The Triumphs and the Tragedies
by Dennis Conrad
August 1, 2008
Raving Consulting Chief Strategist Dennis Conrad provides his insight on the year’s best and worst casino marketing promotions
I’m not sure why I do it –
pore through thousands of casino direct mail pieces each year, read numerous
press releases, troll on the Internet, heck, casino friends and associates even
try to lobby me and influence my selections.
I guess my annual list of The Best (and Worst) Casino Promotions is a labor of love, or a bad habit. But it is gratifying to note that in the 12 years I have been highlighting this stuff, the Best has gotten better (and more frequent). And the Worst? Well it is still incredibly stupid or poorly timed, or not well thought out (and sometimes just plain unlucky). But I think I do detect a trend where there are fewer Worst casino promotions each successive year. Or maybe they are just harder to uncover.
Enjoy this year’s bumper crop of The Best (and Worst) Casino Promotions of 2008. Do not confuse them with the real casino marketing awards, the Romeros: Recognizing Excellence in Casino Marketing. Consider my award efforts an attempt to appreciate the unappreciated, to find nuggets of marketing wisdom in the bold innovations of casino marketing risk-takers, and, yes, to get otherwise smart people to stop doing stupid stuff.
Rickles roasts Myron — Golden Nugget, Las Vegas, Nev.
It just wouldn’t have the
same appeal, inviting your VIP’s to the “Myron Kuchman Roast” event (even if
Myron is a popular executive host). But bring in Don Rickles, the master of the
insult, to roast Myron and now you have something. The Golden Nugget did just that and their
VIPs showed up in droves to watch something other than their bankroll take a
beating. Holy hockey puck, Myron!
Diamonds in the rough — Harrah’s Entertainment Meetings Division, Las Vegas, Nev.
Sassy Brass Ass — Brass Ass Casino, Cripple Creek, Colo.
You probably could only get
away with this promotion in a rough and tumble old mining town like Cripple
and certainly only if your casino had a name like the Brass Ass. But there it
was on the Web site and in the press releases when Cripple Creek’s oldest casino opened its new
gaming wing, the tagline “Our Ass Just Got Bigger.” I’m starting to see a joint
promotion possibility here with NutriSystem… something like “Lose Your Ass With
Swim to win — Boomtown Casino Hotel, Reno, Nev.
Where’s Waldo — Riviera Black Hawk Casino, Black Hawk, Colo.
It came as a direct mail
piece with the message “Personal Photos Enclosed. Do Not Bend.” While your
first reaction might have been to wonder what they caught me doing on tape at
my favorite Black Hawk casino, you just had to open the darn thing from the Riviera. And just like
the accordion photo postcards you buy at the tourist souvenir shops, the Riv’s
postcards opened up to show three full-color photos with sexy Las Vegas
showgirl-types holding personalized signs, one that asks “Where Have You
Been?”, another that says “We Want To
Set The Table For You Tonight!” (with two free buffet offers) and a third that
proclaims “Win Big At The Riv, Today!” (with cash coupons). I get it, a mailing
to inactive customers, and a pretty damn effective one at
Praise the Lord, pass the biscuits — Silverton Casino Lodge, Las Vegas, Nev.
It’s a cow, no bull — Lake of the Torches Resort Casino, Lac du Flambeau, Wis.
Sure, you could do any old cash giveaway in August, but if you’re a rural casino like Lake of the Torches, why not have “More Moolah Days” instead? First you buy some cute collectible cow banks as gifts to players just for coming in. Then you throw in a Peel ‘n Win Card, good for prizes and daily drawings where 10 players will each win $1,000 cash. But best of all, you send out a direct mail postcard with a big ol’ milk-brimming cow on it that says “We Have More Moolah For Dennis,” with “Dennis” printed in big, black letters on the cow’s side, blending with Bessie’s spots. Mooooovelous.
Power Payout picture — Barona Valley Ranch Resort and Casino, Lakeside, Calif.
Get well — Palace Station Hotel Casino, Las Vegas, Nev.
In casino slang, “getting well” is usually a gambler’s term for getting even (or better). But the phrase took on a different meaning for Palace Station when it invited its players to a wellness seminar at the casino. Topics such as “Diabetes in the 21st Century” and “Don’t Doze through the Best Times in Life” were covered and lunch was served between the sessions. I’ll bet the event turned a healthy profit.
Rise early and often — Golden Gulch Casino and Golden Mardi Gras Casino, Black Hawk, Colo.
Nine is fine — Cliff Castle Casino, Camp Verde, Ariz.
What would you do if you were voted the number one casino in Arizona for nine years in a row? Well, if you are Cliff Castle, you gather most of your employees, configure them as a human number nine and take their picture from a lofty perch as they all cheer and wave at the camera. Then you put it on the cover of your next players club newsletter, so that all your customers see that it wasn’t the facility or the loose slots or the good food that earned this award, but Cliff Castle’s great people. Their tagline says it all, “Always Friendly. Always Fun.” Hang ten, Cliff Castle.
Junk works — Palms Casino Resort, Las Vegas, Nev.
Diamond dandy — Harrah’s Reno, Reno, Nev.
Casino marketing departments offer deals around my birthday, my anniversary and all the major holidays. Geez, what’s left? Well if you’re smart, and trust me, Harrah’s is, you’ll celebrate your top-tier player achieving a renewal of their status for the year, quarter or month. Harrah’s Reno did this with its special Diamond Renewal Dinner invitation which included a two-night stay, an exclusive dinner and a gift. It sure beats celebrating the dog’s birthday.
Leap this! — Isle of Capri Casino, Biloxi, Miss.
The sky is falling — Seminole Casino, Coconut Creek, Fla.
Remember the ruckus when the government announced a U.S. spy satellite was due to fall out of orbit and come crashing to earth? Chances are you would recollect the event if you had lived near the Coconut Creek Seminole Casino, since GM Steve Bonner has a giant red bull’s eye painted on the casino and offered to give away $1 million if any of the satellite debris landed on the property. Now that sounds like a blast!
Birthday code — Southwest Airlines
Crack it open — Unnamed Southwest casino
Most casinos wouldn’t mind players taking a crack at their loose slots or trying to crack the code of their $1 million SCA promotion, but this unfortunate casino made local headlines when a man was busted there for smoking crack cocaine while he played a slot machine. The news report said this occurred “after another slot player complained.” Well, the anti-gaming zealots often decry video poker as the crack cocaine of gaming, I guess this actually was.
Wrong spouse — Unnamed Western casino
It really is one of my favorite casinos. So when I received a Happy Anniversary card and an offer of a complimentary suite and a generous dinner credit to come up and visit, well, honeymoon-like visions danced in my head. Except instead of including my wife in the offer, the coupons had someone named “Sherry” listed on them, with her player’s card number. Honey, I swear I don’t know any Sherry; I go up there to play golf. Honey? Honey?
Mystery cash — Unnamed Nevada casino
It arrived as the monthly casino direct mail piece, trumpeting the fact that “You earned $160 in rewards for April.” Nothing bad about that. But when you open the brochure to see four individual $20 coupons, each valid during a different week in April, well that calls for Columbo. Let’s see, four coupons times $20 is $80 in rewards. But you’re telling me I earned $160? There’s that damn casino math again!
Punter gone wild — Unnamed European casino
I swear this one is true. An Eastern European man was banned from his local casino for shouting and using bad language. In response, he said he would not eat or accept medical attention until he was allowed to once again play roulette in the casino. “I have a lot of money on me and I want to play it all on the roulette, but they won’t let me,” the man said. “They say I swear and talk too loud, but everybody shouts in there, especially when losing. After all it’s not a church, it’s roulette.” He planned to erect a tent outside the casino and stay there until he was allowed to play or was given back the $6,000 he had lost. Suffice to say his version of an incentive program was far from popular with the casino.
Oops odds — Unnamed Southern casino
It was the classiest of VIP events and a Lexus ES was going to be given away to one lucky patron during this “elegant escape weekend.” The invitation’s envelope screamed the huge benefit of a “1-in-250 chance to win!” But then followed the “oops” postcard that the 1-in-250 odds were erroneous and that the Lexus giveaway was open to all players club members. The casino apologized for the error but what it could have done was given away another Lexus. Hey, never tick off a high roller, any one of whom could lose enough to pay for the cost of the second damn car.
The kiddie slot event — Numerous casinos
Everyone knows the slot tournament is absolutely, positively not for kids. No casino would ever go there. Then why, pray tell, do they insinuate children’s play with marketing concepts such as “School Days Slot Tournament” or “Big Top Bucks Slot Tournament,” complete with imagery that my kids would love? Well you got me, and this “Slots for Tots” messaging continues. I guess I am powerless to stop it, but at least I can award a “Royal Raspberry” every time I see it.
Now this is a giveaway! — Unnamed Eastern casino
It was an almost-perfect casino promotion. Too bad it happened by accident. The casino in question left a money-doubling feature unknowingly active on a video lottery terminal, so that players on their machine could get $100 of slot credit for a $50 bill, then did not catch the error until two months later (wasn’t anyone watching the machine results?) To add insult to injury, the casino had to reimburse the state the $450,000 that the VLT paid out in error. But hey, what a promotion! Sure, it was a gigantic screw-up, but it likely left a lot of happy customers. An award awaits the casino that takes the concept and does something similar, only this time on purpose and with regulatory approval.
Dennis Conrad is the president and chief Relationship Officer of Raving Consulting Company, a full service marketing company specializing in assisting gaming organizations. He can be reached at (775) 329-7864. Visit Raving’s Web site at www.ravingconsulting.com.
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