Staci Columbo Alonso is one of those favored few who figured out at an early age what she wanted to do for the balance of her life. The epiphany occurred in the mid-1980s when, fresh out of college, she walked through the doors of the Tropicana Atlantic City for her first day of work as an entry-level players club representative.
“It took me three days to fall in love with the environment and the job and know that my career was going to be casino marketing,” Alonso said. “I was also fortunate to land in a situation where those in charge allowed me to explore all the departments involved with marketing-I tried everything, I could not get enough of the business.”
Alonso’s desire and dedication soon caught the eye of Tropicana executives who quickly promoted her to supervisor, then to coordinator, and allowed her to move from the retail marketing division to casino marketing. Eventually, she was asked to transfer to Las Vegas to help with marketing efforts at Tropicana Las Vegas.
“Tropicana was trying to bring Atlantic City marketing tools and processes to its Las Vegas operation,” Alonso explained. “It’s hard to believe now, but many of today’s casino marketing practices were originally shaped in Atlantic City in the 1980s.”
Soon, Alonso was ready for a new challenge which came in 1990s when she became Tropicana Las Vegas’ first female casino host. “I never dealt a table game before yet here I was with this new position,” she said, admitting that the pressure and importance of the new role got to her at first. “I cried every day for a month.”
But eventually she acclimated to the job and learned some very valuable lessons from it that she was able to apply to future marketing gigs. “That experience in the ‘old boys club’ way of casino marketing really shaped my marketing foundation,” Alonso said. “I was so grateful to be in that position at that time in Las Vegas because I learned so many legacy components of the business that still apply today, such as the importance of customer service. You really had to develop personal relationships with players back then.”
Eventually, Alonso was lured away from the Tropicana to other marketing jobs in Las Vegas, moving up the marketing ladder while working for companies such as Park Place Entertainment and Station Casinos. Along the way, she established relationships with and learned from some of the better-known Las Vegas marketers, people such as Bill and Diana Bennett and Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta.
“I was fortunate enough to work side-by-side with some of the most legendary gaming executives in the business,” Alonso said. “I have had a lot of casino marketing mentors through the years. It was life changing experience.”
All the lessons, experience, hard work and perseverance paid off for Alonso when she returned to Station Casinos in 2000 as vice president of marketing at Sunset Station Hotel & Casino. Eventually, she rose to become vice president of marketing and advertising for the entire company, which had grown from a handful of properties to a 17-casino chain during her time there.
“Station Casinos grew so much while I was there and it was the most important stop in my gaming career to date,” Alonso said. “My previous work experience really helped me there-Station properties appeal to local gamblers who attend multiple times each month, and recognition and personal service really matter to them. I was well versed in both these areas.”
After eight years at Station, Alonso felt it was time for a change and accepted a job as chief marketing officer for Warner Gaming, a casino management and consulting company. While at Warner, she struck up a relationship with Phil Satre, the former head of Harrah’s Entertainment who is now on the Board of Directors for International Game Technology (IGT). Satre introduced Alonso to Patti Hart, IGT CEO, and the two found they were simpatico on many of the marketing challenges currently facing the gaming industry. When the CMO position became available at IGT, Hart recommended Alonso for it, and she was hired on last November.
“I think one of the most valuable things I bring to the table at IGT is that I understand the customer side of the business, from both the operator and the player perspective,” Alonso said.
This ability to integrate marketing knowledge into all facets of the gaming industry makes Alonso a worthy recipient of the Casino Marketing Lifetime Achievement Award, which will be presented to her at the Casino Marketing Conference, which will take place July 24-26 at Paris Las Vegas. (For more information on this event, visitwww.casinomarketingconf.com.)
Indeed, the ability to adapt to and influence events plays a big part in Alonso’s life, whether it involves casino marketing or the numerous charitable organizations to which she is attached. In 2001, she became an active board member for the Las Vegas-based Shade Tree Shelter for abused and homeless women and children, and the guiding light behind Noah’s Animal House @ The Shade Tree, the first full service pet kennel on the grounds of a domestic violence shelter in the country.
The facility will celebrate its five-year anniversary in October, and has proven so popular that Alonso is in the process of designating it a 501(c) charity so she can spread the concept across the country.
“I’ve been approached by so many domestic violence shelters asking how to do this that I thought it best if we could just deliver a turnkey solution to them,” Alonso said.
She is quick to point out that it is the gaming industry that has provided her with the wherewithal and drive to pursue her charitable activities.
“The gaming industry is always talking about Megabucks and ‘life-changing’ jackpots,” Alonso said. “For me, the gaming industry itself has been life changing.”
Those wishing to donate to Noah’s Animal House can do so by visitingwww.noahs.theshadetree.org.