Combining muscle for marketing
Throughout world history when tyrants arise, nations have put aside their differences and combined their military might to protect their cherished way of life.
On a local scale, the same theory is being applied by the downtown casinos in the face of Indian gaming which poses a very serious threat to their economic way of life.
Circus Circus, Eldorado, Harrah’s and Silver Legacy combined their marketing might to form a coalition called Downtown Reno to promote top-level entertainment and boxing events.
The once formidable competitors joined forces in a spirited fight against the Indian gaming juggernaut, which will soon open the Las Vegas-quality Thunder Valley Casino near Auburn, Calif.
in June and has on the drawing boards a casino near the Sears Point raceway at the northern end of the San Francisco Bay region.
“We’re giving people a reason to come to downtown Reno, as opposed to the Indian casinos which are oneoffs,” said Gary Carano, general manager of the Silver Legacy.
“We’re offering customers in northern California and the West a bigger variety of entertainment and a bigger vacation experience than if they visited a single casino.”
The coalition began as a way to support the creation of a downtown event center, which would provide much needed mid-week conventioneer traffic for the four casinos.
“Two years ago the top executives of the properties sat down and began talking about building a downtown events center,” said Kathy Hickman, Harrah’s director of marketing.
“From there it went to the legislature and the city, and a year ago plans began to take shape to build the center and retrofit the National Bowling Stadium.”
Recently the Reno City Council approved a $40 million plan for the 6,700-seat events center and a skybridge and renovations for the Bowling Stadium, which could be complete by Christmas 2004, according to the architectural firm involved in the project.
With the long-term vision of the center fully on track, the four properties turned their sights on the short-term goal of attracting more visitors.
“The coalition has evolved to be less about the center and more about promoting downtown as one destination,” said Hickman.
“The marketing heads of the four properties get together now on a weekly basis and ask, ‘How can we get more people to come to Reno?'”
With Indian gaming breathing down their necks, the four casinos have put aside, temporarily, any competitive tendencies.
“Our goals have changed,” said Dean Richard, director of marketing for Circus Circus.
“We want to highlight Reno as more than a $39 room rate and cheap buffet.We’re telling people to come up here for world-class entertainment and great skiing and golf.
This is in line with the “Gaming, Plus” campaign spearheaded by the city and the RSCVA.”
By working together, the four properties are hoping to increase the pie for all of them.
“Our thought is, let’s cooperate to get them to Reno,” said Richard.
“Once they’re here, we’ll compete for their time and gambling share.
But if we can’t get them here, no one wins.”
Hickman says Harrah’s would also like to see the pie get bigger.
“Though we are in market competition, our real competition is outside the Reno market, namely tribal casinos,” she said.
“As partners, our goal is increased traffic downtown.”
To offset the Indian Gaming threat, the four properties have combined their marketing budgets and are advertising as Downtown Reno in print, television and radio ads in Sacramento and the Bay Area region as far down as San Jose, said Richard.
So far, the efforts of the group have met with success.
“The reaction both locally and regionally has been positive,” said Hickman.
Rick Murdock, VP of sales for the Eldorado, was enthusiastic about the group’s offering.
“To date we’ve put on sold-out concerts such as Lionel Ritchie and the Moody Blues, with a majority of our customers being from out of town,” said Murdock.
“We just started our boxing series with our first successful fight, ESPN2 Boxing.”
The next boxing event, Showtime Boxing, was Saturday.
Until the downtown convention center is built, the properties are coordinating with the City Center Pavilion and Lawlor Event Center to offer a full slate of headliners.
“Upcoming events include Huey Lewis and the News, Pat Benatar, Jeff Foxworthy, Peter Frampton, Meatloaf and Cindy Lauper, Drew Carey, Vince Gill and Willie Nelson,” said Murdock.
The big name entertainment and high profile boxing matches featuring ranked boxers are all part of the strategy to sell downtown – along with the region’s adventure offerings – as a vacation destination.
Gary Carano sees even more lure for the gambler wishing to try his luck.
“Once they get downtown, any study will show you that the gambler likes to walk around,” said Carano.
“If I’m a regular gambler, I’ll have more than one host casino in which to play.
If I’m a day trip gambler, I might walk around to different casinos to see where I feel luckiest.
You can do that downtown, but you can’t at the one-off tribal casinos.”
While the general managers of the properties keep their eyes on the
progress of the downtown center, the marketing staffs focus on getting more from their advertising dollars, like creating a $1 million promotion which can be won by a player at any of the casinos.
“We’ll continue to see teamwork from the downtown casinos,” said Hickman.
“We don’t miss our weekly meetings, and we’ve each stepped up to the plate and devoted a lot of time and marketing dollars to this effort.”
Said Carano: “Together we have a better chance.”
“The thing that I like most about entrepreneurship is I can work toward something that I’m passionate about and be at the forefront of the change that I want to see happen,” said Priyanka Senthil, a senior at Davidson Academy in Reno and co-founder of startup company AUesome.