game or exciting offering, they will stay and play the other products in that section. The dilemma with this premise is it doesn’t address the question of why the area is under-producing in the first place. The low production could be from myriad reasons unrelated to the product itself (such as environmental factors), and no amount of bells and whistles can entice players to a game for any significant amount of time in an area that is uncomfortable. By moving a new specialty offering into this section without analyzing the underlying performance issue is wasting a prime opportunity to anchor a floor section with this specialty game and set the pricing for that area.
Virtually all casino operations break their floor into different sections for the purpose of efficient staff/asset utilization. Each of these sections should be thought of as a separate business. If we placed that same specialty offering in a prominent location within a section and offer the game at either a higher denomination or a higher minimum wager, we could then tier the pricing so the offerings closest to the anchor are at a higher price-point. Now that we have a starting point, we can offer the games in the area at progressively lower pricing until we have every denomination that we offer in the facility represented in that section. If a section is now considered its own business, it should have all the necessary functionality to stand alone. This allows complete flexibility for management to close individual sections at a time with minimal impact to their customer’s entertainment choices. This type of planning also allows the facility to reduce labor costs and perform both routine and heavy maintenance to closed sections with little or no disruption to the gaming floor as a whole.
Although this may be a different concept to some slot operators, a table games operator would instantly recognize this diverse model. On the table games side of the casino, we create table groupings that offer each different style of game in the house. This is often referred to as a universal pit. These groupings allow a single pit to provide every table experience available while allowing the department head to control costs efficiently and effectively.
In many of the larger casino operations across the country, it has become trendy to offer penny sections. While there is nothing fundamentally wrong with this business model, offering only penny machines in a particular area restricts the players’ incentive to increase their average bet and thus limits a property’s ability to increase coin in. If an operation is going to offer a penny-exclusive section, it would be beneficial to offer the same anchor and tier structure, utilizing a higher minimum bet closest to the anchor. This is going to require the operator to utilize titles with higher line counts or fix bet configurations.
Now that we have an idea on how we are going to price our section, we need to determine what game mix we are going to utilize. The diversity of the slot machine offerings that are provided to your customers is extremely important to both player loyalty and maintaining or increasing the average time on device of each machine. There are several different theories on this subject that I want to address.
The first is often referred to as pair-ology. This concept places like-titled games next to each other. The rationale is that a large number of customers come in to your facility in pairs or couples and that these players want to game next to each other on like games. While this may have been valid in the past, when there was a much smaller selection of games and titles, it doesn’t hold as true today. There are just too many games and titles out there to effectively plan a floor with this model.
The second theory is banking games with similar functionalities. This concept places different titles and manufacturers with comparable features in near proximity to each other. This model works extremely well in today’s diverse machine market. It allows you the flexibility to offer a similar experience to that same couple while allowing them to have different graphics and sound packages.
A third option is packaging a group of games that contain all of the same titles on one or both sides of a bank. These feature banks allow an operator to use groups of exclusive game content to drive customers to visit your facility and to visit different areas of your casino. Manufacturers often offer their wide area progressive content and participation products in this manner. These feature banks offer the operator the best opportunity to utilize anchor points in a simple and straightforward approach. For example, the operator should consider placing these banks of feature product in well lit and prominent locations throughout the facility and build a pricing model around them.
The last option I want to address is vendor-specific areas, where operators create zones or sections of a single manufacturer in the hopes of getting customers to play in that area based mainly on their preference for a specific feature. This is going to happen specifically with server-centric and server-assisted games. This is a strong tool in moderation, but should be utilized sparingly to avoid creating a customer perception that all the games are the same throughout the facility. We need to recognize that most customers are drawn to a specific area in your facility and rarely venture out to new pastures.
Let’s take a quick look at the specific opportunity these customers offer us. Have you ever gone to your neighborhood supermarket to pick up a specific item and found that it’s been moved? Now you have to walk through the entire store looking for that item. At first you are a little put out, but that is gradually replaced by the realization that there is actually a whole series of items you needed that you would not have sought out if the item had stayed in the same place. This isn’t an example of poor planning on the part of the store; it’s a proven tool that creates millions of dollars in additional revenue per year for chain stores throughout the country. Your floor should utilize this same successful strategy to drive customers to new locations throughout your casino. A general manager I worked for at several facilities used to say the floor layout should be approached as if each machine was on wheels.
Many of the machine operators in our business are not actual slot players. This is a source of continual amazement to me. How do you order hundreds of thousands of dollars of product for your business without having firsthand knowledge of its functionality? Would you purchase a new car for your family without test driving it? If you have the authority to purchase games for your facility, you have a responsibility to your organization to visit a casino that has the product you intend to purchase and witness its functionality first hand. While you’re there, take a moment to stop and talk to those 10 customers. You may be surprised at how knowledgeable they are about the product you are looking to acquire.
And if you’re really good, you might even be able to lure them to your casino!
Kevin Parker has been in the gaming industry since 1995 and participated in the opening of five Native American properties on the West Coast. Previous positions include Director of Gaming, Director of Slot Services and Director of Casino Operations in two different facilities. Parker recently co-founded Lynx Gaming Solutions.