High-Rollers

For Detroit’s gambling elite, there’s always something special in the cards.




Behind the scenes of Detroit’s glitzy gambling dens, large-screen TVs, exquisite jewelry, luxurious hotel stays, and a day at the spa are just some of the gifts commonly showered on their high-rollers. All three casinos, like others across the country, regularly provide lavish gifts, personal hosts, private gaming areas, and other incentives for their “elite” players.

But why is this? It’s quite simple, really: Wealthy, repeat customers bring in a lot of cash. And as the economic downturn has affected gaming revenue all over the world, those bonds have never been stronger. Added competition across the entire entertainment industry is having an effect, as well.

But defining exactly who qualifies as an elite player is no easy task. The casinos identify their high-rollers through a sophisticated tracking system tied to membership gaming cards (naturally, none of the casinos would reveal their figures or formulas).

“We have the ability to capture data and come up with a theoretical value of a customer based on such things as how often they visit, the average bet, and the house advantage of the games they play,” says MotorCity Casino COO Rhonda Cohen.

Under a three-tiered card system, MotorCity’s top-tier players are culled from a database and receive Signature, Signature Elite, or Club Metro Card status. The cardholders, Cohen says, must re-qualify every three months based on the last six months of play.

Besides these periodic “appreciation gifts,” elite players may also have access to a valet, a private entrance and elevator, a private dining area, private club, free concert tickets, and accommodations at one of the MotorCity’s 15th-floor luxury suites.

“We want everybody who walks through our doors to have a good experience,” Cohen says, “but these are our best customers, and our rewards program has provided a very high retention rate. The elite customers represent a small percentage of our database that produces a disproportionate amount of our revenue. These people run the gamut across ethnic background, class lines, and even the way they dress.”

A similar program is offered at Greektown Casino, where three card levels are available — from black (basic) to silver and gold.

“Our gold players are assigned an executive host, who fosters a one-on-one relationship and basically caters to their every need,” says Greektown vice president of marketing Matt Walton. Other perks can include a luxury hotel suite, dinner, limousine service, birthday gifts, and, on occasion, gifts such as cars, jewelry, and even a Bahamas vacation.

“In many cases, our hosts have become very close and personal friends with these special customers,” Walton adds. Although gold customers are “fairly loyal,” he acknowledges that elite players may enjoy similar perks elsewhere. “Typically,” he says, “no one is going to be 100 percent loyal to one casino in such a competitive market.”

At the MGM Grand Detroit, a one-card system is used to track and identify elite players. “We use the player’s card as a marketing tool,” says assistant vice president of marketing Karen Brookstein. “And it’s true — the more you use it, the better the perks will be. At the very least, any player can earn complimentary points for cash back.”

Besides extending free hotel and spa visits to their high-rollers —  along with tickets to luxury suites at local entertainment venues — MGM also offers trips to its sister properties in Las Vegas and Biloxi, Miss.

MGM even offers a holiday gift emporium every December, where customers, based on their different levels of play, can select cameras, jewelry, big-screen TVs, and more.

“Our rewards program does create a high retention of our top clientele,” Brookstein says. “It’s all about building relationships and loyalty.”

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