From the brilliant to the bungling
From the brilliant to the bungling
Dennis Conrad, president and chief strategist of Raving Consulting, doles out the cheers and sneers in his Best (and Worst) Casino Promotions of 2006, citing successes in originality, customer consideration and a wanton sense of fun
Yes, they started as a lark some 10 years ago, as I looked to enliven my panel presentation at a Las Vegas gaming conference. The topic, if I recall correctly, was something highbrow like, "State of the Art Casino Promotions." So to stimulate my 15 minutes of prepared remarks, I thought I would list my 10 favorite casino promotions of all time, and what made them great.
It was an eclectic list, containing effective giveaways of 10-cent coffee mugs as well as million-dollar promos where casinos gave away a new car a day for an entire month. And what was equally strange and heady was that, after my presentation, dozens of colleagues came up to the podium to request copies of my "best" list. Hey, people were eating this stuff up!
The following year I had the entire casino promotions presentation to myself at this gaming conference, and initially reprised my "Best Casino Promotions" (with all new nominees), and for kicks, added a separate listing of a few of "The Worst Casino Promotions" as well. The room was packed, and I could tell that the hundreds of gaming execs in the audience were hanging on every new slide (yes, before the PowerPoint era) to see if their casino had a promotion that was about to be praised or panned.
And presto, The Best (And Worst) Casino Promotions franchise was born. And now, some 10 years later, I am proud to release my Hall of Fame (and Shame) for 2006.
The Best (And Worst) is no formal competition and will never be confused with The Romero Awards: Honoring Excellence in Casino Marketing, which are bestowed officially at Casino Marketing in Las Vegas every year. But they are the result of thousands of clippings, articles, press releases, on-site observations, referrals of industry insiders, direct mail pieces, Internet news and just about anything where you can find information on casino promotions of the past year. (My file for this thing looks like a grab bag of artifacts from a first grade art class.) So I hope you enjoy this year's bumper crop of The Best (And Worst) Casino Promotions of 2006. Learn from the successes and avoid the excesses, and especially remember that it's all about the customer!
Comp a friend
-Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas, Nev.
It came as a festive holiday card from Marilyn Winn, the president of Bally's Las Vegas, Rio and Paris Las Vegas. It wished me "a joyous holiday season and the very best in 2006." But wait-out from the card fell a gift certificate allowing me to bestow two complimentary room nights at the Rio to any friend or relative of my choosing. Let's see, a meaningful, no-strings-attached offer that lets me be Santa with my friends and gets me filling the Rio's rooms with "live prospects of assumed worth"-why, that's "brilliant" (to quote a Guinness beer commercial).
Greyhound pets photo contest
-American Greyhound Track Operators Association
While casinos deal with PR issues around problem gambling, secondhand smoke and the like, our gaming cousins at AGTOA have to deal with the perception of how their racing greyhounds get treated. As part of its National Telecast of the Night of Stars, AGTOA announced the winners of its Greyhound pets photo contest, including special awards for the sweetest, funniest and more, effectively showing that dogs are human, too.
'Extreme Human Bingo'
-San Manuel Indian Bingo and Casino, Highland, Calif.
Celebrating its 19th anniversary and recognizing bingo's significant part in its history, San Manuel put on the world's largest bingo game, called "Extreme Human Bingo." Held in a baseball stadium in San Bernardino, Calif., the game included 600 customers as human markers, 20-foot by 50-foot bingo cards and $50,000 in prize money for 50 contestants lucky enough to be standing on the winning numbers of each bingo game. Hey, B-1 with San Manuel bingo!
-Midway Slots, Harrington, Del.
It took only a creative spark, a little technology, and well, maybe some subterfuge between Midway Slots and a guy named Nathan. But there it was, scrolling across the International Game Technology Systems player-tracking screen on the 18th of the month, the message: "Jennifer, please marry me. Nathan." What a creative way to use player-tracking technology to deepen customer relationships. (Oh yeah, and Jennifer said, "Yes.")
Personal bounce back
-Rail City Casino, Sparks, Nev.
The bounce back offer was like hundreds of other casino offers in North America (and not an extremely valuable one either)-a two-for-one buffet offer at Rail City's City Caf‚, good for a subsequent 10-day period. But the buffet offer wasn't delivered via direct mail, or in a newspaper, or by e-mail-it came from a personable young lady approaching active players on a weekday night at Rail City, with the words, "We really appreciate you coming into Rail City tonight." How strong is that?
-Mohican North Star Casino, Bowler, Wis.
Some casinos treat their vendors like pariahs who are trying to get into their pockets and need to be "managed" for the lowest possible pricing. But the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians (owners of Mohican North Star Casino) realizes that their vendors are key business partners, honoring that with their Third Annual Vendors' Appreciation Lunch ("a celebration of cooperation"). Festivities included lunch, golf and a special guest speaker. I'm betting that these vendors just might go out of their way for Mohican North Star this year.
-MEI Gaming, West Chester, Penn.
Well, it wasn't a phony mailing, but a nifty touting of MEI's high-performing casino bill validators (with fiber-optic technology designed to thwart all counterfeiters). The small package contained the strong exterior message of, "There are many ways to spot a fake, and we've thought of all of them." Inside the package was a "How To Spot A Fake" reference card, a mini-LED light (for slot techs to look into dark crevasses of slot machines), a card touting MEI's bill acceptors' many benefits and an offer for a risk-free casino trial. Targeted. Powerful. Comprehensive. You can't ask for much more.
-Gold Dust West, Reno, Nev.
Birthday cards and birthday offers-casinos send them out by the truckload. But as far as I know, only the Gold Dust West sends its VIPs a really nice birthday card ("from all of your friends at Gold Dust West") and an honest-to-gosh, real, ready-to-go, TITO voucher for $100, good at any Gold Dust West slot machine. Now that's a happy birthday for a slot player.
-Harrah's Entertainment, Nationwide
I'm always impressed when someone follows my mantra of "ask your customers what they want, then give it to them." Well, Harrah's did exactly that with its online survey of its Total Rewards members, asking them to evaluate five new designs for the Total Rewards card and five ads for Harrah's combined Las Vegas properties. Your customers may not be advertising gurus, but hey, your advertising gurus might not be advertising gurus.
-Three Rivers Casino, Florence, Ore.
Let's see, if we could feed slot players while they play, they wouldn't stop playing to eat, right? Three Rivers Casino has discovered this simple wisdom with its slot-side dining service. Menu posters dot the casino floor and the Nexgen player-tracking screen simply asks, "Hungry? Press your service light for a slot-side menu." Along comes a beverage server, who takes the order (and probably earns a tip) and promptly delivers the tasty finger food, helping to feed the hungry player and the casino coffers at the same time. Tasty!
'Ask Your Host' column
-Cliff Castle Casino, Camp Verde, Ariz.
We often think our casino customers know everything there is to know about our casinos. But if so, why do we always keep hearing, "What machine is gonna hit next?" Recognizing this "guest information gap," Cliff Castle started an "Ask Your Host" column in its monthly newsletter, explaining (straight from the horse's, I mean, host's mouth) such things as the full range of player's club benefits, why club points might disappear with no activity, and other guest-enlightening topics gathered from actual guest questions.
Reno Santa Crawl
-Downtown Reno patrons and taverns
Sometimes you can't explain 'em, but just have to sit back and admire their success. Such is the case with Downtown Reno's "Santa Crawl," where a few hundred Santa-dressed crazies pulled an all-nighter, visiting 23 taverns and clubs, and most importantly, raising money for the Food Bank of Northern Nevada. We know about not drinking and driving, but Santa knows that drinking and crawling is OK.
-Southwest Airlines, Nationwide
Keeping with the Best and Worst's tradition of culling great ideas from outside of our industry, this year I bring you Southwest Airlines' Happy Anniversary Card-not celebrating my wedding anniversary, silly, but the date I joined Southwest's Rapid Rewards Club. A big Best and Worse kudos awaits the casino that takes similar revenue-driving flight with its own frequent pullers, I mean, players.
Out of the box benefits
-Siena Hotel, Casino and Spa, Reno, Nev.
Well, its new player reward benefit schedule looked like most others, but wait-there it is! In the lines under "Gold and Platinum members" (and yes, these are premium players), you'll see benefits for reserved parking at Siena's front door, the ability to turn my unused comp dollars into cash and (get this) the ability to comp two of my friends each month in Siena's hotel and gourmet restaurant. I know where I'm playing-where I've got "juice!"
Multiple players' cards
-The Mill Casino Hotel, North Bend, Ore.
I know you paid a lot of money to have your ad agency design those 30-cent players club cards, but did you ever think of allowing your customers to choose their own design? Well, The Mill did, and now its Millionaire's Club members can have a dice/craps image (my favorite), a slot machine background with red, white and blue sevens lining up on the belly glass or a beautiful image of a bay scene at sunset from The Mill's back patio. Choice is good, and good choices are better.
-Palms Casino Resort, Las Vegas, Nev.
No, those hot new TV shows never seem to last, but while they're hot, look out! And that spells opportunity for your casino, as it did for the Palms, which hosted an open casting call at its casino for the show "Deal or No Deal?" The line of greedy hopefuls stretched from inside the casino to the parking structure of the Palms, no doubt increasing Howie Mandel's price for his Vegas comedy gig.
Unfortunately, not every gaming promotion was a winner, and this year (no surprise by now) produced another crop of clunkers for the Hall of Shame. And here are the Best of the Worst (or is it the Worst of The Worst?) in no certain order.
-Iowa State Lottery
Ihate to pick on our cousins over at the state lotteries, but geez, they make it so easy! In the latest attempt to "do the right thing whether it might work or not," the Iowa Lottery voted to permit gambling addicts to sign up for restrictions banning themselves from collecting big cash prizes (over $600) won in the lottery. Well, let's see-you don't identify yourself as a problem gambler when purchasing a lottery ticket (at any of thousands of outlets), and a friend or family member could always cash out the winning ticket for you, so what the heck is accomplished? Hey, we're all for helping problem gamblers, but how about doing some things that are proven to work?
-Illinois Gaming Board
It would be easy to lay this award at the feet of the high-profile casino company that mistakenly mailed out 11,000 direct mail pieces offering each recipient $525 (instead of the intended $15 to $20) of gambling coupons. Yes, it was a huge mistake and someone deserved to be taken to the woodshed, but instead I'd like to give my Hall of Shame award to the Illinois Gaming Board (inventor of the variable 70 percent tax rate that cost jobs and stole value from casino customers in Illinois) for demanding that the casino "pay up," even though the casino had the typical disclaimers in place to deal with such unfortunate oversights. Gee, if the mistake had only been a little bigger, the board could have gleefully watched the casino go bankrupt, the state tax revenues dry up and several thousand Illinois citizens get put on the unemployment rolls. Sounds like a typical government promotion.
-Unnamed Western casino
Well, we call it gaming entertainment now, and that speaks to strategies of welcoming customers to "play," and "enjoy yourself," and "come on in, the slots are really paying." You know, stuff like that. But, no, some casinos insist on scolding, threatening and listing "rules of prohibited conduct" as you enter their casino, like this militant Western casino whose front doors are emblazoned simply with "no backpacks," "no weapons," "no cameras" and "no one under 21." Now go have fun-no kidding.
Jeezus, what an ad
-Paddy Power, Dublin, Ireland
Leave it to our bookmaker cousins at Paddy Power to piss off half the Christian world with their ads depicting Jesus and the Apostles gambling at the Last Supper. "There's a place for fun and games," proclaims the ad's caption as Jesus sits with a stack of poker chips, Judas eyes his 30 pieces of silver and the Apostles are clutching hands of cards. Paddy Power acknowledged it had taken "a load of flak" over the ad, which followed up a "Make Your Own Luck" ad featuring a rabbit with a missing paw. Good God!
Have these e-mails
-Unnamed Western casino
In a clear attempt to save a few bucks by doing an e-mail blast (announcing an upcoming entertainment event) in Outlook Express, this unsuspecting casino managed to publicly broadcast its entire, several thousand address, e-mail list in the "To" line of the message's salutation. Opening up its proprietary list to potential spammers, scammers and competitors, this was truly an award-winning, spam-tastic e-mail error of excellence!
And there you have them, this year's list of the Best (And Worst) Casino Promotions of 2006, honoring both outstanding achievements and glorious gaffes. And you can learn a lot from both.
Turning 'worst' to 'first'
Special recognition goes to a casino which turned mismanaged marketing into a class act
Lousy casino promotions are by no means worthless-if you learn something from them. So a special honor this year goes to the Las Vegas Hilton for taking a previous "Worst" winner and turning it into a "Best."
The Las Vegas Hilton reengineered an award-winning Worst from 2003-2004 (and it should be pointed out that it was conducted under different casino owners and operators), whereby a December slot tournament benefiting the Salvation Army and many deserving kids was held under the moniker of "Slots For Tots," replete with advertising icons of children's alphabet letter blocks. The Hilton (bravo, bravo) turned this year's version of the same event into "The Salvation Army Charity Drive $20,000 Slot Tournament," with classy, holiday-themed (adult) images on the brochure.
Worst to first. Simple as that. If you are paying attention.