The Luck of the Draw: Opportunities for Casino Graphics
For years, gamblers traveled to Las Vegas, Reno, or Atlantic City to legally place bets in a casino. Some print service providers grew by serving the casinos concentrated in these cities. But casino-print opportunities have expanded as the Supreme Court, state, and local governments loosened gambling prohibitions to create jobs and boost tax revenues.
Now, print service providers in urban, suburban, and small-town settings provide multiple types of printed products to casinos in their regions.
Casinos use a mix of printed materials, including direct mail, deluxe event invitations, scratch-off cards, custom gameboards, custom table felts, slot toppers, promotional graphics, wayfinding signs, exhibits, standees, floor graphics, window graphics, wall murals, backlit displays, OOH graphics, vehicle graphics, custom packaging, decorated apparel, and promotional products. Destination casino-resorts may also need permanent décor and temporary graphics for the attached hotels, restaurants, stores, spas, racetracks, sports betting parlors, and event venues.
Breaking into this market requires understanding how casino marketing and design differ from other B2C hospitality or retail markets. If you don’t gamble regularly, here is a quick overview of how the industry is evolving.
Today’s Gaming Landscape
By the end of 2021, 981 casinos were operating in 44 states. The American Gaming Association (AGA) defines commercial casino locations as licensed, individual land-based casinos, riverboat casinos, racetrack casinos (racinos), and jai-alai frontons. Gaming provides a substantial part of the company’s revenues.
According to the AGA’s Commercial Gaming Revenue Tracker, revenues from commercial casino locations reached a record $53 billion in 2021. This was up 21% from the previous record of $43.65 billion in 2019. The Indian Gaming Association reports that its members operate more than 500 casinos and generated $35 billion in gross gaming revenues in 2019.
And yes, revenues from in-person casinos fell during the COVID shutdowns in 2020. But revenues from online gambling and sports betting grew. So, just like retailers, in-person casinos are experimenting with how to blend in-person, digital, and live-streamed gaming experiences.
Most casinos are part of larger corporate enterprises. Billion dollar corporations such as MGM Resorts, Wynn Resorts, and Caesar’s Entertainment — or enterprises such as Century Casinos, Station Casinos, and Gila River Resorts & Casinos — acquire or develop multiple properties to achieve economies of scale and operational efficiencies. They coordinate branding, marketing, and expansion strategies, as well as compliance with regulations and licensing requirements.
For example, Penn National Gaming operates 44 properties in 20 states, online sports betting in 13 jurisdictions, and online casinos in five jurisdictions. Brands include Hollywood Casino, L’Auberge, Barstool Sportsbook, and theScore Bet (for in-app gambling).
Many Native American tribes also operate casinos and resorts. The Supreme Court lifted all restrictions on gaming on Indian reservations in 1988, but left it up to the states to determine the types of gambling Native Americans could develop to boost the economic opportunities for their people. More than 241 tribes operate casinos or other gaming facilities. For example, the Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise (NNGE) operates five gaming and hospitality facilities across Arizona and New Mexico.
Integrated, multi-channel marketing plans directly affect the casino’s bottom line. How much money a casino takes in each month is directly affected by its success in attracting, developing, upselling, and retaining players.
According to an article in the UNLV Gaming Research and Review Journal, “the total expenses associated with the marketing activities in a modern casino can easily exceed 20% of gaming revenue. Marketing activities might include slot-club points redeemed for cash and comps, direct mail offers, discretionary comps, promotions, special events, entertainment, and advertising.”
The customer database is the lifeblood of every casino operation. Casinos use predictive analytics to develop marketing strategies, and tailor design and entertainment offerings to different types of visitors at each property.
To grow their databases, casino marketers strive to capture the names and contact information of visitors to their properties, websites, and apps. Once a visitor joins the casino’s player rewards program, the casino can track details about how much they spend, how often they visit, what types of games they play, and which promotions they respond to.
The biggest casino operators have tens of millions of names in their databases.
Printing Fun and Games
Casinos are always looking for new ways to stand out. Las Vegas casinos were early adopters of grand-format building wraps, large-format backlit photographs, and high-volume variable data direct mail. Now, some companies develop custom packaging for off-premise brand awareness and/or VIP gifting programs.
It’s all about the visitor experience. To encourage players to come often, bring their friends and families, and stay on-site longer, many casinos offer year-round programs of concerts and events, as well as amenities such as spas and fitness centers.
Adjacent attractions and amenities help provide an escape from the stress of everyday life, and soften the pain of losing money in casino games. And casino continuity programs send high rollers home with gifts that have a high perceived value. In addition to making the client feel appreciated, well-chosen gifts stimulate word-of-mouth referrals.
Casino marketing agencies such as North Star Marketing note that casino visitors often care more about the experience than the gambling itself. But the experience must be carefully designed because each property attracts a different clientele, with variations in age, gender, social backgrounds, and interests. No matter what mix of people visit each property, the branding, signage, websites, and messaging should appeal to emotional triggers such as pleasure, excitement, and fun.
Casino layouts are changing. For years, casinos used massive, dark, maze-like layouts that made it difficult for gamblers to find their way out. Today, many casinos have adopted comfortable, well-lit playground-like layouts that make it fun for visitors to go from one type of game to the next.
Elegantly designed casinos promote a sense of sophistication and pampering. More down-to-earth properties may cater to groups that like watching sports while drinking beer with their buddies.
The mix of games is also changing. Research has found that the average slot-machine player is over 50. These bettors grew up before the Internet and high-tech video games. Many of these older players like playing alone and prefer relying on luck instead of skill to go home a winner.
Millennial and Gen-Z casino visitors, on the other hand, gravitate toward more social table games that require a certain amount of skill. Before visiting a physical casino, they can use virtual play money to hone their table-game skills online.
Some casino-industry analysts believe arcade-like slot machines will be obsolete in 10 years. They will be replaced by new forms of slot machines or more table games. Some casinos may offer a mix of sports betting, traditional table games, and tabletop touchscreen games in smaller, more intimate lounges that include bars, food service, and comfortable furniture.
Casino designers often update and refresh their properties, but they probably won’t adopt wholesale changes to the gaming mix at once. They will ensure that different zones within their properties appeal to different demographic segments within their customer database.
Breaking Into the Business
One way for visual-communications and wide-format companies to enter the casino-graphics market may be to partner with the offset-printing companies that have provided data-driven direct-mail services to casinos for years.
Yes, many of these companies now offer wide-format printing services. But they may not be fully equipped to produce jobs that require specialty graphic materials, complex installations, high-end promotional products, super-high-resolution large-format visuals, or grand-format dye sublimation printing. Or they may not be up to speed on how to ensure prints on specialty materials or provide the color-consistency required for nationwide promotions within different properties around the U.S.
Dave Higgins, owner of SpeedPro in Eastern Pennsylvania, partners with Triangle Press to provide a wide range of graphics for several Hollywood Casinos in the region. For example, they produced window graphics for the grandstand in the horse-racing facility at the Hollywood Casino at Penn National Racecourse. To ensure color consistency for national promotions, SpeedPro has sometimes printed multiple copies of graphics and shipped them to designated sites across the country.
Higgins confirms that graphic buyers from casinos are smart, focused, and have a good of idea of what they want: “We help them figure out how to translate what they want into finished graphics.” He notes that some casinos order prints for employee-centered events and activities to create a better working environment for their employees. Happy, well-trained staff members play key roles in ensuring each casino visitor has a good customer experience.
In 1995, Color Reflections Las Vegas was one of the first visual communications companies to recognize the potential for producing large-format visuals for casinos. In 1997, they purchased the first Durst Lambda digital printer.
“It took a computer file and created the image on photographic materials,” explains Color Reflections Las Vegas President/CEO Joseph Castellano. “At the time, we had one strong competitor that had been in the business for 20 years. We knew if we didn’t get that machine, they would.” After getting the Lambda, they went completely digital.
As the number of print service providers for Las Vegas casinos multiplied, Color Reflections diversified. For example, in 2017, it invested in a 3.2 meter EFI VUTEk FabriVu soft signage printer and re-focused their marketing to attract clients from the city’s robust trade show market. Today the company offers ADA signage, sports branding, custom framing, experiential graphics, vehicle wraps, custom fabrication, and installation services.
“Up through 2015, the majority of our work came from the gaming industry,” said Castellano. “We still have terrific gaming clients, but that industry can be a very volatile, lower-margin business with many variables.”
Competition in which casinos are still relatively new may not be quite as intense as it is in Las Vegas. In casino trade publications, you can find announcements of casino expansions or renovation projects planned for your area. And at events such as the Indian Gaming Tradeshow and Convention you can meet with the major producers of slot machines and other gaming systems to learn more about how the graphics for tables and gaming machines are produced.
One example of an opportunity that printers can be on the lookout for is the Hard Rock Bristol complex, which will open in late 2023 or early 2024. Until then, Hard Rock International plans to open a temporary full-service casino this summer. Located in a former mall, the temporary casino will have a store with Hard Rock merchandise, a main casino floor, a restaurant, grab-and-go food outlet, and a sports bar and lounge with entertainment — all of which require graphics. Understanding when projects such as this will be coming to your area can allow you to get in on the ground early, with the potential to develop a long-term relationship.
Learning more about how casinos operate can also help you identify niche opportunities to get a piece of the printing action. For example, the Gander Group casino marketing firm not only produces banners and signs, but also specializes in designing “continuity” gifting programs designed to help casinos make their highest-value customers feel appreciated.
If inflation diminishes the discretionary income of middle-income people, maybe only the highest-earning individuals will feel comfortable risking a lot of money in casinos. If so, the competition to attract high rollers will become even more intense — and casinos will adjust their strategies accordingly.
Until then, the proliferation of new, rebranded, or updated casino/resorts will offer plenty of opportunities to produce many types of temporary or permanent graphics.
Eileen Fritsch is a Cincinnati-based freelance journalist who has covered the evolution of wide-format digital printing for more than 20 years. Contact her at email@example.com.