June 20, 2016
Focus: Entertainment/Gaming

Social gaming among CT casinos’ latest battles

Image | Contributed
Image | Contributed
Foxwoods’ online social-gaming platform offers players a range of casino-style games including poker and slots. It’s free to play and users can earn points that can be cashed in at the brick-and-mortar casino for food, shopping and overnight stays. Other casinos, including Mohegan Sun, are increasingly adopting online social-gaming platforms.
Eric Pearson, vice president of gaming and revenue enhancement, Foxwoods Casino
Bobby Soper, president, Mohegan Sun Gaming Authority

As the vice president of gaming and revenue enhancement for Foxwoods Casino, Eric Pearson faces the twin challenges of building brand loyalty and driving new and repeat business. With growing competition from new casinos cropping up across state borders in New York and Massachusetts — not to mention Uncasville-based Mohegan Sun — that's no easy task.

So Foxwoods is hedging its bets by bringing its gaming experience online with an enhanced FoxwoodONLINE social-casino platform that launched in April.

"We created an opportunity to differentiate ourselves in the online play-for-fun space," Pearson said. "We customized the site to feature the sights, sounds and games at Foxwoods."

So far, the gamble seems to be paying off.

Doubled daily usage

Pearson said the daily average usage — a key performance metric in the online gaming world — has already doubled Foxwoods' previous online efforts, which initially launched in 2014 and has seen a significant increase in mobile users. "When we launched two years ago, between 10 to 12 percent of our users played on mobile devices," Pearson explained. "Now, it's nearly 50 percent."

Online casino games have become big business — driven by the proliferation of mobile devices, a Millennial generation that demands online access, and an expansion of the types of games available to users.

"When we started our site [last year], it was mostly online poker games," said Aviram Alroy, vice president of interactive gaming at Mohegan Sun. "Now, we have more than 100 games including slot games and — in the near future — more table games." Alroy said nearly one-quarter of the top downloaded mobile games today are casino-type games.

That's helping to build a small but growing revenue stream for major players like Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods through features like in-app purchases. But the real revenue driver is allowing online players to win points or credits that can be redeemed at the casino for food, shopping and overnight stays.

To fast track those efforts — and encourage daily usage — both Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods' online social-gaming platforms offer a variety of bonus credits, daily spins and challenges that make it easier for users to amass points. "We offer new enrollees 10,000 virtual credits," said Foxwoods' Pearson. "And we have a variety of daily quests — like playing three different games or completing 100 spins — that can help generate bonus credits and unlock new games."

While online gambling for money is only legal in three states — New Jersey, Delaware and Nevada — on an intrastate level, Bobby Soper, president of the Mohegan Sun Gaming Authority, sees his casino's online efforts as a way to better understand the market opportunity.

More states will adopt online gaming

"Online gambling is going to grow as more [states] adopt it," said Soper. "Strategically, we want to build loyalty [to our online platform] in the early stages."

Globally online gambling is forecast to be a $56 billion a year market by 2018, more than doubling since 2009, according to Statista, an online market research firm. And the United States is expected to take in nearly one-third of that global haul. That has some states looking more closely at the issue. In fact, in 2015, a handful of states — including California, Illinois, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania — introduced online gaming legislation.

This past legislative session, Connecticut lawmakers considered a bill to legalize and regulate online daily fantasy sports, but the measure didn't pass.

While both Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun have an eye on legalized online gambling — and what it might mean to their bottom lines — Pearson said Foxwoods remains dedicated to the play-for-fun space. "We see a real value in social gaming and it's very different than online gambling," he said.

Pearson predicts that social gaming will continue to grow as more land-based casinos implement online platforms. "Less than half of casinos have any online presence today," he said. "But as gaming becomes even more popular, that will change over the next three to five years."

And though Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods hope their online endeavors find success, they still want to attract people to an actual casino floor. "Even the best virtual-gaming experience can't replicate the feeling of being in a casino," said Mohegan's Alroy.

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