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The Metamorphose of Casinos de Monaco

By - 15 January 2018

G3 interviews Pascal Camia, Gaming Managing Director of Monte-Carlo Société des Bains de Mer and Director of Casino de Monte-Carlo

Monte-Carlo is one of the most powerful brands in the world and has, over its 150+ years’ history, become synonymous with the highest quality gaming imaginable. Comprised of three casinos operated by Monte-Carlo Société des Bains de Mer (SBM), Casino de Monte-Carlo is the crown jewel, attracting a truly international clientele thanks to its history, legendary decor and full range of table games and slot machines.

Monte-Carlo is one of the most powerful brands in the world and has, over its 150+ years’ history, become synonymous with the highest quality gaming imaginable. Comprised of three casinos operated by Monte-Carlo Société des Bains de Mer (SBM), Casino de Monte-Carlo is the crown jewel, attracting a truly international clientele thanks to its history, legendary decor and full range of table games and slot machines.

Established in 1863, the casino has served its prestigious customers for a century and a half, but like any living, breathing brand, the rigours of change need to be embraced in order to keep it fresh and relevant in the future. Being reverential to the past is one thing, becoming the past is something entirely different. Receiving a call from SBM to discuss the relaunch and rebirth of gaming was as exciting and intriguing a prospect as it sounds. One of the biggest challenges for any long-established brand is the balance between building on the strengths of the past, while innovating and incorporating the new technologies of the future. And in SBM’s case, doing all that within the confines of the two square kilometres of Monaco.

The call was to take place with Pascal Camia, Gaming Managing Director of Monte-Carlo Société des Bains de Mer, who joined SBM in December 1994, but who migrated as a hotelier to the gaming side of the business in November 2015. We include a biography within these pages, but wanted to begin by asking for a personal description of Mr. Camia’s 23-year journey with SBM. “I started with the company in 1994 working in the hotel division of SBM, and since that time have worked across nearly all properties within the Group, including Hotel de Paris Monte-Carlo and Sporting Monte-Carlo. When SBM launched the Monte-Carlo Bay Hotel & Resort, I became the Deputy General Manager, and after that the General Manager of the Hotel Hermitage Monte-Carlo, one of SBM’s palaces, in 2011. Since that time the results from the business have been very positive and so our CEO decided to ‘launch me’ into the casino side of the company.”

SBM operates across three distinctly different activities. The first, what could be described as the DNA of the company, is gaming. The second is its hospitality business, which includes its fabulous ‘palaces,’ – restaurants, wellness centers, beaches, entertainment… – and the third part, the most recent venture for SBM, is real-estate. Every aspect of the business is contained within the two square kilometres that is Monaco, and so with the company owning both property and land, SBM is currently building a new square ‘One Monte-Carlo,’ on the casino place. One Monte-Carlo will create luxury residences and boutiques, a restaurant, a convention center and offices, further expanding the hospitality services provided by the company.

“In December 2015, I became the Gaming Managing Director of Monte-Carlo Société des Bains de Mer and the Director of Casino de Monte-Carlo,” continues Mr. Camia. “The direction given by our CEO was to improve the hospitality side of our casino business. Being a hotelier I understand how to greet our guests and take care of their needs. I was also tasked with increasing the service level for our guests. Even in a place like Monaco, it is possible to improve our products and give high-rollers a tailor-made service unlike anything they can experience elsewhere. The DNA of this company is gaming and we are lucky to have so many high rollers coming to play with us, but we can’t take that for granted and must always increase and improve our service levels.

In the past, the casino industry looked to Monaco / Casino de Monte-Carlo for gaming innovation, but what are the associations with the brand today, what makes it special and what aspects of the past can be adapted for the future? It is interesting listening to Mr. Camia describe the modern incarnation of brand. He believes that SBM’s gaming operations must embrace not only new technology, but also move with the shift in tastes and desires of both its current and future clientele. “I think that while we have a very strong image in the industry, we undoubtedly also have a lot of competitors too,” says Mr. Camia. “It is right, therefore, that we look to continuously improve, to give our clientele the casino they want not just for 2017, but 2020 and 2025. The experience of playing in our private rooms, in a casino built in 1863, is very special, but we can’t rely on that tradition alone.

“One of our greatest assets is the way we treat our clientele and we understand that this must be combined together not only with our gaming knowledge and experience, but also with new technology,” says Mr. Camia. “We have divided our casinos within the Group into distinct segments, each offering unique luxury experiences with the very highest level of gaming technology, which means new gaming options and new activities for the players.”

Gathering feedback from guests, SBM knows that its high rollers remain supremely satisfied with its gaming offer, which plays heavily upon the image and tradition of the brand. The acknowledgment that Casino de Monte-Carlo is one of the best casinos in the world stems from a tradition in Monaco to provide its high rollers with a personalised service, which has to be experienced to be believed. It is tailor-made from the moment VIPs touch down on the runway, to their play at the tables, dinner in one of SBM’s amazing restaurants and superb hospitality in one of the magnificent hotels. However, as Mr. Camia describes, the company has been found wanting in regards the servicing of its ‘other’ clientele, the play-for-fun or non-players who enter its properties looking for the ‘Casino de Monte-Carlo experience.’ This part of the business was not formerly a focus for SBM – but that’s all changing.

“Very little attention had been paid to the ‘fun and non-gaming’ side of the business,” states Mr. Camia. “We dedicated ourselves to the complete service of the high rollers, which reinforced a view that we could not accommodate both types of clientele within the business model. However, this clientele, when you look at Las Vegas and even Singapore, you see that the revenues are compelling and it is interesting that 70 per cent of the revenue in Las Vegas is now generated from non-gaming activities. I’m not saying that Monaco has to become a mini-Las Vegas, because we understand that we are a small, niche operation. However, we do recognise that we need to attract fun players, the time-on-device players; the ones that like to spend long periods of time in the machine hall and at the tables. This is my goal, to increase all segments of the clientele.”
It’s not just a noble goal, but makes sound economic sense, not least for the fact that attracting a future gaming audience may just rely upon embracing a more inclusive approach to customer engagement at all levels. However, Las Vegas, Macau and Singapore offer diverse experiences to many different kinds of clientele across their huge integrated resorts. Does Mr. Camia believe that he can satisfy all those different client segments in such a limited space as Monaco? “It is true that the vast gaming spaces of Vegas and Macau enable operators to assimilate all the different player segments, but what is special about Monaco is that over the two square kilometres, everything is within walking distance,” explains Mr. Camia.

“We have individual casinos, each with a very different ambience, offering different types of gaming, which allows us to dedicate each casino to a different player segment,” continues Mr. Camia. “It is also important to emphasise that the popularity of the main casino, Casino de Monte-Carlo, is due in part to the fact that it was built over many decades. The first phase of the building was completed and opened before additional phases were added over the long history of the building. The result is a multi-faceted building that saw continuous construction between 1863-1910, creating a building with very distinctive gaming rooms that each have their own ambience and which appeal to different player segments.”

In the near future, visitors entering the Atrium of Casino de Monte-Carlo will be greeted with a multitude of non-gaming activities designed to have a broad appeal. In the summer 2017, the casino created its temporary Atrium boutique designed to sell Casino de Monte-Carlo merchandise, which is set to become a permanent fixture. In addition, the casino is adding a relaxed bar environment and a seated area with a French roulette table that includes a professional photographer, so visitors can have their picture taken at a casino table within Casino de Monte-Carlo. “We are creating areas that are designed specifically to attract the play-for-fun slots players and have set aside one of our most beautiful rooms equipped with table games for fun players,” elaborates Mr. Camia. “We are increasing the breadth of the gaming offer, stretching from the very quiet, exclusive rooms for VIP players, with ultra personalised service, high table maximums and expert croupiers and staff; right through to a casual gaming experience that can be enjoyed by absolutely anyone.”

The transformation of Casino de Monte-Carlo’s Atrium, which began in the summer, includes one extra special ingredient inspired by its international casino brethren. Animating the Atrium is an art installation that changes on a seasonal basis. Taking its cues from the Bellagio in Las Vegas, which makes its seasonal floral display an attraction in its own right, Casino de Monte-Carlo is adding visual impact and seasonal appeal for players and non-players alike, whenever they choose to visit the casino. “Every season we will feature an art installation in the Atrium area of Casino de Monte-Carlo,” states Mr. Camia. “The art installation will add drama and interest to the Atrium that will lead visitors to three gaming rooms that we are separating from the rest of the building. We are creating these separations so that visitors to these areas are not required to pay the casino entrance fee. These areas will be for fun players looking to access our bars and restaurants and to service this demand we plan to create a large central bar and lounge area. These transformations won’t affect the main casino, but they will broaden the appeal of the building to a wider spectrum of visitors, as we believe it is very important to offer both a traditional and contemporary service to visitors.

SBM is working to introduce its non-gaming facilities over the next 18 months/two years, while over this same period the Casino de Monte-Carlo will also be transforming and relaunching its gaming experience for high-rollers. Taking inspiration not from external sources, but looking to its own heritage and past, Casino de Monte-Carlo is to deliver opulence, luxury and a level of service that’s beyond compare. “It is very important to offer VIPs the tables on which they want to play, the rooms that they want to play in and the very highest maximums they want to play for,” explains Mr. Camia. “Very few casinos offer these maximums to players due to the volatility involved, but this is the experience our players are looking for and so we deliver. Away from the tables, we must also offer our high-rollers something that money can’t buy. We describe these as privileged events and this includes the spectacular Surreal Dinner; a chance to share with H.S.H. Prince Albert of Monaco an incredible experience available nowhere else in the world.”

Celebrating the Art Monte-Carlo weekend in April 2017, the Principality’s contemporary art fair, Casino de Monte-Carlo became the embodiment of its goal to deliver the true ‘Luxury of Gaming,’ with the launch of its Surreal Dinner Designed by Charles Kaisin, an architect and designer from Brussels who has made his name across Europe and around the world thanks to his surrealist dinners. During the event, 120 guests experienced unforgettable ‘scenographies,’ song, choreography, fashion and sport, while enjoying an Alice in Wonderland inspired grand banquet created by the Michelin-starred chef of Blue Bay, the signature restaurant of Monte-Carlo Bay Hotel and Resort, Marcel Ravin.

Failing to secure an invitation, but having watched a video presentation, G3 can confirm that the Surreal Dinner is unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. A celebration of the “Art of Gaming and Game of Art,” the dinner mixed opera from Giuseppe Verdi with geishas serving champagne; a 19th century horse-drawn carriage trotted into the casino adding rhythm to the poetry and philosophy, while tennis players passed balls above astonished diners heads. And the dessert – oh the dessert… Created by Pierre Marcolini, the famous chocolate-maker from Brussels, each plate featured a tiny light and a twisted iron wire, which once lit revealed a passage by Francois Blanc on the ‘Passion of Gaming.’ Theatrical, artful and astonishing, the Surreal Dinner is the embodiment of everything that Mr. Camia wants to distill into the high-roller experience at Casino de Monte-Carlo. “We understand that it’s important to offer high-rollers experiences that they can’t buy and only Casino de Monte-Carlo can offer,” describes Mr. Camia. “At the same time, we are creating our ultra-high service for top premium clientele. We are building an experience that begins at the airport and accompanies them through the hotel, to the casino and hotel and back again. We have always been strong across all the different activities that we offer, but until now we didn’t complete the circle. Our exclusive service addresses all aspects of this journey for the customer.

The new Hotel de Paris Monte-Carlo, which will open at the end of 2018, having already opened several new wings, will be an extraordinary experience and I’m especially excited to see the new Diamond Suites facing the sea.” What Casino de Monte-Carlo is seeking to deliver is an experience that high-rollers can’t buy and the thrill and excitement to fun gamers that essentially they can’t afford. In this sense, it’s the epitome of exclusivity. SBM is appealing to the fun player who looks to Vegas for their gaming excitement, to the blackjack tables and slots, but it also tapping into their desire to play in the Casino de Monte-Carlo, to experience the character, the service and the heritage. Seamlessly blending these two environments together will be no mean feat, but there’s no reason why Casino de Monte-Carlo can’t bring the best of both worlds within the two kilometre circumference of the Principality. There’s also no rule to say that these segments must by necessity be ‘mutually exclusive.’

Speaking to Simon Thomas at the Hippodrome in London this summer, he explained that certain high rollers enjoyed playing on the main floor just as much as the private rooms. They like the high intensity of the main floor and playing among the crowds who recognise their status. It’s something that Mr. Camia acknowledges, but caveats his response by saying that Casino de Monte-Carlo is very different from the casino in Leicester Square with a footfall of over 200,000 people per day. He also explains that while there are high rollers visiting Monaco that do enjoy playing among the masses, it’s only to a certain level. “High rollers can only play to a certain level in the lower stake rooms and so they migrate to the private rooms when they want to experience the maximum service level offered by the casino and the maximum stakes,” says Mr. Camia. “They don’t want to feel that we are limiting their play.”

One of the very physical, practical changes taking place within the SBM Group’s casinos encompasses technology and its impact on all aspects of table gaming, slots, player loyalty programmes etc. Regarding slots, the most renowned slot manufacturers seek to launch their products in Monaco. IGT has its showroom here, located in the Casino Café de Paris, and SBM has entered into partnership at the Sun Casino with EGT, which has seen the introduction of top slot products for the European market launched on the slots floor. “We believe we are at the pinnacle of slot machine operation in Europe,” underlines Mr. Camia. “In terms of table games, we are focused upon developing our side bets offer, introducing new layouts on the tables as we know that fun players are seeking something new, something different. Innovation is one of the three pillars of our vision for the Casino de Monte-Carlo into 2020 and beyond; the innovation pillar encompasses slots, electronic table games and new technologies. At the Casino Café de Paris we have introduced tables with iPads for a younger generation of players who want to learn to play using these devices and we are constantly looking to refresh and develop our slots and table games offer. The second pillar is management and the third is excellence, especially the dedication to personalised service. We are very dedicated to this three pillars strategy and we are following it very strictly.”

SBM is planning to launch a new loyalty programme, first for its casinos and for the entire Resort a few month later, with a go-live by the end of the year, which will play a huge part in increasing the service level offered to its VIP players, while at the same time granting fun players membership to their own exclusive loyalty scheme. The programme will cater for the most demanding customer, satisfying their needs with an ultra-high level of service; be that in the private rooms, on the main floor, or the rooms in the newly refurbished Hotel de Paris Monte-Carlo. And it will service the needs of a much broader, wider audience that wants to be part of the excitement of Monte-Carlo. “We are very excited to introduce the new loyalty programme,” underlines Mr. Camia. “As it will allow us to target every player segment, from the fun players, the low-stake and high stake players and the VIPs.”

Building and executing upon a strategy to appeal to high rollers, fun players and non-gamers is a major step for SBM that will need to be communicated in the most effective way possible to both its existing and potential future audience. Not only must there be an immediacy to the way in which the segmented environments convey their function to the visitor, but the casino must reach out and communicate its message on both the regional, national and international stage. “To deliver this strategy, we divided our activity between the three different casinos to create three very different experiences,” describes Mr. Camia. “We wanted to ensure that the clientele understood immediately the type of gaming activity offered by each environment. “We divided the casinos into three separate and distinct casino brands with the Casino Cafe de Paris focusing on local clients, attracting players from Cannes to San Remo, a geographic territory that envelopes 16 casino competitors. We are creating a lot of exposure in terms of advertising to these players in the local media and we invite players to special events and functions at the casino,” continues Mr. Camia. “We again focus on offering players activities that they cannot purchase or experience anywhere else in the world. For example, during the Monaco Grand Prix, we hosted guests in the Tower of the race director of the Automobile Club de Monaco, something extra special and very exclusive. The new loyalty programme will also enable us to target precisely the different player segments and tailor promotions from the three distinct casinos of SBM to meet their different expectations.”

SBM’s hotels are high end. They’re for the highest level of VIPs and the wealthiest of visitors to the Principality. To stay at the Hotel de Paris Monte-Carlo, when it is fully refurbished, will be the pinnacle of a life’s achievement. The Hotel de Paris Monte-Carlo and Casino de Monte-Carlo are locations completely dedicated to high rollers. When complete, the Hotel de Paris Monte-Carlo will offer the two most exclusives suites of the Riviera – including the unique Princesse Grace Suite – on the roof of the hotel. A 360° view encompasses the Place du Casino square and a breath-taking view of the Mediterranean and as Mr. Camia points out, the Wynn or Bellagio in Vegas can’t provide that kind of experience. Maintaining its exclusivity while becoming more inclusive is the balancing act that SBM is seeking to perform.

Throwing wide its doors to the broader gaming public isn’t the only part of the strategy that will see SBM’s casino operations embracing the casino market at large. Part of the communication process upon which SBM has embarked includes its recent membership of the European Casino Association. “I can’t explain why SBM was not a member of the ECA before 2017,” says Mr. Camia. “When we visited the ICE show in London this year and we met with our peers in the European casino industry, we learned that SBM was one of the few casinos in Europe that was not part of the association. For me, it was something that we needed to remedy as it is important to be part of the wider community, to exchange ideas and not remain in isolation. We have learned a lot from our colleagues and I hope that they will also learn from us.”

It’s interesting that Mr. Camia describes the former stance of the casino group as somewhat isolationist. Could the fact that the Monte-Carlo brand is so strong and influential, have meant that SBM has not been as forceful in the past at communicating its message to a wider audience? “I think people witnessing the events we have staged and the public relations we have conducted with our clientele, would not say that Monaco has been unsuccessful in communicating our message,” affirms Mr. Camia. “However, I also think we have been alone for too long. I think that we need to change our mindset a little, be more open here in Monaco and make clear that we are now back in the game.”

Being back in the game doesn’t mean jettisoning the past and embracing solely the new. The formula is the same, with SBM doubling down on the history, tradition, exclusivity, its amazing service level and quality. SBM has recognised that the thrill of touching the brand is also appealing to a much wider and broader audience than the select few that can play in the private rooms of the Casino de Monte-Carlo or stay in the Diamond Suite of the Hotel de Paris Monte-Carlo. Of course, it’s a balancing act between maintaining exclusivity and providing a bite—sized portion of glitz and glamour without descending to theme park-like exploitation. An essential part of this will be its gaming offer, which must embrace the future while also maintaining the traditions of the past.

With so much emphasis in the public consciousness on eSports, skill-based gaming, mobile and online right now, it’s important that future for land-based gaming is managed successfully by a global casino brand such as Monte-Carlo. “I think everyone in the casino gaming business across the world is asking how they can appeal to and remain relevant to the next generation of players,” agrees Mr. Camia. “For SBM it is very important to attract a new generation of customers. To address this we now have a team dedicated to research and development, led by a director who is focused on new games, eSports, tablets etc. We are looking to attract the new generation of slots players, those that enjoy the latest table games and side bets, and I’m especially excited to see that roulette is attracting more and more younger players. We know that younger players enjoy electronic roulette, but we are watching carefully the engagement of this generation with the live dealer game, especially low-stake English Roulette. I think that it is important to offer the right mix of electronics and live gaming if we are to attract the next generation of players.”

If SBM can enthuse a new generation of both players and non-gamers to visit Monaco to experience some of the magic of this amazing location, to touch the brand in whatever capacity and receive a thrill of excitement they can share with their friends and family, Casino de Monte-Carlo will be reinforcing its brand without losing its allure. This is not a dumbing down of the brand, it is SBM doubling down on what makes Monte-Carlo a special place for whoever visits the Principality and whatever their budget. When talking about brands, and this is a question that was recently asked in an international survey, people listed their top three gaming brands in the world as Las Vegas, Monte-Carlo and Macau – in that order. While its gaming footprint is just 0.3 per cent of the total gaming revenue in the world and its physical presence spans just two kilometres, despite this the Monte-Carlo brand is one of the strongest in the world. Mr. Camia believes this is due to yet another trinity of things: the exclusivity of SBM’s products and services, its buildings and its location. “We know that the brand is very strong, but it’s not enough when we are faced with so much competition,” underlines Mr. Camia. “We know that we are unique, but we must deliver that message to a wider audience. And while no one compares to us, we can always improve and build a better product.”

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