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Locals business takes greater importance

Dan Sherman

Crosby, Stills and Nash sang, “Love the one you’re with,” and scored a hit by advising their fans to get to know the person right in front of them.

Northern Nevada casinos have taken a page from the supergroup’s book by showing the local market as much love as they can to compensate for a decline in overall visitor numbers.

“We’ve seen a decline in leisure business,” said Jocelyn Lantrip, advertising manager for the Reno Hilton.

“While we do a strong convention business, we still need locals to make up for the fall in leisure business, the lack of midweek traffic, and the fact that the weather has been so bad Californians don’t want to drive over the hill.”

Entertainment has been one of the solutions for the Hilton’s quest for local business.

“Our outdoor amphitheater helps draw locals, and the acts we’ve signed through our partnership with Clear Channel have been a major draw,” said Lantrip.

“We target a broad range of people with our entertainment, from age 35 to 65, by booking different kinds of free bands in our club, the Garage, and by offering family amusements like Funquest and bowling.”

The Hilton also knows that the way to a client’s heart is through his stomach, and they’ve launched a “frequent eaters” program.

“We have a dinning club where you sign up for free, get a card, and then show it in any of our three specialty restaurants,” said Lantrip.

“If you spend $500 in a year, you can get a $100 comp good for any of the restaurants.”

The Hilton also targets frequent gamers, by offering a $1 million dollar promotion which people can enter by playing the slots.

The threat of Indian gaming and a downturn in visitor traffic from Canada prompted the Sands to get aggressive in its local promotions.

“We had to find a new niche to grow,” said Tim Morton, Sands marketing director, “and we decided to focus our attention on the local market.”

Morton turned to focus groups to get the new effort under way.

“Locals told us we needed to enhance our property, so we tore down some extraneous buildings and made our parking lot very accessible.

Then we added Mel’s coffee shop which is a nice draw.”

Then Morton turned to the mails and local retailers to get the word out about the new Sands.

“We did tons of direct mail to our locals list with incentives for coming in and playing the slots every week,” he said.

“We also started a NASCAR promotion, and got local automotive shops like Midas and Craig involved by giving them incentives to get the word out about the Sands.”

Morton knows his niche in the market and gears many of his promotions to the middle-aged, lower- to middle-income group.

“We don’t have the big, high-end fancy property here,” said Morton.

“So we try to provide the locals with a good, fair product that includes a wide variety of games including bingo, slots that are among the loosest downtown, and the new ticket-in, ticket-out technology from IGT in our games that is working very well for us.”

That’s not to say that the Sands has forsaken the young swingers.

“We attract our share of young professionals, too,” said Morton.

“We offer pool parties on Friday nights, jazz on Sunday, rock n’ roll and country bands on Wednesdays, and no-fee NFL contests.

We’re trying lots of different things to get a mix in here.”

At the south end of town, the Atlantis and the Peppermill view the local market as crucial to their success.

“From the day we opened and there was just a restaurant here, our focus has always been the local market,” said Kimberly Tolkin, the Atlantis director of marketing.

“With each tower expansion, our strategy has been to be a local’s casino by offering good value, liberal gaming and excellent food,” she said.

The casino is constantly upgrading its property to keep it fresh for the locals.

“We are opening a new sushi bar, adding new casino games, and implementing the new ticket in, ticket out technology,” said Tolkin.

“Our local customers also appreciate plenty of surface parking.We focus on locals because we feel if we are there for them, they’ll be there for us.”

The Peppermill also lays claim to the “local’s casino” moniker, and focuses on keeping locals coming in the door.

“We started as a local restaurant 31 years ago,” said Bill Hughes, director of marketing operations for the Peppermill.

“Over the years we have relied on our excellent word of mouth reputation, and the addition of many new restaurants.”

Food product is at the core of the Peppermill offering.

“People will try you once,” said Hughes.

“If it’s not great, they won’t come back.

Fortunately, our restaurants have won awards and continue to be an attraction.”

But Hughes does not rely on word of mouth alone.

“We use a lot of direct mail to reach out to locals,” said Hughes.

“Our mailers have lots of coupons, and people react positively to them.We also do a lot of radio and television ads to reach all corners of the town.”

Once Hughes gets them in the door, he has designed promotions to make it easier for the locals to win.

“We’ve structured things so locals have a great shot to win, such as Peppermillions, where local gamblers can swipe their card every day and be eligible for prizes,” said Hughes.

“We also offer excellent paybacks on the machines locals favor, such as video poker and slots.Our slots are 30 percent looser than comparable properties.”

Whether the marketing weapon of choice is food, entertainment or promotions, Reno’s casinos have aimed their sights on keeping the local market happy to make up for the twin demons of a sluggish economy and Indian gaming.

They want to love the ones they’re with.

Not even Crosby, Stills and Nash would argue with that.