Past the pandemic: What gaming operators can do right now to prepare for reopening doors
March 26, 2020
The ongoing COVID-19 outbreak has touched almost every facet of business, both in Canada and across the world — but few sectors are as deeply affected as entertainment, including gaming. With casinos shuttered and thousands of people thrust into financial insecurity, Canada’s gaming industry now faces some unprecedented challenges.
The biggest challenge, however, still lies ahead: while operators continue to do everything they can in the immediate future to cut non-essential costs and mitigate their losses, they must also look ahead. It's critical to begin planning now for the moment doors can reopen, to re-establish trust with patrons and recoup losses.
Stuart Walker, a Canadian gaming industry veteran and industry consultant with Gaming Advisory Services, identifies the following key areas that operators should be prioritizing and creating strategies for right now.
“I think that any good operator will have a welcome-back promotion ready to be launched on Day 1,” Walker says. He adds that he hopes that every operator is currently communicating with their player base right now, providing what resources and useful content they can, in addition to well wishes. That content could include sending them tips on COVID-19 best practices, and offering free online games to keep them occupied while also keeping the operator’s brand front and centre.
Special communications should be given to loyalty members starting now as well. Walker suggests letting members know now that they will have a certain number of dollars in free play available as soon as facilities reopen. “I’d even start planning my next VIP event for top players,” he says, emphasizing that a loyalty promotion should be ready on Day 1 for all loyalty program members. While it may be some time before events can take place, operators can easily plan a top-tier themed dinner to show their high-value players that they were missed, and to welcome them back.
Casino workers are among some of the hardest hit by the COVID-19 situation. Earlier this month, Unifor’s Western regional director estimated layoffs of around 95-per-cent in the casino and hospitality sectors in B.C. alone; numbers are likely similar in other provinces, where casinos have also been temporarily shuttered.
As national and provincial lockdowns drag on, laid-off staff may find other work options, resulting in significant turnover. “Operators should be making an effort to have ongoing communications with their employees to keep them engaged and loyal to the operator," Walker says. He suggests sending out regular e-newsletters to employees offering useful resources and tips, and not necessarily entirely work-related: In addition to providing advice on government programs to help with unemployment, these newsletters could also include tips for managing COVID-19, how to keep kids busy at home, fun recipes for the family, and more.
While working to retain staff is important, corporate HR should also be preparing a program to recruit new employees the moment doors reopen, to fill in any staffing gaps that may, and likely will, occur.
All operators should have some form of staff-refresher training available prior to putting employees back to work. While a three-month period, taking us to June, 2020, seems to have been adopted by many as a rough deadline for when business may return to normal, lockdowns and reduced services may continue for even longer. It’s reasonable that even long-time employees may require some retraining or refreshing to provide service up to standard. Walker suggests this training to focus in particular on compliance, AML, and customer service.
On the subject of refreshing, forced facility closure offers a good opportunity for operators to appraise their gaming floors and do some upgrading, if possible, including painting, deep cleaning, and upgrading games. Offering patrons a fresh and improved gaming floor can generate extra excitement and appeal upon reopening to public.
“The one other area that comes to mind,” Walker says, “and I have yet to see any casino operator in Canada do, is how can they give back to their local community in this time of crisis?” One suggestion is providing free food to the homeless shelters or having employees prepare food for volunteer groups, as foodservice facilities within casinos are currently going unused. Gaming operators could survey staff for individuals willing to partake in volunteer efforts to support the communities they operate within.