Expert Perspective: The State of Casino Recovery Part 1

INTELITY’s resident casino expert Ben Keller answers questions about safety measures, guest and player satisfaction, and driving revenue as 2020 comes to a close.

During COVID, the differences between traditional hotels and casino resorts have become increasingly apparent. Reactions to the pandemic, ensuing restrictions, and reopening strategies have varied wildly—and with good reason. Casinos are naturally an extremely social, high-touch environment, and casino operators are dealing with added complications their hotelier counterparts have never had to consider.

Over the last few months, many of our casino customers and contacts have reached out to share their experiences and ask our perspective and advice as post-shutdown travel continues to rise and casinos plan their strategy for 2021.

In a three part series, INTELITY SVP of Sales and resident casino expert Ben Keller will answer some of the most frequently-asked questions about recovery, trends, and the post-COVID future of casino resorts. Here are the first three questions, focused on where the industry and recovery stand as 2020 comes to a close:

1. What is the current state of the casino industry from your perspective? What are you hearing from casinos you work with about recovery?

Ben Keller: When it comes to the casino industry, recovery is absolutely jumping off. Many casinos are almost back to pre-COVID numbers. What we’re seeing is that local and regional casinos that people can drive to are packed. Even with social distancing, even with some places only using every other slot machine, many are back to approaching really encouraging revenue numbers.

I can think of a few current customers that fit this category: Angel of the Winds, which is an hour and a half from Seattle, and Pechanga, which is about an hour or two from both Los Angeles and San Diego. They’re extremely busy because people in the cities desperately want to get out. And I would even say that some of the destination markets are also beginning to see high visitation. Take Las Vegas, for example. If you go to The Cosmopolitan on a Friday, Saturday, or even Thursday night, it’s extremely busy.

The traditional hotel space is of course struggling. They tend to rely on either amenities or local attractions and destinations to bring people in—meanwhile, casinos have entertainment and activity built into their offering already, so they’re not necessarily facing the same issues.

2. Safety and cleanliness are top priorities for consumers right now. What are some of the best ways casinos are reassuring players and guests? 

BK: When I think of safety, I think of it from multiple points of view: the first is a physical perspective, the separation of people. Whether that’s adding plexiglass at tables or having people sit at every other table in the restaurant, physical separation is obviously important.

Then, from the technology perspective, it’s interesting because casinos are attempting to change the way people are gaming. Many of these people have been gaming for a long time, and it can be a struggle to get them to adjust, but it is working. Instead of having players touch a physical player’s card and insert it into a machine others have touched, they’re encouraging or even mandating use of a mobile player’s club card.

Electronic table games (ETGs) have also definitely picked up in use because there’s no dealer, and players don’t have to interact with anyone. So we’re absolutely seeing the industry focus on the touchless or contactless aspect both in technology and just to enhance distancing measures.

That obviously flows to the back end and to the hotel side of things as well, with mobile key, mobile check-in, and mobile ordering. I went to The Wynn for lunch recently, and what did I do? I scanned a QR code, it brought up a menu, and I ordered my food. That’s one way casinos and the traditional hotel space are alike during this period: adoption of mobile technology is certainly accelerated, probably by at least five years.

3. With gaming still limited, is building up the resort and amenities a good strategy for casino resorts? What can they do to maximize non-gaming revenue?

BK: Let’s talk pre-COVID. The percentage of revenue from the gaming floor vs. other revenue—from the hotel, entertainment, and F&B—has been absolutely switching. Twenty years ago, 80-90% of revenue came from the casino floor. Now, especially in places like Vegas, revenue is coming from non-gaming activities. It’s not even a COVID thing, it’s a generational thing. People now go to a casino resort for the full experience. Today, more people would rather go to a show than sit at a slot machine and spend a few hundred dollars.

That’s been happening before COVID and, with COVID accelerating it, that trend will continue. A great example of this is Circa, a new customer of ours. Circa is the first brand-new build in downtown Las Vegas since 1982. It’s a 777-room casino-hotel with no slot machines. They’ll have the largest sportsbook in the state, a phenomenal pool area with screens, amazing restaurants, and top-quality entertainment. They don’t need slot machines.

They’re a few weeks away from their opening and guess what? The excitement is there. The mystique is there. That’s what we’re going to be seeing more and more of, with or without COVID.

But what is getting added in because of COVID? Mobile check-in, mobile key, and integrating hospitality functionality into their casino app. If you want to create a touchless experience, why would you not have one single app that has your gaming info, your tickets, and everything you need to check-in and access your room without ever needing to stop at the front desk.

That’s where COVID really has advanced technology adoption. I’m not sure Circa would have done this last year and embraced the mobile check-in, mobile key, and even tablets that eliminate any outdated printed collateral. The big takeaway is this: we’re seeing a shift both from the generational perspective and from the COVID perspective.

Want to hear more about casino recovery and how to drive revenue in 2021?

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