Players clubs ready to branch out with non-casino partners

| Sunday, Feb. 16, 2014, 5:15 p.m.

Those player's club cards that earn points toward free play and casino comps are evolving into ways to generate discounts at nongambling attractions.

“They're gearing up to become more sophisticated,” says John Antonello, managing director with Phoenix Marketing International, a market-research company based in New Jersey. “Casino (loyalty) programs look a lot different than they were five years ago, and five years from now they'll look a heck of lot different than they do now.”

Antonello, who oversees the company's travel and leisure division, says casinos have sophisticated databases that show when and how often players visit, along with how long they stay and how much they spend. By learning what other loyalty programs a customer belongs to, casinos can develop partnerships to tailor offers to each player.

“Casinos have always been on the avant garde with regard to loyalty programs,” says Mark Johnson, CEO of Loyalty360, the Loyalty Marketer's Association based in Cincinnati. “They can look at your transactions and some socioeconomic information they have about you. ... They do a really good job of understanding a customer from the beginning.”

Loyalty programs to attract and keep customers date to the S&H Green Stamps popular in the 1930s, Johnson says. Airline frequent-flyer clubs, supermarket shopper cards and slot clubs followed. The goal is to attract and keep customers by offering something beyond the original purchase.

“The trend generally in the loyalty industry today is looking for partners that augment the efficacy of the program,” Johnson says. Casino operators have a good understanding of what drives behavior, and they are looking for ways to enhance the perceived value of their players clubs, he says.

In December, Phoenix Marketing asked players throughout the Northeast to rate 23 types of businesses they would like to see their home casinos partner with. The survey is based on interviews with 3,000 gamblers — those who belong to at least one players club and gamble at least three times a year — in eight states, including Pennsylvania.

Topping the list of potential partners were restaurants, hotels, other casinos, supermarkets and gas stations, Antonello says. At the bottom were office-supply stores, florists, investment companies, brokerage firms and mortgage companies.

Restaurants, hotels and other casinos seem like natural connections for gamblers. But supermarkets and gas stations?

“It's very practical,” Antonello says.

With casinos' vast knowledge of their players, “they can tailor the programs specifically for the individual,” he says.

Some players clubs already have arrangements with noncasino partners. Last month, Caesars Entertainment, which operates Caesars Palace and Harrah's properties, and Starwood Hotels announced that customers could earn and redeem loyalty points on both programs.

The players club at Meadows in Washington County touts its Neighborhood Partners, which include selected Shop 'n Save supermarkets and Sunoco gas stations as well as nearby restaurants and hotels. Members of the top two tiers of the players club at Rivers Casino on the North Shore can receive discounted or free cruises and Las Vegas hotel rooms.

Antonello says the most popular players-club benefits remain free play, free or discounted hotel rooms and dining.

The Phoenix Marketing survey also asked where respondents like to play. Not surprisingly, most usually stay within their state to gamble. But when Northeast gamblers go out of state, they are more likely to head to New Jersey than anywhere else, the survey found.

Among Pennsylvania gamblers, 34 percent said they go to Atlantic City to gamble. Conversely, 36 percent of New Jersey gamblers said they play in Pennsylvania.

Nevada is the next most popular destination for Pennsylvania gamblers, with 13 percent heading there.

Mark Gruetze is administrative editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7838 or

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