“Community-Building” Enterprises are Changing Casino-Gaming Landscapes

Andrew Hazelton | GAMING INDUSTRY
Studies in consumer marketing theory reveal that, like human beings, products, services, and locations have “personalities.” Indeed, considerable research supports the notions that (i) brands have human-like characteristics that distinguish them from each other, which make them important to consumers, and (ii) consumers become “engaged” with brands, meaning that they can feel special emotional and symbolic connections with certain brands. Along these lines, it could be argued that the casino-gaming industry is evolving in its brand identity and personality, whether by default or design. Further, this apparent evolution is redefining this consumer market in broad and perhaps even unexpected ways. Let’s use Las Vegas as a case study. Social scientists have long discussed the trait of extraversion–introversion. Extraversion tends to be manifested in outgoing, talkative, energetic behaviour, whereas introversion is manifested in more reserved and solitary behaviour. Las Vegas was never quiet and reserved, but it has been a more traditionally “introverted” destination in that visitors were encouraged to engage in activities that reinforced the gambling aspect. Sometimes these games were socialized, as in poker or craps, but the “jolt and fix” visitors received from the recreational offerings remained primarily solitary. The restaurants and lounge shows offered a dash of collective joviality, but the 80/20 rule seemed more heavily weighted on the introversion side of the equation. Now that equation is being turned on its head. Those collective activities like food and entertainment have now usurped gambling as the main revenue driver in the city. Furthermore, Las Vegas is building a sense of community outside the casino floors – both physically and psychologically. In other words, this visitor mecca is becoming primarily extraverted in its brand personality as a destination, with a dash of introversion available to those who need a respite from the crowds; or, perhaps it is more accurate to say “community.” This ongoing enterprise of “community-building” has been ongoing in several forms – the new stadium, shopping malls, sphere arena, new residencies for performers who hold much nostalgia for visitors, and even the addition of an NFL football team. The city is being personalized and humanized in a way that reinvigorates its brand proposition and advances it beyond being an “adult Disneyland.” Transactional technology and related experiential spectacles are now augmented in major ways with socially engineered “community experiences.” People, wellness, and collective experiences are the new draw. This formula can also be seen in other resort-oriented areas like Branson (USA) and casino-gaming meccas like Macau (China). Indeed, Macau has the inherent advantage of building on its established brand personality as a tourist destination with relative isolation and special historical identity. As a creation of the Portuguese, Macau represents an extraordinary blend of Oriental and Western influences. This has created a unique and hybrid urban culture, which gives the city the distinct air of romance and nostalgia. And, similar to Las Vegas, Macau’s unique ambiance ensures that the city will appeal to visitors with sights, sounds, and activities far removed from gambling, such as the Macau Arts Festival, the International Music Festival, and the International Fireworks Display Contest. Inspiration, or credit, for this ongoing development of a sense of vibrancy and community in the casino-gaming landscape, might go to Ian Schrager’s innovation of boutique or lifestyle concepts in hospitality. That is, community-building can be viewed as a calculated scaling up of a lifestyle property to produce “boutique” or “lifestyle” social and economic structures. One online editorial by Grassroots Economic Organizing summed it well, “Community is tangible; community is cohesive; community brings people together in ways that allow them to do things they couldn’t have done in isolation.” This seems to be the next step in evolution for the brand personalities that characterize the casino-gaming landscape—and it just so happens to offer a wealth of new revenue streams, business differentiators, and customer demographics. In this sense, there really is no casino-gaming “landscape.” Instead, all service hospitality businesses can understand and learn from the successful premise that the Las Vegas desert (or other casino-gambling environments) is actually a proverbial Blue Ocean economy.