Grabbing Ahold of Regulated Markets
Mike Norris: What’s up everybody welcome to #WeBuildWednesdays! I’m Mike Norris. I’m here with Carrie Draper today from Awesome Hand Gaming! And, today we’re going to talk a little bit about Awesome Hand Gaming, but we’re also going to talk for marketing in a highly regulated industry like Awesome Hand Gaming is in. So, Carrie, why don’t you start off. Tell us a little bit about Awesome Hand, your role, and everything you guys do!
About Awesome Hand Gaming
Carrie Draper: Hi everyone! So Awesome Hand Gamings is a video slot terminal operator. So, those bars and/or restaurants that you go into in some of the municipalities in Illinois- and Awesome Hand Gaming primarily works in the Northwest suburbs of Illinois- they are the company that puts the slots into those locations.
So, any location that wants video slot machines can’t just buy a video slot machine. They have to sign a contract with an operator that’s licensed that actually purchases the machines and owns them and then puts them within the restaurants. They split the money that those machines make between the operator, the state, and the location that the machines are operating in.
So, Awesome Hand has a parent company, AH Management Group- that’s been around for 75+ years. Part of AH Management is AH Entertainers. So, they did pool tables, dart boards, all that stuff and a lot of these video gaming operators kind of branched from that because they have been within the bar industries before they had relationships built so it was kind of a natural process to then build Awesome Hand, the LLC and make it into a video gaming company as another sector, with AH Management group kind of over it all.
Carrie: Yeah! So, Youtech started working with Awesome Hand in late 2013. Initially it was just like branding, get the branding and get them a logo, build a website. And then, by 2014- I came in in September- and they kind of wanted Youtech to take on all of their marketing. From marketing for Awesome Hand Gaming as the terminal operator, at the time there were 136 locations.
So, I came in and not only the company marketing, but market the slots at each location as well. And we’ve really branched out on what we do. It’s not just the website, it’s not just maintaining- it’s their facebook, their social media, traditional marketing, digital marketing, and then some important things that differentiates us is our events and stuff like that.
Mike: Yeah, and I think the events are important especially when we start to talk here about regulation and maybe some challenges that the industry has to face. Can you walk us through some of those challenges and what they might be?
What are some challenges you face in the industry?
Carrie: Yeah, so in the gaming and the gambling industry, most people are familiar that there’s a lot of government involvement. With video gaming, there’s the Video Gaming Act in Illinois that kind of set some of those rules and regulations. And when it comes to marketing especially, we refer to what they call the Inducement Policy and that policy says, “here are the promotions that you can do, and the advertisements you can do, here’s what promotions the terminal operator can pay for, here’s what the locations can pay for, here’s what both can pay for, here’s what neither can pay for-” so, there’s a long list of what that is.
I’m not going to bore you with what’s on it, but in 2017 they took that list away so that Inducement Policy no longer exists. Which really put all the operators on a, “so what can we and can’t we pay for?” and you know, we have attorneys that advise us bus our attorney tells us what’s risky to do and other attorneys might think differently like, “oh, you might be able to do a little bit more,” and so it kind of makes for an uneven playing field for the operators and the locations based on whether they’re following the rules to a tee or kind of reading through the lines a little bit. So, yeah! That’s a struggle. There’s a lot of gray area, even though it could seemingly be black and white.
Mike: Yeah, yeah, I mean it definitely sounds like it and one thing that I know just from the marketing side, if you look at Facebook or Google for example, the types of ads that can be run on those platforms for anything that’s even somewhat gambling related- it’s really tough for us.
Carrie: Oh yeah!
Mike: So, not only do you have to comply with the industry, you’ve got to comply with the government and rules there, you’ve got to comply with Google and Facebook too- who essentially have this massive duopoly or the internet’s advertisement dollars. But, I think that Awesome Hand does a pretty good job on social media despite, you know, the advertising having to follow certain rules and that, just general photos and things of the events and the girls, and all that! Like, you and I were looking at it the other day, that’s the kind of stuff that does super well.
Mike: So, despite the regulation, there’s still plenty of room to succeed.
Carrie: Yeah, and a lot of those platforms are constantly changing their guidelines. So, when we did the mobile app for Awesome Hand Gaming, you consistently- I mean we’ll get the emails from Apple, “hey make sure you’re checking out some of our new rules and regulations,”- and even though our app isn’t strictly for gamers and gamblers, we actually had to make it available to everyone per the Illinois Gaming Board. But also, Apple doesn’t want us putting gambling apps on there necessarily so-
Carrie: We have to be open to everyone. So yeah that’s a good point. We have to pay a lot of attention that that, but then we have a lot more freedom when just posting on Facebook and Instagram and so on and so forth- we get to keep it light and still have it revolve around the slots, which is ultimately what we’re trying to advertise.
Mike: Sure, yeah. So what kind of marketing tactics have you found the most successful?
Carrie: So, more recently, we have really gotten into doing more sweepstakes. People want to win things and we surround it around the slots, I mean we want players especially to join us in it, but we want to reward them for playing at our locations and even just visiting our locations.
Essentially, we want to market our slots but we also want to market where our slots are because the markets and the more seats you have the more likely people are going to play the machines. So, if we can get people into our locations to enter to win $15,000 that’s a win even if they didn’t sit down and play the slots that day. We work to make sure that we’re rewarding them with things to give them more reason to visit our locations.
And then also, for our locations to give away, I mean if you’re doing traditional marketing, let’s say mailers or Facebook ads- the market is getting a bit saturated in the areas where slot machines are allowed So, you really have to kind of stand out from the crowd and one way to do that is to get people in the door is by offering them something. So, giving away free slot play, giving away match slot play, letting them know, “hey, if you come here we’re gonna give you some free money to try out our machines,” and then if they get lucky they think your slots are hot and they might come back.
So, having those incentives to get people in the door have really worked well for us.
Recommendations for Marketing
Mike: Sure, yeah. Is there anything you’d recommend then for someone who’s just getting into the industry or even a similar industry you know, just something that’s got a lot of regulations to it? You know, what kind of first steps should they take to ultimately succeed?
Carrie: Well, I think pay attention to who you’re partnering with. Make sure they understand the industry and that all of the people that you’re going to be working with also understand all of those regulations. So, with us in gaming, we have a full team of security, marketing, technicians, and even the owners are very accessible. If you have a question and you’re unsure when it comes to legalities, it’s important to be able to make that call and ask that question right when it happens.
Knowing you partner, doing your research, partnering with the right operator is really important. And that goes into then the marketing too, because they’re going to know what works, what’s allowed, how to do it, how to make sure that when you’re doing it you have all the legal guidelines available so that you can run a sweepstakes properly. You can give away free cash, and you’re doing it right, and you have an attorney on standby who’s able to answer the questions for certain marketing things that might pop up that are new. So, I think both of those things are really important.
Mike: Yeah, you kind of have to stay on top of all of the new stuff that’s coming out- you know? If regulations change, who’s on top of that?
Carrie: Yeah! So knowing that the people you’re working with- they’re all speaking to one another there, we do a lot to make sure our locations are updated at all times. We have a CRM system that we can send out text messages to every bar owner and restaurant owner that we work with to let them know when something important has been updated. And, we’re still waiting on that inducement policy from 2017- but once that happens I’m sure they’ll be getting an immediate message of, “hey something’s changed and we’re gonna do this,” and shoot it off- and a new marketing tactic is going to happen soon.
Mike: Yeah, you got your ducks in a row!
Mike: Awesome, well thank you so much for your time today Carrie. This was very beneficial. I’m sure all the people who are either in industries that highly regulated or thinking about getting into them especially you know, with CBD or marijuana legalizations around the corner- I think there’s quite a bit of buzz around this topic right now. So, thank you very much for your time today!
Carrie: Yeah, thank you!
Mike: Alright, thanks guys! Happy Wednesday!