As casinos in Las Vegas enter the second month of reopening since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, UNLV gaming researchers say they can draw upon insights from industry collaborators in Sweden, a country that took a more open approach to the crisis compared to other governments.
In a new paper from UNLV’s International Gaming Institute (IGI), researchers compiled key insights from Casino Cosmopol, a casino in Stockholm, Sweden that remained open through the end of March as counterparts in Nevada and around the world, closed. The casino, like properties around the world, eventually shut down, but during it's extended time open, IGI researchers were able to glean best practices that operators around the world can learn from.
Casino Cosmopol, unlike casinos in Nevada and elsewhere, had to “adapt on the run,” and did not have months of down time to draft a detailed strategy for reopening, IGI research assistant and Harrah College of Hospitality doctoral student Kasra Ghaharian and IGI Executive Director Bo Bernhard found.
In addition to employing extra hygiene procedures and social distancing at restaurants and table games on the casino floor, Casino Cosmopol’s CEO Per Jaldung shared in-depth details of the experiences while his business operated during the height of the pandemic. Ghaharian and Bernhard construed the insights into the following lessons learned for other hospitality industry executives.
Key insight No. 1: Share best practices
Constant best practice sharing, even with competitors and across geographic borders, is the best way to get smarter and faster.
Participating in industry video conferences, such as IGI’s Executive Development Program, is one way to do this.
“If you’re the kind of leader who usually keeps things close to the vest, as your competitive impulses win out over information sharing — stop,” UNLV researchers write. “Now is not the time.”
Key insight No. 2: Communicate, communicate, communicate
Customers have an enormous thirst for information.
Jaldung quickly learned that, even more important than the safety and cleaning procedures themselves was Casino Cosmopol’s decision to communicate those procedures at multiple levels with customers.
Visibility was also important. Customers may be comfortable with—and even prefer—highly visible cleaning and sterilization policies, UNLV researchers write. When customers could see staff constantly making a concerted effort in repetitive cleaning of slot machine touch points, elevator buttons, and door handles, it translated to positive customer morale.
Key insight No. 3: Be flexible and agile
In a dynamic time such as this, it’s important for casino operators to remember that they won’t have all of the answers at hand, researchers said.
Casino Cosmopol did not have the benefit of widely published operations guides to deal with the coronavirus, and yet they arrived at smart, flexible solutions.
“While everyone talks about the importance of ‘turning your property into a lab,’ Casino Cosmopol was able to do it, at the very time they needed to innovate most, thanks to enhanced communication and empowerment tools,” the researchers said.
Key insight No. 4: Employees want to contribute
They want a seat at the table, and they know more about how customers are genuinely feeling than anyone else in the company. Management needs to leverage this, and let employees know that they are a critical component to the recovery strategy.
Key insight No. 5: Technology is key, most notably as an enabler of human social intelligence
Casino Cosmopol used technology to institute a group chat, which they named “Corona Chat” among employees, enabling real-time intelligence to be shared on what was happening in the trenches. In one notable interaction, a dealer and cashier addressed a concern about the frequency of cleaning chips without ever having to involve a manager.
“Casino Cosmopol’s ‘Corona Chat’ was the best ‘game changer’ for the company, as it empowered employees across hierarchies to lead, to share, and to bond in their common interest of continuing to serve during difficult times,” researchers wrote.