SLOTS Lessons – COVID-19 – What have we learned from the pandemic in Chile and does it apply or coincide with the rest of the world?
There has been various very interesting and valuable articles regarding the impact of the pandemic on casino floors and what we can learn from it i.e. Floor diversification, player preference stats, game count etc.
Many of these articles are based on studies from companies with significant databases. In this short article I want to share similar info but as LATAM really participates very little if at all in the studies from these analytical companies my report is a more hands on experience.
In Chile the SCJ “Superintendencia de Casino de Juegos” ordered closure of all casinos on the 18th of March 2020. A few months after started appearing the first draft protocols for reopening which as expected included reduced operating hours, reduced product offering and social distancing as well as the normal health protocols.
Whilst different operators opted for different approaches to their product offering in terms of social distancing everyone had to comply with the minimum requirements which at the time was set at 2 meters between players unless acrylic separations was installed in which case 1 meter would be allowed. For one of my customers we did a complete reshuffle of their casino floors, ensuring that the top performing product was offered. This meant moving a lot of machines, allowing for the best performers to be active whilst the poor performers acted as social distancing spacers. Other operators chose to simply switch of or deactivate every second or third machine, depending on the requirements.
Finally in November 2020 the first of the casinos opened in what would be a roller coaster ride for the months to come. Subsequent to provincial and communal COVID numbers casinos would open and close and reopen and so forth.
Herewith then some observations and lessons…
We noticed that with an offering of between 30 and 50% of the machines and reduced operating hours of between 8 and 12 hours the casinos generated up to 70% of the original budget. Individual machines though produced up to double and even triple the COIN in compared to pre pandemic figures. As expected this was 100% in line with trends in the USA and other parts of the world.
Lesson 1 – The casinos were over populated in terms of slots. Over the years machines were mostly added and not replaced. Furthermore and especially in this operators case where predominantly the top performers were made available for play we learned that our benchmark for Occupancy, easily could be exceeded, and all of the sudden the machines in demand stood out like a sore thumb, much more than before.
In conclusion future changes will include much stricter rules as to which product earns the right to remain on the floor which will lead to reduction in overall offering and subsequently costs. With this in mind we can implement more space between machines which is one of the most frequent positive comments from customers.
Worth mentioning that if you did or do make a lot of changes to the layout and positioning of machines (especially in high roller areas) DO make sure that you communicate these changes as effectively as possible. Not only will it save them time on finding their favorite machine but they will appreciate the attention whilst not being able to visit.
Lesson 2 – Having reduced product offering, reduced operating hours and subsequent increase in occupancy required a closer look at configurations of the slots.
Firstly from my point of view the decision to spend many hours in relocating slots, ensuring we have the best performers in active positions was the right one (Even though, all but pleasing to the eye). Customers flogged to the machines and we had very little complaints that their favorite machine was switched off. We tightened up hold percentages in accordance with Player profiles, game volatility and area. We increased cost to play – Denomination and Bet – based on area, game and occupancy.
Mystery Jackpots, no need for those… Apart from the fact that machines are scattered and therefor the advertising of the jackpot is very difficult, the need for promoting machines and rewarding customers via mystery jackpots are not there. Same applies to promotions that historically were meant to increase time on device.
These measures off course will have to be revisited and to some degree reversed once things return to normal.
Lesson 3 – As with most companies, majority of frontline employees had to be furloughed for the period that the casinos were closed. Off course with casinos re-opening at limited capacity so too was the reintegration of those employees. This however allowed operators to see just how far they can push minimum staffing levels and frankly the impact (at least temporarily) was surprisingly positive. I guess customers came with a mutual understanding and acceptance of lesser service levels.
Having high occupancy levels allowed us to put various combinations of staffing to the test. With this knowledge we can in future reincorporate staff as business levels and operating hours increase. No doubt that as things become more normal customer will also become more demanding and that will have to be taken into account. At the end of the day this is a service orientated industry and that is what sets one operator aside from another.
Lesson 4 Maintenance – Depending on if your machines were switched off for the duration that casinos was closed, or if they maintained in idle mode will very much depend on the requirements for machine Maintenance.
If yours like many others were turned off in order not to incur electrical costs then you would probably have encountered a lot of machines with technical problems. Especially the older models situated in the more humid areas. It is important to get them properly serviced and functioning correctly as you will have a limited offer. With limited technical staff and spending money this will be increasingly challenging.
Hopefully this is not something we have to do again in the future but it certainly gave us a better perspective of how well our machines were maintained pre-covid and how to improve preventative maintenance in future. It no doubt put the technician’s technical abilities to the test and showed the true colors of others as they had to move, configure and repair loads of slots in record time.
Lesson 5 – Customer interaction. In Chile the casinos were closed for 8 full months before the partial reopening started. This is a VERY long time for a keen Slots or Tables punter to be without visiting the casino, playing his/her favorite slot or table game, visiting the restaurants and even just interacting with the slot attendants, waiters and dealers. In Chile Online gaming is illegal so for the operators here that was not an option.
I am by no means saying that the customers did not or are not playing online but they had no interaction with their favorite casino. This is where the player development and loyalty club management together with IT made the difference. I will be honest, I am the first to roll my eyes when play for fun sites and games are mentioned BUT I bite my tongue in this case because this operator with some very proactive managers and staff members had weekly virtual slots and tables tournaments where the different levels of customers were entertained on one side with the respective game and other side via Zoom with their Casino Hosts and managers. The customers absolutely loved it. The prizes, mostly in the form of a good Chilean wine or a good bottle of Whiskey or three were irrelevant but the fact that they were contacted, personally invited and were able to play and chat with staff and fellow players was priceless.
Keep your customers engaged, don’t forget them because your casinos is closed… You can do it like most by sending text messages and mailers or you can do like these guys did and act like the casino world just became virtual…