Mohegan Sun Connecticut executive Jeffrey Hamilton refers to “silent safety” as the new essential theme for casinos — making guests sense through what they see that the operator views their health as paramount.
“Guests want to feel safe when they come to your property, or they’re not going to come,” Hamilton says. “I think that’s what’s really become the differentiator for properties, is which property is safer, and it’s probably even more important than which property has more amenities or provides better service.”
Hamilton, president and general manager of the large tribal casino that reopened June 1, made his remarks Friday during one of a series of online panel discussions last week under the heading of “The Road Back.” The webcast seminars presented by Clarion Gaming’s ICE North America focused on how casinos are dealing with resumption of operations in the COVID era.
All of the nearly 1,000 casinos in the country closed in mid-March due to coronavirus health and safety concerns, but more than 80% have reopened in recent weeks, though under wide-ranging restrictions and new standards that vary by jurisdiction and operator.
New measures should be widely visible
Hamilton and others on his panel talked about how casinos need to do more than just post information on their websites about new health and safety protocols. While all operators generally are doing that, they should also be letting the public know about expert opinion from the medical community they’re following and making sure guests see the actual differences from operations in the pre-COVID era.
“I’m a big believer in ‘silent service’ during normal operations,” with employee behavior and other quietly noticed aspects of the gaming floor and casino operation showing guests how they’re valued, Hamilton noted.
“When you think about the pandemic, it’s silent safety — the more signage, the more soap dispensers, the more sanitizers, the more things you can do to let the customer know it’s a safe environment,” Hamilton said.
And he noted that if the operator promises to do something, such as a certain type of cleaning every 30 minutes, it had better deliver. Otherwise, someone will detect and publicize it to the casino’s detriment.
Virginia Valentine, president of the Nevada Resort Association, said properties have no margin for error in the social media age, when any deficiencies can quickly be widely circulated.
“We’ve now set the bar higher for health and safety, and we’re going to be held accountable for it,” she said.
Take health seriously, but don’t forget fun
Valentine said most casinos, to their credit, are doing all of the right things that should reassure customers that it’s safe to return.
“Cleaning and sanitizing has gone from something you might do in the wee hours of slot time, and it’s very visible — people are very visible doing it out front so visitors can actually see that,” she said.
The challenge, she said, is building confidence among the public that their health and safety are being taken seriously, without turning them off about the potential fun they can still have by visiting.
“Someone described it like the ‘Goldilocks rule,’ where you want it to be not too much, not too little, but just right for that guest,” Valentine pointed out.
The Strategy Organization’s Josh Swissman, a consultant with long experience in casino marketing, said savvy operators will figure out how to stress health and safety as part of their branding in a way that doesn’t turn off customers.
“I know masks aren’t the most sexy thing in the world, but the health and safety procedures we’ve been obsessing over for the past four months and into the foreseeable future is important to guests,” Swissman said. “Winning brands know that this guest sentiment and awareness around health and safety, particularly in a casino, is going to be here to stay, so it’s worth the time and energy to do it the right way.”
Cleaner than they’ve ever been
Buddy Frank, a Nevada-based consultant operating BF Slot Strategies, said the pandemic has had one positive in improving overall cleanliness of casinos, as well as related amenities such as hotel rooms.
“Prior to the pandemic about the only one you saw with a rag in their hand was a person from housekeeping,” he said. “Now everyone from the senior executive to the entire team seems to walk around with a spray bottle and cloth in their hand.
“Most operators took advantage of the two-plus months [of closure] to take deep cleaning to a new level. I think when guests came back into casinos they saw a level of cleanliness they hadn’t experienced. … The biggest point is guests see what we’re doing. I, for one, have no hesitation to stay in any hotel in Nevada. They’re cleaner today than they’ve ever been.”
Despite such positives, the executives and consultants agreed that challenges lie ahead in regaining customers, particularly the future waves that are needed after perhaps already getting those who quickly returned due to pent-up demand.
That will mean continued vigilance about making any necessary protocol changes as the health crisis evolves, they said, while also looking for ways to open up additional amenities such as restaurants and pools in safe ways.
“No one wants to come to a property that’s only half-open,” Hamilton said. “There are some jurisdictions that won’t allow certain aspects, but as an operator, what we’ve seen is people want to come to the property and see things open. We’ve got to find unique ways to provide amenities in the pandemic,” such as emphasizing more outdoor dining.
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