Growth at Harrah's Cherokee Casino

Luring gamers to play longer, play harder

Go to Harrah’s Cherokee Hotel and Casino on any given day, and there’s a good chance you’ll encounter a promotion of some kind. You could win a cruise. Or a car. Or $10,000. Or just more chances to play the slots.

At the height of the pre-recession glory days in 2007, the casino was running different promotional ploys to attract customers five days out of seven. These days, it’s scaled back a bit. But the number of ways the facility is trying to bring in potential gamblers is still into the hundreds a year. And it’s Leann Bridges’ job to think up new ways every day.

She is the vice president of marketing at Harrah’s, and she has a team of people who come up with new and different ways to make Harrah’s a more enticing place to come.

“We do a lot of brainstorming,” said Bridges, because it’s a challenge to keep the same product new and fresh.

Gambling, of course, will always attract the committed players. But getting the occasional gambler — and getting them to come back again — is the job of the marketing team. Because, unlike a clothing store or restaurant, there aren’t often new lines coming out and the gambling menu doesn’t often change.

So creativity is paramount for Bridges and her colleagues to get players to spend more and play longer. And they do come up with some interesting ideas. There was a long-running trout challenge for a shot at the $100,000 purse, where players earned points over two weeks of play toward a shot at fishing for the winning trout.

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There are cash pots to be won by swiping your casino card, only to see the ante upped — keep the money, try for more? There are retail promotions, car giveaways, vacation getaways. Imagine a promotion, and Harrah’s has probably done it.

Around Bridges’ office, you can see the detritus of promotions gone by. A large disco ball sparkles in the corner, holdover from some past event.

But really, she said, for all the different spins they put on them, those in the business know that there are essentially three types of promotions. And making people think this or that one is special, day after day and year after year, is where the real talent comes in.

“It’s very, very difficult keeping things fresh,” said Bridges. There are some big breadwinners they can fall back on time after time, that people know and look forward too, such as the casino’s long-running take on the car giveaway called Fast Lane Frenzy.

“We have some brand equity in that, but if we tried to run that every single month it wouldn’t be successful,” said Bridges. So on top of that brainstorming, a lot of what they do in her department is borrowing. She trawls the internet regularly, looking for interesting deals.

Every time she hears a commercial on TV offering some new, hot setup or contest, she perks up. Part of the job is hearing other marketing ploys and thinking, ‘I know how that works, and how could we make it work better?’

Just last weekend, said Bridges, she stopped by a Chick-fil-a and picked up some ideas from its current pitch.

And unlike on the casino floor, the house doesn’t always have the advantage when it comes to promotions. What brings people in is sometimes as surprising to Bridges and her crew as anyone else, and much of their success comes from a minutely analyzed process of trial and error.

Say there’s a $15,000 prize giveaway. Analytical programs calculate how many people will be lured to play and how much — an ultimately how much revenue it would generate. Would it bring in enough to make up for the prize payout?

“There a lot of different ways that we can slice and dice the data to tell us this drove people in there, people opted in, there was a high level of interest in this,” said Bridges.

And, as with most business propositions, it’s revenue generation that matters. In the past, that has meant more money and customers in the casino. Until now, that’s been the name of the game: casino customers.

Their base demographic has always been the 55-year-old female slot player, and that was the crowd that the contests, giveaways and sweepstakes were playing to.

But with the massive expansion that’s remodeling the place, the focus is shifting entirely.

“There’s still a lot of people that think we’re just a little slot house. People don’t even know what we are in some cases. So we have that group of people that we need to address and talk to and educate,” said Bridges. These days, the buzzword around Harrah’s Cherokee is resort. Once, they say, we were a casino with a hotel. Now, we’re a resort. And not everyone that comes to a resort even wants to play the slots. At a casino, it’s all about the gaming. At a resort, it’s all about the experience.

So Bridges and her team are changing their game to get those people. What if some people came to Harrah’s and never spent a dime gambling?

That is the new goal.

They’re not leaving their old, core clients behind. And the gambling will always be there. But the new challenge is creating wild and wildly enticing promotions that are still doable.

In the past, they tweaked the contest to the clientele. One game had a giveaway that was valid for only five minutes after the winner’s name was called. Hear your name, you have five minutes to get to the prize redemption window. With that one, Bridges heard complaints because, well, Harrah’s clientele on the whole aren’t exactly young, lithe athletes. They couldn’t make it across the building in time to claim the prize. The time limit will be upped in response.

The same mindset, said Bridges, is what they have to take forward if they want new people to come.

“We are changing everything about Harrah’s Cherokee,” she said. “It’s almost like starting from the ground up. This is going to be a totally new facility, a new experience. And for us, no two days are ever the same.


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