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Casino Windsor Rebounding but Border Issues Remain a Problem

9 January 2002

Casino Windsor's struggles stemming from the attacks on September 11th have been well documented by the media in the area. Continual and varying issues concerning the Detroit-Windsor border crossing, ranging from traffic delays to bomb threats, have dealt Casino Windsor a tough hand. Immediately after the tragic events of September, Casino Windsor saw business drop considerably, losing roughly half of its patronage due to American citizens' unwillingness to cross the border. Eighty percent of Casino Windsor's customers came from the U.S., and the vast majority of Americans have been opting to remain at home. The reasons for staying in the states are clear, long waits at the border due to heightened security, the potential for more attacks, and the convenience of gaming in Detroit and around Michigan, all have contributed to Casino Windsor's recent difficulties.

Customs, public officials, and local police continue discussing and developing solutions regarding security issues, traffic backups, and various means of moving travelers across the border more efficiently. Officials from both Windsor and its province, Ontario, are correct in noting that there are currently many myths about the difficulty of crossing the border, so they have begun multiple programs and a massive advertising campaign in an effort to dispel the concerns of border crossing travelers. Both Windsor and Ontario have taken steps and implemented programs in an effort to lure American visitors back and illustrate that crossing the border is no more time consuming or dangerous than before September 11th. A website, www.bordernow.com, has been established and offers regular updates on the status of the border and crossing times for both the tunnel and the Ambassador Bridge. There is also a phone line to go along with the website, 1-866-899-BORD[ER], where callers can get the same information available over the website.

Also, for thousands of commercial vehicles entering Canada from the U.S. every day, a new screening process is being put in place that is expected to cut crossing times in half. It has been deemed essential for commerce and trade and is being implemented at all U.S.-Canadian border crossings throughout the country. Drivers will be registered and present an I.D. card and sheet showing the approved carrier and importer. A customs officer will approve the documents and the driver is on his way. This new program does not affect drivers entering the U.S., only leaving the states for Canada. Further, this does not directly help Casino Windsor's cause, as it does not apply to travelers and tourists, but strictly to commercial traffic.

The difficulties for Casino Windsor began well before America was changed on September 11th, with the opening of three new casinos in Detroit. In the first year that all three Detroit casinos were open, Casino Windsor's take dropped over $100 million, from $838 million in 2000, to $734 million in 2001. However, the casino has dealt with adversity extremely well. Things looked even more bleak for Casino Windsor after the attacks, with attendance rates quickly falling. On October 11th, one month after the attacks, Casino Windsor noted that its patronage was down 50 percent. However, over the next month or two, things began to pick up very slowly. Five days before Christmas it was reported that attendance at Casino Windsor was only down 30 percent. Still considerably off normal figures, yet at the same time a welcomed increase.

Recently, it has been mentioned that Casino Windsor may have lost at least 25 percent of its business permanently due to a combination of the three Detroit casinos and, more significantly, the backlash of border problems and timid travelers stemming from September 11th. However, it is inevitable that at some point the Detroit-Windsor border issues will begin to clear up and travelers and gamblers will once again be able to move between Windsor and Detroit with efficiency. Moreover, Casino Windsor continually stays on top of the market and industry regarding casino management, table and slot offerings, and the latest in gaming and casino technology. Further, the excellent Canadian-to-American exchange rate works to Casino Windsor's advantage. These features should be enough to gradually bring back a customer base that at the moment looks as if it has disappeared.

In response to Casino Windsor's ad campaign the three Detroit casinos have launched an ad campaign of their own. MotorCity Casino, MGM Grand Detroit, and Greektown Casino have established a $30,000 joint marketing effort which will recommend to gamblers living in and around Detroit to "Play in the USA." Nine billboards were raised throughout metro Detroit last week beaming that exact message. Although more Detroiters than ever before are staying in the states to gamble, the Detroit casinos want to inspire players and patrons to support the economy and Michigan and American businesses. Although this new marketing strategy by the Detroit casinos will help to keep more Detroiters and Americans gambling in the states, the reality is that much more needs to be done to assure that their customers continually return and are loyal to the Detroit casinos. Players are always going to hunt for the best deal, and with Detroit still offering temporary facilities as opposed to permanent, and the above-mentioned perks of gaming in Windsor, players may soon decide to trek back across the border. It will surely take more than a $30,000 billboard campaign from the Detroit casinos to keep patrons loyal, but it is a good place to start and projects a positive image of American businesses working together for mutual benefit. Regardless of the gamblers choice, a bit of competition between the casinos is always healthy, and the winner in the end is the customer.

David Waddell
David Waddell is an attorney for Regulatory Management Counselors, P.C. (RMC), which assists businesses in navigating the legislative, regulatory and licensing systems governing Michigan’s commercial and tribal casino industries. He is the co-author of The State of Michigan Gaming Law Legal Resource Book and one of the founders of The Michigan Gaming Newsletter.

David Waddell Websites:

www.michigangaming.com
David Waddell
David Waddell is an attorney for Regulatory Management Counselors, P.C. (RMC), which assists businesses in navigating the legislative, regulatory and licensing systems governing Michigan’s commercial and tribal casino industries. He is the co-author of The State of Michigan Gaming Law Legal Resource Book and one of the founders of The Michigan Gaming Newsletter.

David Waddell Websites:

www.michigangaming.com