When Boyd Gaming launched Stardust Social Casino recently on iOS and Android, it was one more entry in a crowded social casino game market. But the Stardust casino played a significant role in Las Vegas history, and the company is betting that allure will attract folks to the virtual casino.
The game is the beginning of a digital strategy for a brick-and-mortar gambling company that isn’t having an easy time during the pandemic. It’s been in the works for a couple of years, and so far Boyd Gaming is finding that a lot of people recognize the Stardust name, either out of a sense of nostalgia or curiosity about the casino’s famous history. It’s one more example of how games could help out companies that can’t operate in the physical realm but may be able to satisfy customers on the digital side.
It also applies the retro trend, which is popular with console gamers, to the social casino game market. And it does that with an online game that makes people nostalgic about the Stardust Hotel or the other Boyd Gaming casino properties that most people can no longer visit in person because of the pandemic.
“We started looking for what we would call our online presence and our brand,” said Boyd Gaming’s Blake Rampmaier in an interview with GamesBeat. “We were a bit surprised at how vibrant the Stardust brand still is across various age ranges. It stirs a lot of positive emotions and, quite frankly, a lot of intrigues. We’ve never shied away from the past. When it was going through its controversial times, we had nothing to do with that. But we love being part of the story like the ones the government looked to for cleaning it up. That reputation is still very important to us.”
Las Vegas history
The Stardust opened on the Las Vegas Strip in 1958, and at the time it had the world’s largest electric sign (216 feet long with 7,000 feet of neon tubing). More like a humble motel, it was one of the places that started to put the neon into Las Vegas. Its first owner, former bootlegger Tony Cornero, died suspiciously three years before construction ended. He was supposedly poisoned by rival mobsters. John Factor of the Max Factor cosmetics firm acquired the project and leased it to Moe Dalitz, who had mob ties and came to be known as Mr. Las Vegas.
Upon opening, the hotel had a 16,500-square-feet casino and a 105 foot-long swimming pool. Couples could stay at the hotel for $6 a day. In its heyday, Ed Sullivan came to Stardust to broadcast his CBS variety show. And Muhammad Ali trained at the Stardust for his heavyweight bout with Floyd Patterson.
While the Stardust evokes a lot of memories and its early mob connections inspired the 1995 Martin Scorsese film Casino, the hotel was demolished with great fanfare in 2007. The Stardust was home to the Le Lido de Paris burlesque show, and it was the first Las Vegas stage of the legendary magicians Siegfried & Roy. General manager Frank Rosenthal (played by actor Robert Deniro in the Casino film) lured the magicians with a gift of a Rolls Royce, a car that his wife (played by Sharon Stone) had turned down.
After years of illegally skimming profits from the casino, the mob was finally ousted from the Stardust in 1983, when the Nevada Gaming Control Board seized control. Boyd Gaming took over the Stardust as the operator and became the owner in 1985. The company added a 32-story tower in 1991, but the hotel’s presence faded with the construction of mega-casinos in the 1990s and 2000s. Amid the global financial crisis in 2007, the hotel was detonated with explosives, with the tower imploding before an enthusiastic crowd.
Creating a social casino game
If you’re thinking that the Stardust name might appeal to an older audience, that’s not a bad guess. But the Stardust story is interesting, and that might be a draw in the crowded social casino game market, which generated $6.2 billion in revenues in the past 12 months, according to market analyst Eilers & Krejcik.
Rivals in social casino games include Playtika, Aristocrat, SciPlay, DoubleU Games, Zynga, Bole Games, and Huuuge Games. To stand a chance, a new entrant like Boyd Gaming needs to have a hook to draw people in. Like some of the other social casino game operators, Boyd Gaming still has its gambling properties. It operates 29 in 10 states, including the California Hotel in Las Vegas.
The app on Android and iOS is a free-to-play social casino game, where you can purchase virtual chips with money. But you can’t cash out the chips, so it’s not considered gambling in most states.
Boyd Gaming decided a couple of years ago that it wanted to go into both online sports betting and social casino games. That involved a lot of technology investment, Rampmaier said. The Stardust Social Casino game is one of the first results of that effort which consumers will see.
Right now, the social casino game is a collection of slot machines and it doesn’t convey much history about the casino, except through some images. But over time, Rampmaier, who is also the chief information officer, said the team will incorporate more of that history into the game.
“We have a roadmap, and we’re keeping that quiet for now,” he said. “We touch on some of the things you brought up (about the history) in that roadmap.”
A digital strategy
The game isn’t resting solely on the Stardust appeal. Boyd Gaming is regularly updating the different slot machines in the casino based on slots on its real casino floors across the country. You can earn rewards that you can cash in at Boyd Gaming properties around the country. Virtual credit purchases in the app will earn players points and tier credits in the Boyd loyalty program, and those points are redeemable at Boyd properties. The social casino game has slot machines that mirror those on the floors of the real casinos.
“Stardust is really our first national brand, the one with the most mystique,” Rampmaier said. “Now our fans can earn points and be connected to their hotel credits.”
So far, the results are good, Rampmaier said.
“We found in our research that the typical demographic for social games matches pretty much our core demographic brand,” he said. “What we find interesting is that the demographic also skews a bit younger, both in our brick-and-mortar casinos and in social casino. This is a change that we have seen with the pandemic. It makes us wonder if that younger demographic is coming to us earlier than anticipated. That ties into our digital strategy and our roadmap.”
Some of these differences may help Boyd Gaming stand out from the pack.
“While most casino companies have a social casino app, they don’t have a lot of the slots that are on the casino floor,” Rampmaier said. “That’s a big difference for us. And not everyone offers the ability to earn loyalty points and tier credits when you make purchases in a social casino game.
Rampmaier said the company has begun advertising the game to its database of members and on its social media.
“Overall, it’s working out pretty well for us. We’re happy with the retention and engagement so far.”