Texting promotions aren’t new. A wide range of companies, casinos among them, have been using cell phones to spread their message and (they hope) lure new customers since at least 2004. Yet in an interesting way, texting might be a lifeline for one of Southern Nevada’s hardest-hit casino companies.
It’s no secret that the past few years have not been kind to Herbst Gaming, operators of 12 Nevada casinos, many of them under the Terrible’s name. Since acquiring three Primm casinos from MGM Mirage in 2007, things haven’t gone well for the company. Even before the recession dried up business for everyone, the 2007 smoking ban devastated Terrible’s slot routes (since 2006, they suffered a 42 percent drop in business).
Primm, in particular, has threatened to become the company’s Waterloo. Herbst paid $400 million for the three casinos just before the economy took a nosedive, and increasing competition from Southern California Indian casinos for the high desert/Inland Empire market has squeezed them even further.
So Terrible’s bought casinos at the worst possible time. Now what?
The company is just coming out of bankruptcy, and its Primm properties might be the best route back to solvency.
That’s because those casinos are in position to exploit a rare bright spot: While most tourism indicators are down, traffic on Interstate 15 is actually up. Every day, about 35,000 vehicles whiz past Primm on their way north. Capturing just a slice of that traffic has been Job No. 1 at Primm since the first casino opened there in 1977. But today, the area’s casinos are using new technologies to improve their technique.
Even before there was an interstate running from California to Las Vegas, billboard advertising was one of the ways that value-oriented casinos tried to reach customers. As traffic moved from Highway 91 to I-15, the billboards got bigger, but the messages remained the same.
But since March, the New Member Millionaire Mania promotion has used cell phones to move those ads into the 21st century.
The idea is simple: Billboards along I-15 ask prospective new Players Club members to text a dedicated number with a valid keyword. In return, they receive a text code. Once they swipe their Players Club card and enter their code at a kiosk on the casino floor, they find out how much money they’ve won.
For Stuart Richey, Primm’s vice president of marketing, the new-tech aspect is secondary to the underlying proposition for customers.
“It’s easy to use technology, but if the promotion isn’t compelling, you’re not going to go far,” he says. “So we started with a great foundation—a guaranteed payday and the chance at a big prize. It’s a basic part of the gambling mentality that no one wants to leave money on the table.”
For the cost of a few minutes to stop and sign up, players are guaranteed at least $5, and they have a chance at $1 million. It’s a deal that’s making sense to much of the casinos’ target value-oriented clientele. And the texts are a key element.
We wanted to put something out there with meat on it,” Richey says, “and then use the texting element to put some turbo on it.”
With their roadside location, it’s an apt analogy, and the promotion has been a success. In its first eight weeks, more than 12,000 customers texted in for a chance to win. In all of 2009, the Primm casinos didn’t get that big a response from their e-mail campaigns. Enrollment in the casinos’ Players Club has seen a 25 percent bump.
According to Richey, new members texting is just the beginning.
“This is just part of what we’re doing at Primm,” he says, citing the casinos’ big investment in entertainment (we’ve all seen ads for acts at the Star of the Desert Arena), its growing casino database and a busing program. “Our initial goal with the texting promotion was to get something out there, see how it goes. Now we get to start working in bounce-backs.”
In the right hands, texting promotions like this one can lead more customers into casinos. But as always, the technology takes a backseat to the real value and service the casino can deliver once they’re inside.
David G. Schwartz is the director of UNLV’s Center for Gaming Research.