Friday, May 20, 2011

Atlantic City, Trump and a Casino Down on its Luck

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post about Atlantic City and its prolonged losing streak—and I’m sorry to report, things aren’t looking a whole lot better today. After a rocky 2009, revenues in AC fell again in 2010 by nearly 10%. And forecasters say that 2011 could be even worse.

In an attempt to rejuvenate the fading gambling mecca, NJ governor Chris Christie, citing the “complete incompetence and corruption in Atlantic City”, recently pushed through legislation that makes him the city’s de facto mayor. (Which led actual Atlantic City mayor Lorenzo Langford to complain “the state is treating Atlantic City like a pimp treats a prostitute.”)

One of Christie’s first moves was to spearhead the formation of an Atlantic City tourism district, which covers a large portion of the resort city. The state will take over responsibility for public safety, cleanliness and business development. Not a bad idea, given the seamy vibe that permeates AC once you set foot outside a casino.

With that backdrop, let me tell you about a recent trip I made to the Trump Marina casino and hotel.

First thing you should know about Trump Marina is that US billionaire Donald Trump is nowhere to be found. A few years ago, the three Trump casinos in Atlantic City were about to go broke, and he sold off all but 10% of the properties. So it’s really Trump in name only—and at Trump Marina, soon even that will be gone. Houston-based Landry’s Restaurants, owners of the Golden Nugget in Vegas, are buying the casino and will reportedly rebrand it with the Golden Nugget name.

My trip to the casino occurred during a recent boys’ night out to attend the Atlantic City Beer Fest, followed by some obligatory late night gambling. With my trusty Trump One player’s club loyalty card in hand, I hit the casino floor late on a Friday night into Saturday morning. The place was half-dead and I mean that literally, as half the casino floor was shut down due to a lack of business.

It’s not a bad place, actually a welcome break from the more glitzy and more crowded Borgata—and it wasn’t a bad night either, which for me means I walked out with the same amount of money I walked in with, while enjoying a few cold beverages on the house. (My buddy Jim fared a bit better clearing over $400 from a four-hour session at the poker tables.)

Now, I don’t expect much from my Trump One loyalty card while I’m at the place—I’m a lower tier member—but I do expect a little recognition and better customer experience when I go to the Web site, which I did a few days later to make sure my playing was being tracked. It was, but I felt a little less than welcome.

A few notes on my Web experience:

• I had trouble remembering my password—I had selected it late one night with a code word that probably made sense at the time, but was now totally lost to me. I sent a message asking for help, but received a canned e-mail reply telling me the only way I could retrieve my password was to go to the casino. No password reset function. No one to call.

• After 50 or so tries, I did remember the password to my Trump One account—let me tell you, it was pretty obscure—only to find little relevant information for me on the site. I click to view my “Statement”—it’s not there, I need to call to get the info. I click on “Rooms” and a blank screen appears.

• Even if I hadn’t hit the threshold to receive an offer or room reward, the site needs to engage me. Give me a few dollars off on my next stay. Offer me a free app if I eat at the restaurant. Tell me you can’t wait for me to come back. Show me some love!

But it looks like I’ll have to wait for the new regime to get some personalized attention. A NY-based management company is now running the Trump casinos, and according to a company exec quoted in the press, they’re “focused on cutting costs, including marketing programs that were deemed to be too expensive…we were over-incentivizing our customers…it was not a sustainable model.”

Granted the house needs to make money, but cutting back on “incentivizing our customers” seems like the wrong way to go about it—and a good way to lose an ever decreasing pool of loyal customers that is opting to go to the more glamorous Borgata—or other, newer casinos that have popped up in Philly, Delaware and New York.

But my guess is now that the Trump Marina has been sold, the caretakers have packed their bags and are waiting for the new owners to arrive so they can turn over the keys. Soon the Trump Marina will be history—and the Golden Nugget will take its place.

It’ll be interesting to see if they bring new vim and vigor in the attempt to attract—and more importantly, retain—customers.

This post, by Tom Rapsas, originally appeared on Loyalty Truth, May 11, 2011.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Should Loyalty Redefined sell out?

I’m looking forward to seeing the new Morgan Spurlock movie Pom Wonderful® Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold. Unfamiliar with Spurlock? He’s the raconteur behind the funny but frightening documentary Super Size Me, in which the protagonist ate nothing but McDonald’s fast food for a month—which caused him to become fat and physically ill.

This time out Spurlock demonstrates the ubiquity of branding messages in our lives, by literally selling out his new movie. In a series of filmed encounters, Spurlock urges brands to sponsor his movie for a price—and is able to entirely fund the film through product placement and sponsorships, including a cool $1 million from pomegranate juice maker Pom for a spot in the title.

This got me thinking: maybe Loyalty Redefined proprietor Upendra Namburi should sell out this blog site. With so many loyalty programs out there, the possibilities are limitless. Consider: Loyalty Redefined sponsored by Hyatt Gold Passport or American AAdvantage presents Loyalty Redefined or how about i-mint, Loyalty Redefined & You.

After all, we’ve sold out our sports stadiums—from Pizza Hut Park, home of US Major Soccer League’s FC Dallas to the silly KitKat Crescent, home ground of England footballers’ York City, to Easy Credit Stadium, the ridiculous sounding home of German pro soccer team FC N├╝rnberg.

What’s more, we’re now advertising in virtually every space known to man. This includes the walls and stalls of bathrooms, corporate logo tattoos that turn people into walking advertisements (in one case, for a 20% discount for life), and the latest innovation in advertising space sales—entire homes turned into billboards.

With that backdrop, why shouldn’t Loyalty Redefined sell out as well? I hereby declare myself Updendra’s agent. Bidding starts at US $100K. Any takers?

Creative Director and writer of this post, Tom Rapsas, will be accepting offers at