As it was for many of our colleagues and industry partners, 2020 dawned burgeoning with the potential for a banner year. I remember how busy we were at the start of the year. Over the first three months, just like many of our partners, our business was setting records and growing our operations. I will forever remember the week of March 15th, 2020 – the week our entire industry came to a screeching halt. That week was a vacuum that sucked all of the buzz out of the year. I remember fielding call after panicked call with concerns about cancellations or rescheduling. I remember the sinking feeling of having to have hard conversations with my team about the implications of it all. I remember hearing from partners both locally and nationally that were having the same conversations I was faced to have with my staff.
A New Approach
Any major change offers an opportunity if you look hard enough. So, as the days of isolation turned to weeks, I started to brainstorm what we could do to keep our team working and to keep our lights on. As I felt the world become more and more comfortable with ZOOM, and as I sat in one virtual meeting after the next, it struck me.
Everything that we could do in person at a blackjack table could be done virtually on ZOOM. As I mulled over our approach, I drew from my IT background, pulled out some old computers, GoPros, and cameras that were collecting dust, and considered ways to make it feel authentic. We came up with the idea of using our warehouse to house multiple tables with real dealers, a camera looking over the table, and another pointed at the dealer. We thought about having a “floor manager” help cash guests in using the chat feature and communicate with the dealer as new people joined the table. Instead of feeling like a video game mired in digital anonymity, we would be able to see faces, interact, and create that authentic feeling of being at a table.
Collaborating with Partners From Coast to Coast
We didn’t really know what we were getting ourselves into, but before I knew it, I was donning my black and whites, looking into a computer screen, and waiting for guests to join my ZOOM call. As they entered the call, I greeted them as if I were greeting them walking up to a table at a casino. We filled the time with small talk, just as you would at the casino, and after the first round, I knew I was on the right track. We made all the mistakes early on. We invested in new equipment and leaned on our AV partners, photobooth friends, and others for camera, lighting, and backdrop ideas.
Throughout the hardest months of the pandemic we were able to support not only the U.S. Poker & Casino Parties family, but also partners and friends in NACPO, ILEA, MPI, and Here's Chicago. These events provided a moment of fun, levity, and connection that we all so desperately were missing.
What We Learned
Now, as we see live events starting to return, we must also take a moment to look back at what this pandemic has shown us. First and foremost, it’s the people that matter. We have been able to strengthen so many of our connections with event partners, colleagues, and clients throughout the pandemic, and we are honored to call many of them friends. It has been proven time and again that the entrepreneurial spirit is what makes our industry great. To be able to turn an idea of a virtual casino night into not only a reality but also a real source of revenue for the business has been an incredible experience. On one final note of reflection, this pandemic has shown me that there will always be a place for live events; that no matter what, there is nothing that replaces that energy and environment for connecting with people in person. While I’m excited to fold another service into our deck, we can’t wait to be able to walk into a crowded event, buzzing with the intangible energy that can only be created with incredible event professionals.