I'm still thinking about the Cosmopolitan's decision to pull its free wifi, and I've come to believe that casinos should offer free wifi, at least on the casino floor and other public areas.
Keep reading after the jump, which shouldn't take too long to load, unless you're sitting at a slot machine and stuck with a 3G connection.
First of all, free wifi is coming to be viewed, like free parking, as something that retailers and some F&B outlets offer just to make you feel more welcome.
From my own limited shopping experience over the past few days, I know that Macy's now offers free wifi, and Anthropolgie's offered it for quite some time.
The Anthropologie case is particularly instructive for casinos, because it's a store that's intensely fun to shop for women, but, once you get out of the home furnishings section, not so much for guys. I've been spending time at Anthropologie for years now (Mrs. Doctor Dave is a fan of their stuff), and I can attest to the brilliance of the executive who said, "You know what? If we put comfortable couches and lounging chairs in the store and have plenty of quirky books available for browsing, guys might not be so eager to leave."
So basically, for years, Anthropologie was providing relatively cheap baby-sitting services for men while the women put money in the cash register. And it worked. Again, just going from my personal experience, I'd always look forward to going to Anthopologie even though I don't have the figure for any of their clothes: I'd get time to just relax and read some random interesting stuff.
One time at the 3rd Street Promenade Anthropolgie, I picked up a book filled with neat midcentury modern-looking drawings of animals--and learned about the art of Charley Harper.
You might say that there are costs to providing what Anthropoligie does: that seating costs money, and there's the potential for it to get damaged. And they have to stock a lot of books that probably don't sell as well as their other merchandise. But, looking at who their prime consumer is and who she'll be shopping with, they decided to give guys a way to kill time while their counterpart shops.
Free wifi is an extension of that, and it's just as effective a way of letting those whose significant others/friends/etc are shopping feel more like they're killing time and less like they're waiting.
Casinos, like clothing retailers, are selling something with a selective appeal. Yes, a lot of people like to gamble, but there are also plenty of people who don't. And there's almost always at least one person in a group of people who doesn't want to gamble. Having free wifi is a way to encourage them to use their mobile device to entertain themselves while someone else is putting money into the drop boxes.
Let's say you've got a married couple. She wants to play slots; he doesn't. If she's got any kind of empathy, she's not going to really enjoy herself while he's sitting there staring at the pay tables and wishing desperately she'd lose her money already. She might gamble less than she would if A) she was alone B) he had something to do.
Now, let's say the casino has free wifi. He can bring his phone, tablet, or whatever else he has and stream something from Netflix while she's playing. If he gets into what he's watching, he won't want to leave--he might even ask her to play longer.
That's how you drive incremental revenue at your slot machines in the 21st century.
There is a big downside to giving wifi away: you lose a potential revenue stream. Even if you're only selling wifi to 100 people a day, at $15 per day, that's $547,500 per year. Which, come to think of it, isn't that much. If you can instead give that wifi away for free and use it to pacify non-gamblers while the gamblers play, you might be able to bump up your gaming revenues by encouraging that incremental play.
Of course, it costs money to maintain wifi networks, and casinos aren't in the business of giving away money. Higher-end hotels everywhere tend to charge for wifi (I still don't understand how motels can build the costs into room pricing but higher-cost hotels can't), and it does constitute a revenue stream.
Here's a possible compromise: Free wifi on the casino floor and other public spaces only? It would be a throwback to the days of tiny rooms, no in-room coffee makers, and no room service, when casinos did everything they could to get you into the casino. They might even drive some incremental F&B revenue while they're at it--it works for Starbucks (and even Tim Hortons), after all. And if casinos want, they can still charge for access in the hotel tower and convention center.
So far, I've only talked about using wifi to pacify non-gamblers as a way to drive gambling revenues. But there's an even better reason to open up the wifi floodgates on the casino floor, and I'm frankly amazed that the manufacturers haven't been working with the operators to make it happen.
Increasingly, casino gaming is becoming a multi-platform activity. At this year's G2E, each manufacturer was demoing game content that could be accessed through a traditional slot cabinet, a desktop computer with an Internet connection, and mobile devices. They should be developing apps that let players try games "for free" on their phones/tablets, and then guide them to the spot on the casino floor with the game they picked. Call it "Slot-finder Plus."
Already, retailers are using free wifi to let potential buyers demo technology. I think there's a compelling case to be made for casinos to do the same.
There's also a table games application: novices can hang around the tables, playing for free on their phones, then, when they're ready, get steered to a low-minimum starter table.
The more I think about it, the better I think free casino wifi would be for business. Gambling is heading into the cloud, and building the tech infrastructure now--and getting players used to flipping from mobile to physical betting--seems like the best way to make the roll-out of mobile play as smooth as possible.
With just a cursory look into prevailing practices in retail, I was able to assemble, pretty quickly, a sound argument for casinos introducing free wifi. I can't think of any reasons not, besides the fact that charging hotel guests for it opens up a small (in the grand scheme of things) revenue stream. It's disappointing that the Cosmopolitan, which promised itself to be a place where people could just come to hang out (Exhibit 1: the P3 Commons) has backed away from its free wifi, because I think that, if done right, this could be a difference maker, at least until everyone else in the industry adopts it.