Harrah's, Rio Merger Prompts New Database, DM Programs

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Harrah's Entertainment Inc., Memphis, TN, is integrating data from its players club program with the database from Rio Hotel & Casino Inc., Las Vegas, now that the two have completed their merger, which was announced in August.


The process is a priority for Harrah's, which earlier this month acquired all of Rio's outstanding shares in a one-for-one stock transaction valued at $535 million and assumed Rio's debt. Currently, Harrah's Total Gold Program database has 8 million members while Rio's Play Rio has 1.3 million players.


"We are working on integrating the systems so [they] can communicate back and forth, [and] so we can think of our customers holistically when they cross brand boundaries," said Richard E. Mirman, head of the Total Gold program and vice president of relationship marketing. "We want to enable not only marketing but also operations with access to information about our customers."


Total Gold was unveiled in 1997 and is the industry's first fully integrated national players reward program based on the accumulation and automatic transfer of players club points. Points can be redeemed for cash, meals, rooms, show tickets and merchandise at any one of the company's 20 resorts -- including Rio -- spread across 13 markets.


After a customer fills out a Total Gold form when visiting any Harrah's property -- offering typical name and address information and what games he likes to play -- he receives a point card. The card can be inserted into card readers hooked into casino games, which record the amount of time he plays a particular machine. The customer also can access his account from ATM-like kiosks and download vouchers and coupons for use in Harrah's restaurants and hotels.


Some of the player information is kept at the property for accounting purposes; other information is centrally located so Harrah's can keep track of customers and offer them rewards.


Qualified cardholders also are mailed customized, quarterly, six-page color statements -- titled Harrah's World -- that provide information about events and entertainment throughout the Harrah's universe. These statements are segmented by property and contain a personalized statement with a customer's current point totals over the previous quarter. Throughout the year, Harrah's also sends other customized direct marketing pieces based on customers' gaming preferences.


"For example, we may send to a customer who we think may enjoy a trip to Las Vegas, a hotel offer that will help them choose Harrah's as their first choice," Mirman said.


Rio's rewards program will remain intact but its cards now work in Harrah's machines and Harrah's cards work in Rio machines. Aside from this, however, Harrah's plans to keep the two brands separate since the two hotels cater to different types of customers -- Harrah's has a middle-class cache while Rio is more upscale.


"They mean different things in the marketplace. They attract different customers, and they have a different look and feel to them," Mirman said. "What we want to do as part of the merger is to make sure that we maintain the integrity and the power of the individual brands."


In addition, Mirman said Harrah's wants to leverage the Rio database, "so when Rio's customers who live in Chicago are back in Chicago, we want to provide to them an alternative and an opportunity to come play at Harrah's in Chicago."


In general, Harrah's wants to create database programs that are separate but equal.


"When a customer goes from the Rio to Harrah's Joliet, we want to have the management team at Joliet have enough information about the customer in terms of their preferences and their play so that … they will have the same experience and be treated at the same level [as] when they play at the Rio, and that requires information to be integrated," he said.


Over the next few weeks, Harrah's will include an announcement about the Rio integration in Harrah's World. Then, general managers from specific hotels will send letters to customers in specific geographic regions.


"It may be an announcement or an offer that tries to incent a trial and says something like, 'If you live in Chicago and you haven't tried it, you should check out Harrah's because it is an extension of the relationship you will receive at the Rio,' " Mirman said.


Harrah's has other marketing plans for 1999, including customizing its direct mailings even more. It also has made a partnership with National Airlines, the Las Vegas-based airline that plans to start flying in the second quarter. While nothing has been decided just yet, the airline is trying to integrate its frequent flier program into Harrah's Total Gold program so National Airline customers will be able to go to any of Harrah's casinos and redeem their frequent flier points. Harrah's also recently signed Hertz as a Total Gold sponsor.
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