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‘Is that the girl from Instagram?’: Influencers cashing in on Las Vegas

Updated November 22, 2022 - 7:41 pm

Francine Maric was inside The Venetian standing near a slot machine in the high-limit slot room, waiting for a handpay, when someone walking by recognized her.

The man whispered to his friends, and one of them tapped the shoulder of Francine’s husband, Miran, who was standing several feet away from Francine, and asked: “Is that the girl from Instagram? Do I have to pay her to take a picture with her?”

The Marics are behind the YouTube channel Lady Luck HQ, where Francine films herself playing high-limit slots and reviews hotels. The pair, who live in Atlanta, started making content on Instagram in 2018, posting photos of their trips to Las Vegas and casino jackpots. Followers suggested she film herself playing slots, so she did, and the channel quickly took off.

Now, Lady Luck HQ commands an estimated one million daily views between YouTube and Facebook. She capitalizes on it, in part, with livestreams or videos promoting games from paid partnerships.

The Marics said they could sense from the beginning that their videos could turn into a business.

“I immediately knew we had something because the comments were coming in; the views were coming in; people were wanting more so we started posting more,” Francine Maric said. “The more and more I posted, the more people kept wanting more videos. They wanted to interact more. They wanted to engage, and it was like this domino effect.”

From micro-influencers with less than 100,000 followers to macro-influencers with millions of fans, their online content is everywhere from Facebook and Instagram to TikTok. And social media influencers have become a significant part of the Las Vegas marketing machine.

The global influencer marketing industry reached $10.4 billion last year, and it’s expected to grow to $143.1 billion in 2030, at a compound annual growth rate of 33.4 percent, according to research firm Grand View Research.

And while fears of an economic recession loom, some experts say influencer marketing could grow even more during an economic downturn as businesses turn to alternative and cost-effective channels.

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, the destination marketing organization for Las Vegas, more than tripled the number of influencers it works with in a year. Michael O’Brien, LVCVA’s senior director of digital marketing, said it went from using 26 influencers for the fiscal year 2021 to using 100 influencers this year.

“For brands that are doing it right, they’re not rushing in,” O’Brien said. “They’re taking their time to understand: Does this person align with our values as an organization, what we stand for and what we want Vegas to be? And if so, we definitely welcome them to the destination.”

He said the convention authority works with New York-based Grey Group to determine an influencer’s audience demographics, engagement rate and other factors. Grey was named LVCVA’s social brand agency last year, receiving a two-year contract with two two-year options valued at a total of $160 million.

Full-time social media

Influencers, or content creators, usually create their accounts because they’re passionate about a certain topic or industry. For example, some Vegas creators will post photos and videos about slots, food or lifestyle tips.

Elyse Shultz, who is behind the Travel Ruby YouTube channel, said she and her husband began filming Vegas-related travel videos in 2019 while living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She said her channel gained popularity in 2020 when she posted videos of her monthly visits to Vegas explaining the changing pandemic-related safety measures.

“I look at the way I talk to the viewers as if it would be like I was sitting next to them on an airplane or something,” she said. “They’re like, ‘This my first time in Vegas.’ And I can tell them, ‘You have to do this. You should go here.’”

Her YouTube channel has 190,000 subscribers and nearly 40 million views. She and her husband moved to Las Vegas two months ago to focus entirely on Travel Ruby as well as her new YouTube channel Ruby Slots, which focuses on slot pay. Since its launch two months ago, Ruby Slots has gained 14,800 subscribers and 2.6 million views.

As videos rack up views and channels gain followers, some platforms will offer monetization like Google’s AdSense, a revenue-sharing platform where ads are placed in a creator’s video. Several influencers said monetization or partnership programs gave them the confidence to make content creation a full-time job.

Ellie Heisler, a partner at Nixon Peabody LLP’s Los Angeles office, said other revenue streams for influencers include brand deals, content creator funds, affiliate programs, teaching masterclasses and non-fungible tokens. The entertainment and intellectual property lawyer works with clients such as TikTok star Addison Rae, model and author Emily Ratajkowski and designer and television personality Tan France of the Netflix series “Queer Eye.”

“The revenue streams are kind of endless,” Heisler said. “As platforms evolve, there are more opportunities to monetize.”

Businesses and creators declined to share their compensation models with the Review-Journal but said it can include free experiences such as hotel stays and meals, free products or receiving an influencer fee, depending on the type of partnership.

From the guest perspective

Working with high-profile influencers can put a brand’s product in front of millions of people, especially an audience whose members might be unfamiliar with the brand. Just look at the Palms. It unveiled a $150,000-per-night “Epic Experience Suite Package” after partnering with YouTuber Jimmy Donaldson, known as MrBeast. His main channel has 112 million subscribers.

The three-suite hotel package was created after he contacted the Palms to include the resort in his “1$ vs $1,000,000 Hotel Room!” video, where he compares hotel stays and amenities at various properties.

In the video, Donaldson and his friends can be seen at the Palms touring the hotel’s two-story Damien Hirst-designed Empathy Suite Sky Villa, the 10,000-square-foot Hardwood Suite with an indoor basketball court and the Kingpin Suite, which features a two-lane bowling alley and is named after the infamous Farrelly brothers’ film.

Palms Vice President of Marketing Jennifer Johnson said working with content creators is a way to diversify how, where and how often the brand is seen.

“It’s a different experience that they can feel from the guest perspective that we can’t necessarily do from some of our more traditional marketing avenues,” Johnson said. “We have an opportunity to feature our property and the things that we offer in this unique way that adds to everything else that we’re doing from a marketing perspective.”

The key to successful partnerships for brands is ensuring content creators are authentic in their reviews and avoid coming off like a traditional paid ad. For that to work, some businesses such as Henderson-based CraftHaus Brewery are very selective when choosing to partner with influencers.

“I love marketing. I love media and advertising,” founder and co-owner Wyndee Forrest said. “I especially love to bring it all back to community. If somebody else wanted to help me with that instead of me shouting my same message on the same channel — I definitely (see) the value in partnering with certain personalities. But they have to be the right people.”

Meanwhile, content creators also take their partnerships seriously.

Maric said she has two sponsorship deals related to iGaming, despite fielding numerous other offers. She even quit her corporate job about 18 months ago to manage her brand partnerships, she said, because it’s important that her audience can trust her recommendations are sincere.

“It’s got to be something that I think not only do I like, but I think that the audience will like,” Maric said.

McKenna Ross is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Contact her at mross@reviewjournal.com. Follow @mckenna_ross_ on Twitter.

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