Mark Birtha: Casino Revenue Management is an Art

by Jason Q. Freed, Managing Editor | March 21, 2019

Mark Birtha is a seasoned casino operations veteran with more than 25 years of experience, having overseen operations and development at leading casino and hotel companies across the U.S., including Hard Rock International, Mirage Resorts, Las Vegas Sands, Station Casinos, Marriott International and Starwood. 

He’s managed operations in destination, regional and local markets, as well as Native American gaming enterprises. So it came as no surprise when Birtha was tapped to lead Hard Rock’s newest project in Northern California, the new-build Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sacramento at Fire Mountain.

With the $440-million, 152-room property scheduled to open in Fall 2019, Birtha is knee-deep in construction and design permits while also trying to hire a new executive and operations team. He recently stepped away from the construction site to talk with Duetto about the increased importance of installing a holistic casino revenue strategy. 

Q: What does a day in the life of a casino revenue manager look like?

Birtha: It runs the gamut. It’s not a one-size-fits-all situation. Some casinos will have a full-fledged operation with the correct system and resources and they’re making decisions on a daily basis. We’re seeing companies with multiple properties – some with 300 rooms, 500 rooms, 1,000 rooms – all starting to get into a more revenue management enterprise. 

At Hard Rock Sacramento, we’ll have revenue people on the ground and in the corporate offices and they’ll liaise and work together to ensure the property is optimized for both the gaming and non-gaming side. 

You’ve typically got a comp block and it really depends on the property – some run 100% comp and some run 80% comp. What’s most important is who they’re filling their rooms with. Ten or 15 years ago we started really focusing on driving non-gaming revenue and we began opening up more rooms for non-gaming guests. That strategy has extrapolated across the country and we’re seeing varying levels of performance.

Q: How do you determine the best cash-comp strategy?

Birtha: Again, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. It depends on your competition, the size of the property and a number of other things. The reality is if you’ve got 300 hotel rooms in a moderately competitive market, and you can get $250 per room, that’s great. But you might be displacing a guest who will drop $2,000 on the gaming floor. That’s where the sophistication with revenue management systems comes in – it helps you better understand where you’re getting the best bang for your buck. 

You’ve must have a better understanding of who you’re displacing and who you’re not. You want to build loyalty, but you don’t want to turn away a good gaming customer for a guest who’s willing to pay for a room. It’s a combination of art and science in the gaming space more so than any other. 

Q: Is total customer worth data helping you make these decisions?

Birtha: I would say over the past 5 to 10 years the conversation around total guest worth has moved to the forefront of the conversation. Maximizing your database in a more sophisticated manner has become more important than ever. With tools like Duetto’s GameChanger, casino revenue managers are taking a more universal approach to understanding the total value of every customer in the building. 

I think we’re making progress and more people are in tune with total customer worth. In the casino space, loyalty cards are being used all across the campus. But we still need to train the guest to understand that tracking where they spend their money will translate into reinvestment. Hurdles remain because you still have systems that don’t talk to each other and often technology providers each have their own databases.

Q: Do you see positive advancements with online loyalty redemption? 

Birtha: Whenever you can make it more efficient for guests to book, that’s a good thing. You don’t want the guest to have to wait and you don’t want them to face challenges when trying to get something done. In today’s world, it’s absolutely paramount to offer online loyalty redemption. Some companies have it and some don’t, but we all realize the value and the importance of it.

Some companies have a fear of letting the guest manage these things themselves. It’s still very much an evolution. But guests want the ease of going on their phone and taking care of their entire agenda on their own. Everyone will move in that direction and speed will be dependent on the market. 

Q: How is the expansion of gambling across the country affecting the industry? 

Birtha: I don’t think we’re fully saturated yet, so it’s good that casinos are becoming more visible in more marketplaces. The revenue is being differentiated and we’re bringing in new customers that maybe aren’t doing any gambling at all. We still have the destination markets like Las Vegas and Atlantic City, but as we continue to mature in regional markets, properties are expanding and we’re seeing more growth and development. As casinos evolve within the entertainment industry, the market is getting bigger and stronger. 

We’re no longer building casinos in boxes that are essentially slot houses. We’re now building entertainment destinations. 

Q: How is more legalized sports betting affecting the industry?

Birtha: While it might drive new people into casinos, it won’t move the needle in terms of revenue impact. It’s just another amenity to increase visitation. The objective would be to track your customers’ activity at the sports book through their loyalty card. You might gather more data that could affect your reinvestment strategy.

Jason Q. Freed, Managing Editor

Jason joined Duetto as Managing Editor in June 2015 after reporting, writing and editing hotel industry news for a decade at both print and online publications. He’s passionate about content marketing and hotel technology, which leads to unique perspectives on hotel distribution and revenue management best practices.

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