By Danny Valle, AIA, Principal, Hnedak Bobo Group

You have a thriving regional casino operation and loyal gaming customers. Baby Boomers have been your bread and butter demographic for years. Now you are wondering how to reach the millennial generation, when article after article tells you that millennials do not prefer slot machines–but your main revenue source has typically come from slot gamers. So, where do you start and how soon do you need to put a plan in place?

Now in their 20s to mid 30s; millennials are major brand influencers. Numbering 80 million+ strong with entertainment dollars to spend, there is no denying that this social, tech-savvy younger generation is spurring the evolution of entertainment—and the design of regional casinos and casino resorts.

But, how do you begin to align your entertainment offerings with millennial consumer preferences?

Only by understanding the values important to millennials can you begin to capture this prolific market segment. Start by elevating your focus on social technology, targeted amenities, and authentic and unique design.

1) Build an online social presence that meets Millennials face-to-face.  

With 71% of millennials using social technology every day, your first contact with this generation is likely to occur online. So, start by developing a well-designed social technology program that complements their preferred communication style.

Research tells us that this generation uses social media like a second brain, to vet new brands, cultivate relationships and communicate their preferences to their extensive online networks.

“Millennials, in particular, are seekers of information, and they make informed decisions knowing there are a tremendous number of options available to them,” says Rich LeBaron, Director of Emerging Technologies at Sycuan Casino outside of San Diego, California.

“If the information they are seeking is difficult to consume quickly, they will be turned off and move on to other options,” adds LeBaron. To enhance its online customer service, Sycuan Casino strengthened its social media communication on Twitter and Facebook, and has leveraged cutting edge cloud technologies to design and develop the gaming industry’s first truly engaging and responsive mobile application for Iphone and Android users.

The app provides quick and easy access to important information about entertainment events, dining options, personal club accounts and allows patrons to participate in exclusive offers and rewards. “We are consistently told by our customers that our new phone app is a major driver in where they decide to game,” adds LeBaron.

Imagery and design speaks volumes to millennials. Sycuan’s social technology sites feature lifestyle images showing guests of all demographics enjoying the property’s amenities. “Presenting and conveying information through imagery and short to the point text is absolutely critical to engaging millennials online,” says LeBaron. “Web pages should be telling stories from top-to-bottom to keep customer engagement high.”

2) Connect your amenities to the personal interests of Millennials.

Research tells us that millennials are driven to cultivate experiences that enhance their lifestyles. They are not lured my money or materialism. But they will spend money on entertainment if provided with creative amenity options that support their social interests and their personal brands.

Having grown up in a world addicted to the Food Network and ESPN, millennials are gravitating toward food-centric and sports-centric venues. Local healthy eating / farm-to-table dining, wine tasting, craft beer brewing, live sports and fantasy sports; millennials are elevating these activities to an entertainment-driven art form.

These activities also provide ‘Instagram-able’ moments to share with their online social networks. And, smart design of these venues incorporates ample lounge areas conducive to gathering and lingering, resulting in increased F&B revenues for owners.

Because of millennial influences, casino operators are rethinking the guest experience, transforming casino properties into amenity-rich entertainment destinations.

“We want to become a complete entertainment destination for customers in our region,” says Leo Culloo, General Manager at The Point Casino in Kingston, Washington, owned by the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe. “Because millennials are so highly diverse in their entertainment preferences, we host multiple unique events throughout the week to balance the distinct needs of our customers.”

The Point Casino hauls in truck-loads of sand for their popular Spring Break Beach Party concert series, and offers regular wine tasting events, a cigar lounge, and outdoor kitchen and dining amenities, among others, in response. “We are also building more open indoor and outdoor gathering amenities including an outdoor kitchen into our new hotel to provide the flexible space needed to accommodate our social events,” adds Culloo.

“Here at Sycuan, we know millennials aren’t always visiting us to gamble,” says LeBaron. “It’s imperative to connect them with our other amenities and entertainment options; and our GameDay Sports Bar is one of the best in all of San Diego.”

And, for a tech savvy demographic, convenience is likely the most appreciated amenity. The Point Casino later this fall will be testing integrated tablet devices at each gaming machine in its casino. “The tablets will give patrons the autonomy and convenience to instantly order food and drinks, delivered right to the guest on the gaming floor,” says Culloo.

3) Give Millennials the open, authentic design experiences they crave.

Surveys show that design matters to millennials. Because they are highly visual consumers, they use design to filter their entertainment choices. This means that design targeted to millennials must be authentic (and hip and cool) to be effective.

With designs that integrate heritage, culture and local context, Indian Tribes have a great opportunity to offer millennials authenticity of experience.

For example, The Point Casino is developing a simple, modern design aesthetic for its new hotel on the northern Kitsap Peninsula of Washington State. Complementing the natural coastal beauty and the tribe’s native heritage, the property will integrate authentic, impactful tribal motifs and indigenous materials as design details. “Under the guidance of a tribal art committee and our design team, local artisans are reimagining elements of tribal culture in the hotel’s exterior and interior design, including artwork, totem carvings, sculptures and etchings,” says Culloo.

Tribal clients are exploring how culture and history can engage millennials, by melding design, cultural education and entertainment experiences.

From a functional design standpoint, operators and designers are examining how millennials utilize space. They typically won’t patronize difficult to navigate environments. When Sycuan Casino modernized its casino a couple years ago, it visually opened up the entire gaming floor, eliminating barriers to transparency and convenience. Slot machines were placed prominently to accommodate Sycuan’s main customer base, but site lines were opened to other diverse amenities, including the GameDay Sports Bar, to attract new demographics.

Technology is an important factor in public space design. Because customers need dedicated spaces to use cell phones, laptops and personal devices, designers are integrating more soft seating areas, lounges and bar height worktops to accommodate passive social activities, with convenient access points to outlets and charging stations.

Start now and elevate your casino design by tapping into the preferences of these young adults. By focusing your resources and budget where they will matter most your property will be positioned for long-term marketability.

See article in this month’s Indian Gaming magazine