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Arnold M. Knightly

Rio rolling out mobile marketing campaign

16 February 2009

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- R U looking 4 deals @ resort tonite? Must b 21+.

The Rio is testing an opt-in mobile marketing campaign that sends customers text message alerts for real-time promotions to their cell phone during their stay at the hotel-casino.

Here is how it works: Visitors to the Rio text message the word "Rio" to a phone number posted throughout the property. The customer will then receive no more than 12 text messages during the next four days, the average length of a visitor's stay.

The customer also can send "stop" to the same number to halt the flow of messages.

The messages alert the customer to special deals, usually drink, food or show tickets at a discount.

Katrina Lane, vice president of channel marketing for Harrah's Entertainment, Rio's owner, said the company is trying to find a more direct way to communicate in a more real-time fashion and strengthen the property's relationship with the customer.

Nearly 98 percent of cell phones in the United States have text message capability; less than 20 percent can accept e-mail, she said.

"It lets us be more timely with our messages," Lane said. "It's much more relevant when you're standing around here and we have the ability for you to get a great deal at a show, than have you whip out your computer to see if we might have sent you an e-mail."

Mike Weaver, vice president of marketing for the Rio and two other Harrah's properties, said customers using the service redeem an average of three coupons per visit.

"It is purposely designed so you get messages while you're in Las Vegas and you don't get unwanted messages once you've boarded your plane," Weaver said.

The offers sent out this week included a free dessert with an entrée purchase at a restaurant, two-for-one premium drinks at a bar and $5 off the price of the buffet.

More tech-savvy customers can download an application onto their phones that will allow messages to be continually sent to the phone beyond the four-day period, or turned on and off depending on when the customer visits the property.

The company follows the regulatory guidelines set by the Mobile Marketing Association, Weaver said.

Those rules regulate how many messages can be sent in a day, the ability of customers to opt into and out of the program, and even the length of the message sent.

Nearly 3,100 customers have signed up for the program since it was launched in December. Harrah's Entertainment is testing similar programs with different technology companies in different jurisdictions in which the casino owner operates.

The Rio platform is run by interactive marketing firm Acxiom Corp. and Acuity Mobile, a mobile-marketing company based in Washington, D.C.

Others are using similar technology. The Las Vegas Review-Journal offers a service available on its Web site that offers casino discounts, specials at local bars and pubs, and sports promotions. Studio 54 at MGM Grand and the N9NE Group, which runs the Palms nightclubs, have been using mobile marketing in the competitive Las Vegas club scene.

Lane said the reason for the pilot, which may soon be expanded locally to the Flamingo Las Vegas, is to find out if this is a program customers will use.

"We want to be sure this is the right technology that we want to use across the company," Lane said. "We want to be sure this is something the customer wants."