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Mississippi casinos lure Arkansans.

Splash, Lady Luck Ads Infiltrate Market as Southland Dog Track Labors for Breath

YOU CAN'T ESCAPE THE Mississippi gambling casinos just because you live in Arkansas. They know where you live, they know your route to work and they know your tunes.

The two casinos already open in Tunica County, Miss., have been recruiting customers very successfully across Arkansas with a blend of outdoor, print and electronic media advertising. Southland Greyhound Park in West Memphis says it can't match the effort, and the result will be lower tax revenues for the state as gamblers bypass the dog track for the riverboat casinos on the Mississippi.

One look at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette shows the aggressive marketing trend.

"NO MORE ENTRY FEES," screams a pricey, one-page advertisement for Lady Luck Casino in the "A" section of a recent Sunday edition. Another Lady Luck ad is found in the sports pages of the same edition, announcing chances to win $8,000 in cash and a new Cadillac in drawings.

In the previous day's sports pages there was even more: Lady Luck offers a free half-pound hot dog and a chance to win a trip for four to the Super Bowl to those who watch football games at the casino Saturday through Monday. And if you pay as little as $20 for the day-trip shuttle to the casino from Little Rock or Hot Springs, you get a free prime rib dinner, membership in the "Mad Money Slot Club," a drink and the vaunted hot dog.

"I'm shocked as to what they did over the weekend," says Tom Blayney, manager of Southland. "There is absolutely no way that the dog track can compete with that type of advertising."

Blayney says the track's average daily handle is down 24.3 percent from 1992 on a year-to-date basis, and attendance is off 18.2 percent.

"We'll be paying the state about $3 million less this year than we did last year," Blayney says.

If it's Arkansas' tax loss, it's certainly Mississippi's gain. The state of Mississippi won't break down the revenue figures by casino, but since the day when craps were first shot in August 1992, monthly gross gaming revenues across the state have risen from $10.6 million to $77 million last month.

"It's really hard to beat a casino," says Lady Luck Casino Manager Tony Carolo. "If you go to a track, you can only bet on horses. Here at a casino you can play blackjack, craps, poker ... or if you don't want to play anything, you can sit at the bar and listen to music."

Blip on the Screen

If there is a small cause for concern, it is that those monthly revenues fell for the first time last month, by about $1 million, possibly explaining the recent decisions by both Tunica casinos to eradicate their $10 cover charges. Those seemed foreign to Las Vegas gamblers anyway.

Nonetheless, more than 40 casinos in Tunica County alone and many others along Mississippi's Gulf Shore are planned. Once hotels begin appearing in the area, the business should really get going.

Splash Casino, the first to open in Tunica County, has been aggressively pursuing Arkansas customers for more than a year.

"We've always targeted our customers within a 300-mile radius," says Rebekah Alperin, director of marketing for Splash. "But with the buses, we're now starting to expand into more markets."

Through Crussin' Bus Tours, Splash has been running a successful shuttle campaign from Little Rock that attracts several hundred customers to the casino each week. Splash has also done large, targeted direct mailings to its loyal customers.

"We have definitely expanded our advertising budget," Alperin says. "We also have many new promotions. We started a birthday club with six free buffet dinners, champagne and cake. We're giving away a TV a day through Nov. 15, and we're also giving away a Splash truck that day."

One of the more interesting aspects of Splash's marketing plan is its radio ad campaign, which features the "breakfast password." Night-time listeners who hear the password on FM radio stations KIPR (92.3), KSSN (95.7) and KHLT (94.1) have 24 hours to reach the casino, repeat the password and redeem their free breakfasts.

And look for even more deft marketing moves in the future. Splash is now attempting to generate group sales such as day trips for large bands of convention-going travelers.

Lady Luck, the relative newcomer to Tunica, also is focusing on the urban markets of the mid-South, with Little Rock among them.

"Most of our business comes from Little Rock, Memphis, Nashville and little towns in northern Mississippi," Carolo says. "We basically are just going after the people who want to have a quick turnaround day.

"I think we get people from all parts of Arkansas. We advertise pretty heavily in the Little Rock paper. We're going to be giving away cash throughout the month of November -- probably $2,000 a day. Next year, all marketing will be based on monthly promotions -- birthday months, fishing tournaments, golf tournaments and an event called 'Puttin' On The Ritz.'"

Lady Luck has also had success with its shuttle bus operations, which are largely intended to keep the crowds coming during the traditionally slow daylight periods.

Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign

Central Arkansas motorists have likely noticed the profusion of casino-related billboards appearing during the last year.

Donrey Outdoor Advertising has placed three billboards in Arkansas for the Cotton Club in Vicksburg, one for Splash Casino in Tunica and is working on one for Lady Luck. Biloxi's Isle of Capris Casino is buying temporary "poster panels" from Donrey, using the short-term saturation method to cover about 24 locations in Little Rock for a month at a time.

Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, which could be insulated from the competition by hundreds of miles and a venerated tradition of horse racing, has not yet felt the effects of the casino age. But Southland continues to suffer, unable to ante up enough advertising dollars and legally restricted from offering the new gambling options it needs to break into the game.

"It doesn't look good," Blayney says. "Our company |Delaware North~ owns tracks all over the United States. Where we've had the influx of casinos it has affected us by up to 50 percent. That's going to cost us a lot of jobs and a lot of revenue. We've lost some 75 positions now to the casinos, whether through layoffs or attrition."

That leaves about 365 full-time jobs at Southland -- for now.

As the casino marketing siege continues and the 40-plus gambling houses take shape on the Mississippi River, Oaklawn Park General Manager Eric Jackson offers a dreary assessment of the battlefield:

"I think Crittenden County is beginning to look like Custer."
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Author:Haman, John
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Nov 1, 1993
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