Who are today's charitable gaming players and what are they looking for?
FA: Our bingo customers are, on average, 60 years old and over 85% are women. They are regular customers for whom bingo is mostly a social activity. Our customers come up to three hours before the beginning of their session, sit at the same place, and chat among themselves. However, when the bingo game begins, silence is golden!
This clientele is also very averse to change. The proof is that when a hall closes its doors, only 25% of its clientele move to another hall, while the other 75% simply stop playing bingo.
Kinzo’s clientele is, on average, much younger than the bingo customers we had fifteen years ago and includes 40% men. The average level of education and revenue are also higher than those for bingo.
LC: Extensive research carried out by our Ontario Bingo Development Fund found that while all genders and ages participate in charitable gaming, today’s main charitable gaming players are more likely to be married women between the ages of 25 - 54. The household incomes range between $25K – 100K and they have some post secondary education.
Players consider bingo a social experience with nearly half playing bingo because of family and friends. They see bingo as an opportunity to socialize with friends, an escape or “me time”, and as an opportunity to have fun and win prizes at the same time. The charitable component is also important for the bingo brand. For bingo centres, players are looking for
updated decor such as a comfortable and bright environments with a fresh and modern look and feel, and have a positive attitude towards electronic bingo.
RC: Today’s main gamers are what you’d expect to find when you step out of your house to do your groceries or watch a hockey game. Anyone and everyone is a gamer these days. You’ll find a lot of younger crowds ranging from 18-35 years old and you’ll have your regulars who are generally anywhere from 50-85.
There really isn’t a specific age group or type of person. No matter how old or young or what language they speak, they are all looking for one thing: Fun! Of course, winning a jackpot doesn’t hurt either.
TR: Today’s main charitable gaming players are the core players. I believe we have lost the incidental player—the ones who play once a week, once every two weeks, or monthly. They have moved on to other things since the product has not changed enough along the way to keep them interested.
Our core players are mainly female. Most tend to be in the 45+ range, with skews at the 55+ range, and they tend to have high school education and generate low to middle income. 55% of them have played 10 years or longer and are good at playing the game. They take pride in the fact that they are fast, knowledgeable, and experienced at playing bingo. It’s a skill they have developed over the years. They also like the fact they can socialize on their own terms. Some days they just want to keep to themselves, while other days they want to be the centre of attention.
Furthermore, they are set in their ways and change has to be gradual, or as I like to say, an “evolution and not a revolution” of change. They are looking for entertainment value for their money, so time at bingo is important at a reasonable cost. Food and beverage also has to fall in those lines. Lastly, they want a clean modern centre, but nothing that puts them out of their comfort zone.
What needs to be done to revitalize the charitable gaming experience?
FA: First and foremost, we need to maintain bingo’s DNA. Regardless of the solutions being considered, I believe they should have a “community gaming” component and remain relatively affordable—approximately $10 to $15 per hour.
With regard to bingo, we are currently taking three directions over the next two years. The first is to provide managers with a common set-up model so that gaming venues are more consistent. The second is to increase the flexibility of gaming session schedules, as the 3-hour sessions currently offered are not attractive to our new clientele. Third, we must use more new technologies such as touchscreens and similar technology that maximize not only interaction but—more importantly—winner gratification.
LC: Charitable gaming requires the ability to offer a new entertainment experience to maintain existing customers and attract new customers. Options for entertainment have expanded widely over the last decade and there is increasing competition for the entertainment dollar. We need renovated facilities, improved customer service, innovation, technology, and new products to stabilize and grow the industry.
RC: We need to bring back the social aspect of the entire gaming experience that we are losing more and more of through the use of technology. Nowadays, it is not uncommon to find people sitting quietly in a bingo hall staring blindly at their electronic bingo unit rather than chatting it up with the players around them. While there is a positive side to bringing in younger crowds through the introduction of technology, it also takes away from the entire experience. What people will take home with them is the fun they had not only playing the game, but meeting new people and potentially making lifelong friends.
TR: We need to provide a different experience for new players than we do today. Our current core player likes the experience we have today and that’s why they continue to come out. Our lapse players have moved on because they found it to be too boring or that it took too much of their time. For new players, we have to provide more of a “social me time”. Research has shown we should be targeting women 18- 44 with average educations who are employed on a full or part-time basis, who are socially active, and enjoy games of chance.
The future lies in our ability to attract and retain these best prospects. Our best prospects are looking for more than pure gaming; the gaming aspect is only part of the overall experience. Sociability is at the core of a successful Charitable Gaming Centre and one of the key factors that separates it from other gaming options. We must focus the message on the benefit to the player, as opposed to just the attributes of the centre, like bingo gaming. We also need to encourage the target to think of this as a complete afternoon or night out out with food, fun, friends, and gaming. This includes “Girls night outs”, promotions that would require multiple players, and promotions that encourage groups of women to visit and enhance their sociability.
Also, the interior layout of the centre should be zoned to promote sociability, and include a dedicated food and beverage area; lounge areas; traditional bingo, both paper and electronic;, and other gaming. Clear, themed signage should also be used to identify the various zones. We must also understand that the commitment of time is flexible. The one thing they are short on is time, so by keeping things flexible they can spend a short or long period of time within the centre depending on what time they have available.
What are some of the biggest challenges to revitalizing charitable gaming in Canada?
FA: The biggest challenge, in my opinion, is meshing cohabitation between our current and our new clientele. As previously mentioned, our current clientele is averse to change and does not always readily accept new players, who are often more noisy and sometimes not aware of all written and unwritten bingo gaming rules. New players don’t always appreciate being told to be quiet. Yet, to compete for attractive prizes, they must play in the same draws and see each other because, with bingo, the winner must be identified.
In England, some groups have a set-up that meets that objective. A total of 60% of the hall is a traditional set-up with tables aligned in rows. The remainder of the hall, which is separated from the first with large glass partitions, provides a livelier set-up with round tables, bar service, music, and giant screens. Gaming in that section is also more electronic and fills up with new customers on weekend evenings. Halls that have those set-ups have significantly increased their market share.
Another challenge is to develop synergy with bingo offerings on the internet. At Loto-Québec, we are privileged to be involved in both types, enabling us to set ourselves apart from the competition.
LC: Criminal Code restrictions result in charities not being allowed to "conduct and manage" once technology is introduced. In most jurisdictions, Ontario being one, this has necessitated the partnering with government to introduce technology to charitable gaming. We have been fortunate here in Ontario that we have a terrific partnership with Ontario Lottery and Gaming that has provided support for the industry with various initiatives since 1998.
RC: The major challenges we tend to encounter are the common beliefs and misconceptions people carry about the charitable gaming industry. In general, people believe that "if it isn't a casino it isn't fun", or that "charitable gaming is for old people". People don’t really understand that they will have better odds at winning in a bingo hall rather than a casino. The odds of winning a jackpot at bingo are 1 out of 200–500, depending on the number of players. There are also other fun games to play like pull-tab tickets or Double-Play, where again the odds are much better than what you’d expect to find in a casino or simple lottery.
We hope to continuously develop new games and new ways to play traditional bingo games in order to bring back the crowds like we used to see in the 80s and 90s.
TR: I believe the biggest challenges to revitalizing charitable gaming in Canada relate to bringing the provincial governments along. Charitable gaming needs to partner up with provincial governments so we can have access to technology we do not have today. This is critical in order to provide different experiences within the gaming centre.
Provincial government is trying to balance all forms of gaming within their jurisdiction and we need to make ourselves noticed.
Charitable gaming cannot be lost in the big picture. We are a vital part of the gaming landscape in the province because of what charities provide to their communities. Charities fill the gap that the government does not provide in services in local communities. So it’s critical to get provincial governments to understand that by helping charitable gaming, they are, in turn, reducing resources they have to provide at local levels at a more cost effective manner. They need to know charities react to current needs of community faster than the government can.
What is your organization doing to revitalize and/or enhance the charitable gaming experience?
FA: In addition to what I mentioned for bingo, we are also working intensively on our Kinzo hall network. Kinzo’s gameplay is very similar to European bingo, but adds such features as a buzzer to indicate a win and the sound of a heartbeat when a player has a card on which only one number is needed for a win.
The Kinzo adventure is now two years old and boasts 15 venues throughout the province. We plan to have over 20 by the end of the year and about forty in the next three years. Loto-Québec does not operate the halls; private or community partners do in exchange for which we pay them a commission. Just like bingo, 100% of Kinzo profits are turned over to charities throughout the province. To date, we have remitted over $135 million over 15 years.
LC: We have worked with OLG since 1998 on the various initiatives to introduce technology to charitable bingo. We have been successful in obtaining government support to widely expand a pilot project that started the four e-bingo sites. The current initiative will see over 30 bingo centres transition to Charitable Gaming Centres with new technology for electronic bingo and break-open tickets, and a variety of new products consistent with charitable gaming. We were instrumental in developing a model that allows charities to remain on site carrying out responsibilities in return for a direct share of the proceeds. This model is unique in Canada.
We also have worked closely with the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario to bring about many regulatory changes that have streamlined cumbersome processes and provide direct benefits to charities.
RC: We are constantly looking to improve the gaming experience for the players. We work very closely with our end customers in order to get a better understanding of what players want in a game. It's not uncommon for us to spend a lot of time visiting bingo halls across North America in order to see what the latest trends are in the gaming industry. We then work closely with manufacturers in order to develop new games that have that extra fun factor, which the players enjoy. We do so by being innovative and coming out with new and original games to keep things interesting for the players.
TR: In one particular centre we did a major renovation, but prior to getting started we did some homework on who our current player was and who might be a potential player. We hired a female designer who we shared our research with so we could renovate the centre to meet the demographics of our current and future players. 80% of our players are female so we figured we should have a female designer to ensure we were always focused on the majority of our players.
We have upgraded the finishes on everything from the floor up. We didn’t just paint; we wallpapered and we used pot lighting throughout, not florescent lighting. We even had the designer work with us to enhance the washrooms themselves.
We are providing different zones within the charitable gaming centre. In one of the centres, we are introducing a lounge zone which will be licensed for alcoholic beverages. This will be what we call “non-session based gaming”, wherein there is no commitment from the player to stay for a session or specific time period. They can come and go as they please. It has separate entrances and exits, as well as separate washrooms.
In this zone, we are marketing the experience, not the gaming. We are keying on specific groups with various promotions like our “Girls Night Out”. We will have a good variety of appetizers, but no entrées, and there will be desserts that can be shared by a group along with specialty coffees, cappuccinos, espressos, and similar refreshments. Also, we will have some local wines available along with the standard beers and liquor drinks. The TVs will not only have sports on them, but cater to our players by having theme nights for various reality shows such as Survivor, The Bachelor, and Dancing With the Stars. Also in this zone, we will have electronic BOT dispensers and Play On Demand games—nothing session based. This will be a zone that you will come out and enjoy with your friends for an evening out, but it will be marketed as an experience that makes gaming secondary, not the primary reason for them to come out.
Overall, this is about evolving to something new, not a revolution to something new. I believe we have to provide different zones within a centre for different players.
What do you see as being the biggest change to charitable gaming in Canada over the next 5 years?
FA: That is a difficult question to answer. One thing is certain: The status quo is not an option. If the industry does not quickly adapt to new clienteles, there will remain only a handful of bingo halls in only a few years, which will constitute a kind of museum of a bygone activity.
However, we must remain much more optimistic than that, and I firmly believe in the combination of a more modern set-up and the use of new technologies in order to breathe new life into this industry and maintain a source of revenue for charities. The bingo industry is at a crossroads. We need to work hard to give this product a facelift, but we can do it!
LC: Certainly, the introduction of technology and the opportunities that the internet can provide are the biggest changes happening now and in the future. Charitable gaming—which includes bingo, break-open tickets, and raffles—is an essential fundraising tool for charities and non profits and generates over $170 million back to local communities in Ontario alone.
RC: What we hope to see are changes to the laws governing the charitable gaming industry and the limitations placed on jackpots, prizes and a variety of playable games. The limitations are really the main cause of decreases in attendances, which directly translates into a decrease in revenue for both the charitable organizations and the private establishments who are finding it increasingly difficult to be profitable these days.
As gamers are looking for alternatives to casinos, they are often turned off by the lower jackpots they find in bingo halls as well as the limitations to the types of games that are played, either the regular bingo or pull-tab tickets, which are both due to regulations. If there are fewer restrictions, the entire gaming experience will be much better for everyone involved and the big winners in the end will be the gamers themselves.
TR: Our biggest goal over the next five years is to stay focused; there are not silver bullets out there. There is not just one thing that will make a difference in the future but a combination of things we must do. We must be patient and stay on course, since there will be lots of change occurring on the gaming front as government repositions itself. We must make sure we do not get lost in the shuffle and continue to be top of mind in government. We need to get our story out there.