Casino Customer Service – Professor Bill Thompson

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University of Nevada, Las Vegas professor Bill Thompson established himself as a casino expert the old-fashioned way: he worked at it. He’s an equal-opportunity critic for the industry, researching, teaching, commenting on and writing about it for nearly a quarter of a century. Sought after for industry opinions, he the number one guy the mainstream media come to for unbiased answers. (another interview)

Thank you so much for your time Professor Thompson. Casino customer service is no strange subject to you is it sir?

Call me Bill, not sir, I was a private (first class) when I was in the Marines, and “sir” is reserved for another group–not always a term of admiration……

The notion of customer service has been incorporated in my academic work since the 1960s. I first studied politics of state attorneys general. They perceived their jobs as being servants of the public, but how were they to deliver services? Many developed systems to deliver service products to citizens. The same applied to other bureaucrats, but of course, the general impression of the bureaucrat was that he or she was abysmal in the service delivery arena. I had groups of students take tours of the airport, the post office, and the DMV, survey customer service practices, and make recommendations for improvements.

Our University also became a lab for study of service delivery. Some things we do well, others need great improvement. Coming to Las Vegas, I became familiar with service in casinos, because I went to casinos, had meals, played games, and because my friends came to visit me and many stayed in casino hotels.

I learned that casinos and gambling were quite different in terms of service. A very basic difference. Casinos enjoyed a WIN WIN game that no other product enjoyed. Examples. I bought a car and I got a lemon and a rotten deal. I was dealt a losing hand. I told everyone, I even told the name of the car dealer and the location of the dealer. I bet when you consider I mentioned it in my classes that I told thousands of people that I was a loser. I would tell you the name of the car dealer too, but I understand that they have had a change in management, so I don’t think that would be fair now. Nevertheless, I didn’t feel it was fair in the past to protect the guilty.

I purchased another car from another dealer. I have had wonderful service from the dealer, and the car has performed wonderfully. You know, I never tell people about my other car, I don’t tell friends, and I don’t tell students. I am a winner with that car, but I remain silent.

Now just imagine the casino customer. As I car customer I lost and told everyone. A Casino loser keeps his/her mouth shut–losers walk. As a car customer, I won and told no one. A Casino winner tells everyone. –Winners talk. Stands to reason, if you lose in a casino, a spouse will be irritated, and a friends will consider you foolish. If you win–at the same game playing the same amount of money–you become a hero to a spouse, and friends admire you, “I want to be just like Mike” (well almost).

Therefore, Las Vegas and other gaming venues come out way ahead of other places that people spend money. We have the best word of mouth advertising of any product. Our winners’ talk, our losers shut up. However, the whole formula can break down. I have identified three ways the formula will fail Las Vegas–

1) If people ever think we “cheat” them–then losers will talk and even exaggerate their losses.

2) If we exploit customers–beware the issue of compulsive gambling hangs over us like a storm cloud ready to turn loose, and

3) If we give lousy and insulting customer service. In this third realm, let me mention that the Bill Bennett case is the worse thing that could happen to a gambling town–some snitch in a casino released information that insulted a customer, information that exposed LOSSES of a very good customer. That was customer service at its worse. A few more Bennett cases and we can close the doors of the casinos, no more big players will come to Vegas.

I was researching some of your opinions and you seem to be warning Casino inc. about compulsive gambling. Can you elaborate?

I have suggested that the casinos “throw out” the compulsive gamblers. This probably raises several good questions. How do we know who they are, and just who should do the “throwing out?” And is there a good customer service way to do this? And if we do this, won’t they just go to the casino across the street?

These are tough questions. Let me fudge matters by suggesting a way to start. Since casinos are doing almost nothing at the moment, a starting place should be found. We have a starting place. It is the little card that is given to slot players in almost all out casinos. Table game players also get cards in some casinos. The deal is that the player gives the casino critical personal information that may be used in marketing, and then as they use their card when they gamble, they win “points” that may be converted into merchandise, rooms, food and beverage or cash. Fair enough so far.

However, the player cards (for slots) record every coin put into a machine, and all coins coming out of the machine. The cards indicate the exact amount –down to seconds–of time a person is playing a machine and the specific hour of the day of the play. This card is telling the casino very LOUD AND CLEAR just which players are likely compulsive players. The cards record “chasing” behavior. That is, episodes when the player has lost money and is desperately trying to win it back in frantic spasms of play. The card records binge play, which is play that goes on for ten, fifteen, twenty or more hours without a break.

The card records bottom line losses for a player. And the casino knows whether the player is employed or not, married, a parent, and where the player lives. The casino has good information for assessing whether the gambling is recreational and whether it is within the means (ergo responsible) of the player. The casino KNOWS, so will any court that subpoenas the casino’s records.

I was shocked when I was asked to be an expert witness and review the records taken from cards of a player that was in court on a civil matter. Aztar Casinos, I saw the records. They were revealing, they told me that a player had a major problem with gambling. When the casino discovers the patterns of play that I witnessed in the card records, they can cut the player off. They can refuse to “cash-in” points for a period of time–maybe six months. They can cease sending any promotional advertising to the player. They can send the player a written record of just how much the player has lost each month. They can share their knowledge with other casinos in the area.

Collectively the casinos can agree not to provide services to this player. A notice can be mailed–registered mail–to the player indicating that the casino believes there is a problem, and invite the player to discuss the matter with a counselor sponsored by the casino. They player could be given an opportunity to dispute the evidence. The player could be encouraged to sign an agreement that they will not visit the casino for a period of time–six months to a year or more. The casino might then be obligated to take trespass action if there were a visit.

The casino could also impose such an agreement if a family member made a request and the record showed the player had a problem. Exclusion could also result if the player was arrested for a property crime, or if the player commenced a bankruptcy action. The casino should also consider initiating the action on its own. Bad for business? Possibly. A loss of 10 to 15% of revenues, perhaps. But just what did that cigarette case cost those companies–a lot more than the total revenue of all the casino in Nevada. So far, the casinos have been lucky in court. We can only ponder, how long do they want to gamble by doing almost nothing to get the troubled players out of their casino?

If cigarettes are legal and bear a health warning, an individual choosing to ignore that warning must bear the responsibility for the consequences of that action. If a player has all pertinent information available regarding gaming, the odds, and the effect of the activity on persons having a compulsive / obsessive personality, etc., then he must be held equally personally responsible for his own actions. True? If I am sitting on a jury, this would be a very good argument.

The courts pretty much agree. So far. A bar can be sued by the VICTIM of a drunk’s action (eg driving car), but the drunk can’t sue the bar. The differences in situations being litigated are potential problems–the American Psychiatric Association has decreed that Compulsive Gambling is a mental disease (alcohol and cigarette addiction is somewhat different) and to the degree it is a disease the individual is beyond capacity for responsibility. Is the casino? Assuming that the casino is not also ill, the question is–do they know the compulsive gambler’s condition, have they been notified, is the compulsive gambler on a list of persons to be excluded from the casino, does the casino have reason to think the player is not using his/her own money, is the casino knowingly letting the person play when they know, is the casino encouraging more play from the person when they know. Here’s a kicker. If the compulsive gambler has been consistently playing with a player’s card, and all his/her bets are recorded, and the casino has the record of play, the casino has good reason to know the player has a serious problem, the record of play can be very revealing. All of this is evidence that a jury may ponder, and depending on the credibility of all the witnesses and all the evidence, a jury could say the facts justify a big verdict against casinos. My suggestion is that the casinos avoid circumstances by not catering to these players when they know. The cases are in the pipeline.

The gambling industry, especially the casino establishment, has this thing about compulsive gambling. First, they want to insist that it is a small problem and that the “vast” majority of players are responsible and are just having fun and recreation.

On the other hand, they want Americans to know that they too are responsible so they make THEIR OWN studies of the problem, and they say things like, “We don’t want hose people in our casinos.” While they state that compulsive gamblers provide only a minuscule part of their revenues, casinos will not adopt policies to simply throw out the addicts. They should.

Compulsive gamblers and the problems they cause for their own families, their friends, and their employers and for society at large all represent a very big problem for gambling. As I indicated before, the exploitation of players such as compulsive gamblers will defeat the very positive WIN WIN advertising game casinos have. The most impressive argument opponents of casinos have is that the presence of casinos in a community increases the likelihood that people will become compulsive gamblers.

The casino industry studies “found” that only 1.3% of the adult population were compulsive gamblers. The national gambling study commission found that the percentage of compulsive gamblers doubles when a casino is in a community. As only one in five adults go to casinos, we can interpolate that somewhere around 6.5 % to 13% of the players in our casinos are compulsive gamblers. As they are likely to be gambling more than others are, we (I) might suggest that 15% to 20% of the money lost in the casinos comes from these troubled people. The industry would like me to use the smaller number. It the amount is only 15%, we can then ask would it be in the interest of the casinos to “throw them out?”

The answer is ABSOLUTELY YES! It would result in the best public relations the casinos could possibly have. In a recent survey of members of GA groups (A study I did with an economist colleague at UNLV), we found that one compulsive gambler imposes costs of almost $20,000 a year on strangers and persons outside the home. These costs result from missed work, bad debts, thefts, lawsuits, criminal charges and jail time, and welfare.

There is an unfairness here. The gambler makes the bet and wins or losses, I do not make a bet, but I only lose. Nevertheless, what is worse is that the compulsive gambler hurts his or her family and the gambler hurts him or herself. Seventy per cent were separated or divorced because of gambling problems. Over 60% planned suicides, and 27% actually tried to commit suicide.

The gambling industry does not need these statistics on their back. The industry is correct to say that the overwhelming majority enjoy gambling and do so responsibly. But if only one per cent are compulsive gamblers, that’s over 2 million Americans, and they do a lot of harm to themselves and society.

A small percentage, a large number, and a large social cost. But it is not just a question of good public relations. If the gambling industry keeps pretending that the costs are not theirs, they can expect that legal actions may hurt them a lot more than a loss of the 10% or 15% of revenue they would suffer by “throwing them out.” Casinos would be wise to remember the cigarette industry and their denials of compulsive and problem smokers.

What other issues do you have about customer service?

I just read in the RJ that a casino was getting good marks for an automated check-in system. I have spoken for many years about this “gripe” area.

First, I would applaud any improvements in this area, on the other hand I would go bonkers if I were entering a casino and the first thing I was hit with was a computer contraption that I had to wrestle with. My first inclination would be to find another hotel.

The first thing I want to see when I come into a casino hotel (or just casino, or just hotel) is a HUMAN BEING. And I want that human being to smile and show at least a small sign that he or she RECOGNIZES that I have come into that place of business in order to give MY MONEY to that hotel and or casino.

But back to the way it has worked over the decades. A flight lands in Las Vegas sometime in the morning. The passengers disembark, wait for luggage, or mill about as someone else handles luggage, and then depart for hotel in a bus. At the hotel, they wander in wondering where they are, and when they get to the desk, they are informed that they cannot be checked in for several hours. They sit about the lobby waiting. They are tired. They may have their bags with them–at least all their carry-ons. They cannot easily drags the bags around. They sit. They would like to change. They all bought neat new cloths to wear in Las Vegas to show off to their friends. They would like to shower and go to their “personal” bathroom. They wait. Now what do they really want to do with the three hours they spend waiting. Guess? They are not in Omaha or Toledo, they are in Las Vegas. They want to GIVE THEIR MONEY AWAY to the casinos.

I have often wondered if casinos realize that gambling time means money for the casinos. If so they would have efficient means to get patrons into rooms quickly when they arrived. Perhaps they would determine that as soon as a person checked out of a room, the attendants were there preparing it for the next guest. If the new guest had to wait in the lobby, the casino would arrange a special waiting room with a bathroom reserved for the patrons, and a comfortable couch, and maybe even a place to change. The patrons could leave their bags in the room and have an assurance they were secured. Then while “the” room was being prepared the new guests could wander to the tables and play.

In the same regard, I have often recommended that the state of Nevada use its highway funds to pay for building and extra two lanes of highway on I-15 TO California. Then Sunday visitors wouldn’t have to leave Las Vegas at 2 pm to be assured they could get home to Los Angeles by midnight–they could stay until 7 pm, and yes GAMBLE four or five hours more. The drive-in guests stagger in at various hours throughout the weekend, but they all want to leave at the same time. That is OK; it is just that the highway can’t handle the traffic so the journey becomes a 7-9 hour venture on weekends, especially holiday weekends. Other times it is a five-hour trip. Lost time lost money. Check them in quickly, keep them until the last minute before they leave.

Some Las Vegas casinos have “eliminated” the position of the pit manager. I have always considered this position to fall within the realms of customer service. The good ones always talked with the players and made sure everything was satisfactory. Do you feel that these casinos made a mistake?

In recent decades, casino accountants have sought to cut costs wherever they can. As they do so they think only of money directly saved. They do not think about money ultimately lost when services are denied to customers.

By cutting the pit boss out of the formula, the casinos are once again at it. While dealers and their immediate supervisors must reflect friendliness and a welcoming spirit in the casino, they are forced by realities to keep the games going efficiently and honestly. This takes work. Yet, the activity of the player may suggest that a comp is deserved or that another reward should be offered. The pit boss has been the person who can make the observations and interventions necessary.

Without this person overseeing the action, a floorperson must to take time away from essential job tasks of game protection to make the gaming experience an especially pleasant one for the customer. Therefore, we must ask; do the floor people make an extra effort to reward the customer by simply calling a host? Will the host arrive in a timely manner? Does the floorperson ask the customer if there is anything they need? Or do they wait for the customer to ask?

The effective pit boss not only has the ability to oversee staff but also as the ability to watch players switch from one table to the next and has a better overall perspective than the floor supervisor who may be monitoring five or six card games. In a craps pit, the floor supervisor generally monitors two tables with the assistance of a box supervisor on each game. Recently a couple of large casinos have eliminated the box supervisor and have a standing floor supervisor on each game. Was this action in the best interest of giving quality customer service? Or are yet more services denied to the customers?

Such also is life with the newest neatest slot machine. Now machines take paper money and sometimes payout only with paper. A human being need not serve the player from the time he or she comes to a casino to the time they leave. Even if they win, the service will be offered by a cage person giving they money, or in the case of the latest modern casino, by a machine that reads their paper and spits out dollars and change. In and out of a casino with no human contact.

Saves paying a slot change person, a person who was given the lowest pay of anyone in the casino–and had a status to match. If the casino thought a little differently, they would keep the pit boss and especially the change person and use them for customer service efforts. Consider that a change person can be a greeter–like a person looking at the player, smiling, and saying, “we are happy you are here.” Some are mind you but many are not.

The change person can tell the customers about the latest and newest machines, and maybe even explain how they work. The change person can tell the customers about restaurants and about shows. The change person can be an information source answering important questions–like where are the restrooms. Human contact is essential in the Las Vegas casinos, and we are being very short sighted whenever we eliminate human contact just because it saves on money for salaries. If we expect the customer to do all the work in a casino, and there is no human contact, the customer will soon learn that all the work involved in gambling can be done on a computer from home–and the customer might just stay there too.

Any last thoughts before our audience asks you some questions about the casino industry with respects to customer service?

The question often arises in businesses of all sorts: just who is the customer service employee? The simple answer–every employee. In a casino, that means the back shop mechanic, the slot repairperson, the hotel room attendant, the dishwasher, the accountant, the pit boss, and the dealer. Everyone who has in the course of the day the opportunity to come into contact with a customer, everyone who in the course of a day has the opportunity to come into contact with another employee who serves the customer directly.

Quite often, I have heard that customer service must start at the top because “the way you treat your employee is the way the employee treats the customer.” However, I must hasten to add that customer service must be pervasive; it must start and never stop at the top, in the middle, and at the bottom of the organization.

The best case in point that comes to mind was the Mirage in 1989. The property hired over 5000 workers from nearly 20 times that number who applied for work. The 80,000 plus applicants were each given a one-minute interview. Each was assigned a precise time for the interview. If they did not show up on time, they were crossed off the list. The personnel representative of the Mirage asked the applicant into a small office space. As this was done, the representative said “Good morning (or afternoon),” looked at the applicant and extended a hand out. If the applicant did not respond with a handshake and look the representative in the eye, the applicant was crossed off the list. The applicant also had to be dressed cleanly and appropriately for the job desired.

The other element in the interview was a question–did you hold your last (current) job for at least twelve months. The one-minute interview cut the list of job applicants down to about 20,000. Then the Mirage could begin to check references. The Mirage wanted each employee to be a customer service representative of the Mirage, because each would cross customers sometime–maybe if only when they were walking out of the property to their car, or maybe someplace off the property site.

The Mirage wanted to teach customer service to every employee, but only so much could be taught. If a person did not have an ingrained sense of the presence of others, and a sense of common courtesies, the Mirage was not going to waste their (the Mirage’s or the applicant’s) time.

Nevertheless, after the employees were selected, they were given four months of intense training–training that applied to their specific job duties, but also training about all aspects of the property. They learned where everything was located, they learned about each restaurant, each gaming pit, the elevator and restroom locations, the shows, ticket prices, and ticket booths. They were given specific training exercises involving relationships with customers. Four months before the property opened.

One day a few years ago when Mr. Wynn’s organization still owned the property, I went to the Mirage to meet a friend for breakfast. I parked in the parking structure. I went to the third floor and walked toward the bridge over the driveway–heading for the escalator to the main lobby. As I walked onto the bridge, I noticed a maintenance employee holding a hose and spraying the walkway right in my pathway. Are you with me–I thought, “Great! I’m going to have to wait a minute (I was already running ten minutes late), and I’ll have to say ‘excuse me’ to someone who may not even speak English, and I’ll get my feet wet as a bonus.”

Well, to be honest, I didn’t have the chance to think those things. The employee caught sight of me out of the corner of his eye. I sensed he was being observant for customers. Before I took a step onto the bridge way, he had twisted the spraying end of the hose off, he stood up, pulled the hose out of my way, and as I proceeded, he look right at me and said, “Good morning, Welcome to the Mirage, I wish you the best of luck.” This was not a six-figure executive; this was not an employee who lived off tip money. Customer service started at the bottom and saturated the property. This was the lesson all Las Vegas need to learn.

I look forward to the opening of Wynn Vegas.


F.L. Casino supervisor from Las Vegas, Nev Are you as pleased as I am that Las Vegas is going back to its roots of an adult entertainment playground rather than this family destination crap? To me, this is a gambling town. Always was and always will be.

My view on sex in casinos and children in casinos comes not from a forty years expertise as a dealer in a casino, but rather from a forty-year interest as a parent, and a forty-year (plus) interest in sex. I was intrigued when the Convention and Visitors Authority joined with Dorothy and the Wizard and tripped the light fancy down the yellow brick road to MGMs mini Disneyland in 1993. Hey! Disneyland wannabe park is gone. There is no yellow brick road at the MGM, the Emerald City was torn down and replaced by a new slots pit.

Las Vegas abandoned its appeal that it was a “Family” (meaning non-mob Family) Friendly town about six months into the campaign. Before and after the campaign the same percentage of visitors to Las Vegas–about 8%–bring underage (21) persons with them. These soon wish they had left the kids behind. So do the casinos.

Burton Cohen once remarked that if he caught a 12 year old at the Desert Inn, the kid better be shooting dice. Kids don’t gamble. Parents do. Kids want two things from their parents–money and time. Guess who loses when kids come to Vegas.

Kids also represent a guilt trip for a gambler–the money put into the machine is money that should go to the college fund, or for the braces. Hey, that’s life, but parents have to get away from the mundane chores of working their butts off for the kids sometime, and a trip to Vegas is oftentimes just what the doctor ordered.

Don’t blow the opportunity for some good R+R by dragging the guilt trip along. But then, in the final analysis, the best gambler doesn’t go back home to the guilt trip either. The best Vegas customer is the gambler that is 5o years plus. This person is a peak earning power, has maximum vacation time, and wants some excitement. Oh best of all, this person has emptied the nest. The kids are grown up, and hopefully, employed and on their own. We have to cater especially to this customer. Niche casinos can offer rock music and child carny games, but mainline Vegas is for the grandparents. Let’s keep it that way. Oh! And we are the viagra generation too (I know the ads show the Baseball player stud–but he’s anomaly–our role model is Mike Ditka and Bob Dole). Point being, sex is great, but it is a hell of a reason for a casino venture. Modify that a bit, it is a reason to have a great trip with a spouse, but it is not the driving force to the point that our best players have to see T+A to get into the casinos, nor do they need to have the Chicken Ranch at Las Vegas Blvd and Flamingo.

The best players have resolved their libido problems in non-commercial ways. Sex clubs are for younger people, and younger people are not the best gamblers (in terms of money available to be played). Las Vegas must offer a variety of attractions for all adult ages, but we must be sure that we do not shove the wrong message into our best players faces, or they just might stay closer to home and visit the sex-sterile Indian Casinos. More Tom Jones and Wayne Newton please, and let’s pray for a recovery for Roy–that is the entertainment for the gambling generation. Opinion only.

Author did not disclose name or hometown

Professor Thompson, you sir must not have ever worked in the pits before. I am a floor supervisor and I see what I consider compulsive gambling all the time! Hell, a good percentage of my coworkers fit that mold. If you ever think I would bring this subject up to a shift manager about a particular player, it would be suicidal! Hell, they would kick my ass right out the door! Most casinos have those awareness campaign brochures and that my friend is all we can do. This topic is not for the grunts in the pits.

I would hope that my earlier suggestions did not include one indicating dealers should play the role of psychological screeners and counselors of problem gamblers. We would agree that THEY ARE NOT either qualified to discern who exactly the problem gambler (distinguished from non-problem gambler) is, nor is it their duty to perform that function. Their duty is to run the game, keep it honest, and keep it moving. Sort of like the person on the Detroit (Japan?) assembly line is not responsible for the drunk driver. But the question does raise interesting considerations. Like the auto manufacturer the casino has a responsibility for putting a safe product on the market. And they have a responsibility to public if they knowingly are making dangerous products.

The recent case in Indiana did not go to a jury–a judge said the casino could not be responsible for an individual’s behavior, and Aztar Casinos were given a verdict without a trial. But the evidence would have shown the casino KNEW of the players problem, the player put himself on an exclusion list, the casino continued to send him promotional brochures and “deals” and let him continue to play.

The casino industry can keep hoping that all judges will direct verdicts in favor of casinos. However, I heard the evidence from the Indiana player’s lawyer, and I am not so sure that a jury would have been so easy on the casino. Soon a case will get to a jury, and then the industry will be in the position the cigarette industry is in–making billions in payments to someone somewhere. I’m a little skeptical about state governments winning judgments as they are heavy into gambling via their lotteries. But casinos are on the edge of taking a big hit. And the person asking the question just might get a subpoena (so it is best to remain anonymous) and asked could you recognize the gambler, did you see the gambler play every day at your table, did the casino tell you he was on a list, did the casino host continue to intervene and give the player more and more comps, drinks, etc. It is not the dealers’ responsibilities, but others in the casino do have responsibilities (comp providers, public relations people), and our casinos’ best defense will be that they purposely did not make the situation worse, and that they did take some positive steps to have compulsive gamblers stop. The President of Harrah’s said “We don’t want those people in our casinos.” He and all the casinos better start showing that they mean what he said.

I sense from answering my questions that I am somewhat of a target because instead of working in a casino for that last 40 years I have worked in the academic world–doing things like reading books, writing books, and studying the gambling industry (personally visiting over 500 casinos on five continents). If my right to offer my opinions would be enhanced if I were to set aside “my” experience and “dummy up and deal,” I will gladly step aside for the experts–indeed, that is why I am willing to listen to the experts–maybe that is what we learn in universities–a respect for others opinions. So be it.

D.F. Casino supervisor from Biloxi, Miss Mr. Thompson I do not agree with some of your opinions. First, the ticket in-ticket out on slots may eliminate change girls but in my casino, we now have slot hosts that handle customer service issues. There has been a huge reduction of complaints from waiting for a fill to getting change to play these machines.

Second, the automated hotel check-in system has been a wonderful success. It supplements the front desk operations helping prevent long lines. They also have hand held computers that help expedite long lines during high volume convention check-in. I think this these type of technologies are customer service innovations at its best.

We really don’t disagree. I applaud any casino (DF’s Casino) that goes to dollar bill acceptors and paper pay-outs, ceasing to have change people BUT REPLACING THEM with HUMAN BEING Hosts. This hosting function was a function of slot change people in past, now it can be focused. It is wonderful that coinless doesn’t simply mean unemployment, but that it can mean better employment, customer service employment. I would hope that the new host positions carry a bit of status at least equivalent–and hopefully above–that of men’s room attendant. I agree that automated check in CAN be helpful, as long as a HUMAN BEING is around to assist the computer and machine illiterates (ME!). I also applaud DF’s casino-hotel for having a HUMAN TYPE PERSON at the check in line with a hand-held computer to assist check-ins–

I must mention that the questions are very educational for me. I am learning. I want all readers to know that I have not stopped learning processes, and I intend to keep learning, and that they have much to teach me.
I don’t mind having readers disagree with me either–just give me reasons and information so that my future opinions are closer to reality.

AnneLV Dual rate from Las Vegas

Professor Thompson, what are your opinions about casinos posting the odds of winning on their games?

Players should be able to find out what odds exist for each game. For machines it can be complicated. But then the state sets minimum standards. For machines and other games, odds are posted publicly when the casinos sees a competitive advantage to do so. There are also publications that track percentage payouts of various casinos.

The thing I wonder about is this–when we say to the player, give us a dollar and we will give you back 97 cents, why do they come?

And when they win, why are they so anxious to keep going? Managers of bar-casinos in Alberta told me that they get the most wild play at about ten minutes until 2 am when they have to close. The players are rushing to put in all their coins before closing time. Lotteries pay-out on average 50%, but when a prize gets big, people re-mortgage their houses and buy thousands of dollars worth of tickets. I don’t think posting odds will affect play much.

Z.Z. Casino dealer from Las Vegas, Nev

Illinois’s Governor Blagojevich raised the possibility last year of a State takeover of the nine Riverboat casinos, with companies hired to manage the operations. Pipe dream perhaps, the idea being to take all the profits for State coffers instead of just a percentage. Also your opinion about family operated vs Indian and large casino corporations?

Big casinos, small casinos, government owned casinos, micro-managed casinos. Casinos come in all shapes and sizes, and under all myriad of control mechanisms–that is around the world. Except for Native American casinos all casinos in the US (excluding random charity event casinos) are privately owned and government regulated. Unlike lotteries. I want to keep it this way. Illinois is coming close to having government casinos already–as they tax the winnings of the nine establishments around 50%–with a 70% tax on top category of winnings. Why would they want to own them, they are already getting the benefits with out the problems of ownership.? My advice to Illinois is simple: if you hate casinos so much, just get rid of them.

It seems totally absurd to make something you despise so much into a government project. The worst part of government ownership, however, is that there is no effective regulation. Who is going to close down an Indian casino if the games cheat the player? Where can the player go to resolve a legitimate grievance–you know, the malfunctioning machine thing, or a misdealt hand after you have your 21. The casino answer is that there has never been a single case of anything ever being other than 100% perfect at a Native American casinos in the history of the world. On the other hand, the Mirage makes mistakes, and the player can challenge the Mirage (when the Mirage doesn’t admit it) and use the gaming board as an advocate.

What happens when a lottery number is rigged–ala Pennsylvania in 1979. The public gets cheated, and the state runs the same game the next day. We periodically go through the big versus small casino thing in Nevada. We seem to endorse the small casinos as being “mom and pop” things, and they pay lower tax rates than big casinos. Get real, no poor person owns a casino. Rich people own small casinos. Oh. A poor person’s pension fund might own shares of a large casino. Maybe the large casinos should get tax breaks. Not a bad question.

This is precisely what happens in the Bahamas. The government realizes that effective customer service, including comps to very good players (the ones that live somewhere else and bring money into the Bahamas economy) can only be given by casinos with resources–usually larger casinos. Taxes on higher earnings pay lower rates. A well run small casino, or a closed corporation (personally owned) larger casino can deliver personality (e.g. Palms) to customers easier than the large corporate house. However, the large house can also have a personality, as Mirage casinos did under Steve Wynn. And with this comes a sense of taking care of customers. It is harder for the large absentee management-oriented casino to do. Their inclination is to centralize everything including comp distribution–everything according to a formula, usually a cheap formula. But the large house can decentralize, and by doing so can aid in improving morale.

When a comp can be delivered by a front line employee–the floor supervisor–morale of is improved, and so is customer service as the gesture is seen as a personal thank you, not an entitlement according to corporate rules. It will be very interesting to see how local-oriented Stations does with customer service in the California Indian market. It is too soon to tell as their Sacramento Casino (Thunder Valley) is simply being mobbed (in the good sense). When competition sets in, we shall see.

G.L. Retired from the gaming industry from Reno, Nev Mr. Thompson, I retired from gaming 18 months ago after 40 years in the business. You mentioned player card tracking in one of your answers. I would like to elaborate just a bit here if I could. The last casino I worked would not give a player a comp unless that player was in the system. Some players didn’t want to sign up. They felt they didn’t want the junk mail sent to them, others felt that their gambling was a privacy issue. Personally, I feel we lost some of these players to neighboring casinos. This was a strict policy. Don’t sign up – No comps.

With good customer service and personal relationships between customers and employees, comps can be given without tracking systems. Tracking systems are very impersonal, and if the whole point is not tracking for good relationships but instead marketing, customers service is not improved in the long run. A casino could have a card system that did not demand addresses, as long as there was verification. I don’t think some “good” players want others–like members in the family–to be all that aware of their recreation (and it is recreation for many local residents). For others, the compulsive gamblers, the casinos should be aware that the records of individual play will be made available to courts in law suits that may be related to gambling directly or indirectly. It might be wise for the casino to have only the minimum amount of information necessary for tracking in order to give comps—verifiable identification, and a running total of amount played or won (something that will help players with IRS reports). Details about players’ lives (for example, wow, they work for a bank) and about every pull they made on a machine will come back to bite the casinos.

D.D. Floor supervisor from Atlantic City, NJ Casino pit employees live under the thumb of the “Dummy up and Deal” world that other departments do not endure. We have very little job security and in my opinion, dealer and floor supervisor’s moral is low. For the most part we put on a good face but the truth is most of us are unhappy. Again, one mans opinion.

My question is this; how would you motivate pit employees knowing they face an autocratic management system that will not change? Would you take the assignment if hired as an outside consultant?

Yes I would. It is unfortunate that many–maybe most–dealers work in an atmosphere of low morale. Casinos should try everything to reverse this. The dealer is the contact person with the player, and better customer service will flow from dealers and pit supervisors who are content and happy in their jobs. Structural aspects of the work place must be considered–the dealer post should be reasonably comfortable. Working in smoking conditions should be optional as much as possible. Dealers should be able to pass customer complaints into personnel that can correct bad situations–I’m speaking about complaints with other parts of the business — restaurants, rooms.

F.L. Casino dealer from Detroit, Michigan Casino dealers here work under collective bargaining. I have never worked anywhere else and my question is; what are your thoughts on Detroit and the sweetheart deal of unionization vs. such gaming cities as Las Vegas? Job security means higher moral and that relates to better customer service, does it not?

The Detroit Question and Labor Unions–World wide many jurisdictions have labor unions. Some union deals are negotiated after employees vote in unions–others like Detroit seem to be “sweetheart” deals whereby the union is recognized without votes. I prefer situations where workers choose unions in a democratic manner. Unions can give workers greater security, but the downside of this might be that management develops a built-in bias toward workers and assuming that the dealer with not be honest the management will impose greater controls–and will remove comp privileges as discussed. If a casino doesn’t have a union for all employees, I would recommend that a definite grievance procedure be put into place, so that every dealer complaint does not become a walk-in confrontation with a top manager. Many casino employee unions have gone on strike, so that is part of the picture that goes with it.

My answer is simply that we have a federal labor law that provides mechanisms for unionization, if workers want a union, they should go through the procedures. Sweetheart deals between unions and management just might leave out dealers–like leave them way out in the cold

G.V Casino dealer from Las Vegas Professor Thompson, Are they building to many Indian casinos? Should there be federal laws governing casino gaming or do you think that it best administered by each state as it is now?

YES there are too many. And unfortunately, the too many are helping non-Indians more than Indians. The large casinos only help specific reservations. I was trying to find a census report on 29 Palms in California–the casino is run by Trump. The census report didn’t list the tribe. I looked and looked and looked. Finally I found a web site describing the reservation. It has 400 acres and ZERO people. Tribal members live somewhere else, and who knows how many there are.

Indian casinos are growing on newly created reservations for new tribes, and for old tribes, that recently discovered that someone’s great grandmother was certified as 1/4th Indian in 1908. (I recognize, that I have already set myself up to be called a racist–that is the word used to describe everyone skeptical about Indian gaming–but then my 1/16th Indian children don’t get benefits that a 1/32nd Pequot Indian named Skip Haywood does because he started Foxwoods–so maybe I have a chip).

Indian casinos are growing rapidly because state politicians see them as a great source of tax money, because the Indians give the state politicians LARGE campaign contributions, and because the federal law IGRA is being violated.

(Indian Gaming Regulatory Act). IGRA states that state governments MAY NOT tax Native American casinos. They do.

IGRA lists the purposes for which casino money can be spent–CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTIONS are NOT authorized. So why do the Indians allow these law violations.? IGRA also states that Indians can have casino gambling IF OTHERS in the state are ALLOWED TO HAVE THE GAMING. The state then tells the Indians pay us taxes (illegal) and we will give you EXCLUSIVE (illegal) rights to have casinos. If the feeble Bush-Norton (secretary of Interior) administration would but enforce IGRA, the growth of Indian gaming would stop. We can’t blame Clinton for going along with the scam–the Democrat national party was the largest recipient of Indian Gaming contributions.

I served as the gambling consultant (along with John Dombrink) for the President’s Commission on Organized Crime in 1986. We recommended in our report that federal standards be set for all gambling in America. This way a bad operator here, could not simply get up and move his shell game somewhere else (in the country). We felt that the rules in Nevada would be a model for national rules. However, some other jurisdict6ions had good policies (particularly regarding problem gambling) that could also be part of national guidelines. But we added, once the guidelines were in place, if any state agreed to abide by them, and the state had the capability to administer the rules, or rules at least as severe, then all the regulation would be done by those states. I think the same would be applied to Indian casinos–if they wished to have regulatory mechanisms for at least some outside control following the rules, then enforcement could be within states. If a state decided not to follow the rules, then the federal government could take over regulation and keep a good part of the gaming tax as a result.

I think I would still support the views I advanced in 1986. I still think Nevada does it best. (With room for some improvements).

S.S. Casino supervisor from Henderson, Nev In your travels, do you feel that Las Vegas casinos set the standards for excellence in casino customer service?

Las Vegas is the standard for the world on customer service. We have a mass tourist base to serve. We can’t be compared to a resort with 100 rooms. And we should not be measured by a standard of local resident customers. We serve 36,000,000 visitors (non-local residents) a year. We are the standard, meaning if things look bad here, the whole world is in trouble. But things are not all bad here. Delivering volume service is a challenge, but the biggest challenge is to make the delivery personal, make the poorest of the 36,000,000 feel welcome, make the biggest (money) loser feel like a winner. Our growth rates are returning, but even during the worse times over the past two years we were able to avoid a major slump which hit other tourist towns. We did this because most of the people coming here felt that they were welcome. Our employee base must be applauded for this result. However, questions asked suggest that some of the bigger properties don’t appreciate their employees all that well. I cannot say that isn’t true. The rapid decision to lay off show workers following the tragedy with Roy shows a vulnerability in our service formula. People make Las Vegas work, computers don’t. We have to always be focused on people in service delivery.

From in Europe

Las Vegas has the benefit of over 30 million visitors a year. However not all casinos perform well. The Aladdin was a disaster right in the middle of the strip, downtown casinos seem to get by, but statistics show little of no market growth. Why have Station casinos been so successful?. What differentiates this company from the rest, is it superior customer service or simply superior product?

Different markets perform differently. The Strip is one market, downtown another, the locals’ casinos a third. Downtown has had very good customer service in terms of face to face interaction. However, location is not convenient for either non-automobile tourists or for locals. The facilities are aging, and other than food, they offer little in amenities (Golden Nugget being an exception). The best downtown can do is fight to keep from falling. If downtown can develop stadiums, and people mover is built, they will hold their own–but still not grow.

Stations is the leader in catering to locals–they have the formula down, they do things right. They have newer facilities with amenities like food and theatres. They offer betters odds on machines and at tables–craps, etc. The newer Strip properties are all doing well, but it is not customer service which might not be as top notch as at locals and downtown–but it is good. The newer properties offer the world that which is known as “Las Vegas.” To offer “must see” places, the Strip casinos have had to invest billions. The most recent big houses coming in with price tags well over a billion each. The Aladdin was a high priced ticket too, but the casino owners did not have back up resources. They tapped out during construction. Yet it was immediately realized that the building was customer adverse in its layout–especially in terms of entrances and exits and parking. The owners could not pay for changes. So bankruptcy followed, and now it has a new owner-manager–Planet Hollywood. If the new owner group makes the investments needed for physical changes, and they have deep pockets for marketing, the Aladdin will come out of it very well. IF. I certainly hope so, because the Aladdin is a beautiful property.

Anonymous casino employee from Michigan:

My question: I have noticed in the last two or three years that players are more reluctant to acquire and use player’s club cards. Five dollar penny players use them but the guy who comes in and drops $1000 in a day is a much harder sell. Usually they tell me that they don’t gamble very often or that they don! ‘t want junk mail or that they don’t want anyone keeping track of how much they gamble. These are the very players that the system is trying locate and cultivate.

I suspect that if word got around that the casino was going to analyze their play and see if they had a gambling problem, nobody would use those cards. Gamblers are gossips anyway; once they hear that someone’s wife intercepted a registered letter from the casino detailing the guy’s betting history it would be a PR nightmare and the end of the player’s card system. How would your plan to use player’s club data to identify compulsive gamblers reconcile itself with the public’s growing awareness of privacy issues?

There are several angles to question. Think Bill Bennett. Evidently he used a player’s card. Someone ratted on him. I hope a casino executive or two got and some lower level employees with access to his information got fired. His case illustrates that the information is NOT kept secret by the casinos. Of course they use it to market to good players, and a sick player would be defined as a “good” player re value of play. Think courts–a case of embezzlement, a divorce case. The courts can subpoena the casino’s records, the card history. The casinos will give the information to the courts. This can hurt the player. The record also allows the casino to be warned that the player has a problem. The casino should handle any such case very delicately. I would suggest if it is obvious, that a free meal and discussion with a casino executive re amount of play and whether the player really intends to lose so much, and perhaps an invitation to use an exclusion list, or partial exclusion list might be in order. On the other hand, the casino may not want to know the player has a problem. What to do. Simply keep just a running account of money played, not wins and losses, not individual bets, not time in the casino. Then have a record on annualized basis of how much player is ahead or behind and make this information available for the player at tax time. Better option yet. Return some change people to floor as hosts, and have them establish personal contact with players and award comps on day to day basis–meals, token gifts. Get rid of cards. Get rid of large comp items–let players purchase big items when they win.

How about setting payouts for more favorable machine returns and forget about cards.

D.M. Casino employee (Did not specify hometown)

Professor Thompson, I recently traveled to Las Vegas to see for myself how the job opportunities fared. I have been a dealer for the past five years and curiosity was killing me. The resorts are indeed large and beautiful as advertised. Your city is like no other. But there was one issue I had problems with. On the strip there were people shoving x-rated booklets in my face on the sidewalks. To me this was appalling! Here are all these beautiful casino resorts and to allow such smut to be blatantly shoved in the face to the city’s visitors is a customer service question directed to the city government? The casinos? What on earth is that all about?

The people hand out smut literature do so because American justice system thinks freedom of speech and displays of genitals and fornication is matter of free speech–I don’t see it that way at all, however, my view is not the accepted court view–so be it. Our only attack on the problem is to try and enforce prostitution laws in Las Vegas–if we do so the supply side of the equation will not be such that the street advertisements are cost effective. On the other hand, ,look at the yellow pages sometime. Last year there were 138 pages of hookers, I mean “entertainers,” in the phone book. Our mayor thinks legalized brothels might solve the problem (and give the city tax revenues), but I think effective policies for brothels could not be out into place, and instead they would just draw every streetwalker in America and every john and pervert, that our problems would multiply. Won’t happen, and sadly the advertisement will continue on the sidewalks. In earlier answers I have suggested that children and gambling don’t mix, I also believe that sex and casino gambling is not a good mix either–especially for Las Vegas–our best players are not sex driven–albeit some psychologist might suggest that gambling is an alternative.

From in Europe

Why should casinos get involved in self-exclusion for compulsive gamblers? It seems to me that this is a lose lose situation for everyone. A case in point, in Atlantic City recently a self-excluded gambler returned to the casino and won $60,000 and when the casino realized who he was they want the money back. So now what? If the casino wins a judgment then would it not put themselves in a position to return all money lost by future self-excluded patrons?

Regarding self exclusion there is a problem for casinos–it is a win win situation if the casino keeps these people out, and if regular players know the casino is diligent in not exploiting players who lose control. However, if the player on a list is allowed in, if the casinos are not diligent, then problems arise if player wins (casino refuses to pay–bad public relations), or player loses, and player sues because casino violated the exclusion policy (another bad). This is a tough issue, however, lurking out there is the player (or his family) who lost everything, perhaps even killed himself, because a casino kept enticing him to gamble in face of knowledge that he was a compulsive player. When the right case gets to the courts, then the casinos will know how the tobacco industry feels–big time hurt for the industry.

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