WE MADOFF WITH THE ROLEXES
I don’t know why I do it. I mean, I must sift through 10,000 different direct-mail pieces each year. I visit more than 100 casinos (OK, I was working most of the time) and personally witness their hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, annual - heck, sometimes their eternal - promotional pushes and peccadilloes. I navigate numerous casino Web sites. I fend off properties and PR firms that want me to select their casino promotion as one of the “Best”.
Why do I do it, create this annual list of the best and worst casino promotions from across the globe? Maybe it’s tradition. Maybe, like Mr. Blackwell and his “Best and Worst Dressed” list, it’s because we all get such a kick out of the “Worst”. (Admit it, you’re reading this to find out the real screw-ups.)
Whatever the case, here they are, “Raving’s Best (and Worst) Casino Promotions of 2010”. They once again appear exclusively in Casino Journal, followed by my full presentation of them in all their glory (and pitifulness) at Casino Marketing Conference 2010, which will be held later this month (July 19-21) at Paris Las Vegas.
The “Best and Worst” are not Casino Marketing Conference’s real annual awards - those would be the “Romeros: Recognizing Excellence in Casino Marketing,” named in honor of John Romero, the father of modern-day casino marketing. No, the “Best and Worst” are my attempt to celebrate the unappreciated, the inspired, the playful and the putrid in all those efforts that casinos make on behalf of their customers. And whether those efforts get my Golden Attaboys (the “Best”) or Resounding Raspberries (the “Worst”), one thing is certain: No industry does more weird, wacky and wonderful stuff than the gaming industry.
Seminole Casino Coconut Creek (Coconut Creek, Fla.)
Still mad at Bernie Madoff? Well, you’ll just have to go to Seminole Casino Coconut Creek because they “Made Off With Bernie’s Watches” and “got the goods on the infamous Ponzi schemer”. Yes, you too could have gone to a government auction and purchased two of Bernie’s Rolexes (“valued at up to $20,000”) and given them away in separate drawings for your casino customers (“Win a New Rolex!”). But, hey, please stay away from the “one-arm” and “two-armed-bandit” jokes.
Silverton Casino Lodge (Las Vegas)
You just knew that some casino would do it. After giveaways using Beanie Babies, Pet Rocks, collectible dolls and commemorative coins, it was only a matter of time until some casino proclaimed “Earn Points For a ShamWow! (As Seen on TV)”. Well, the Silverton in Las Vegas did (with both regular- and deluxe-size ShamWows!) and “You keep the points!” … I’m betting they cleaned up on this one.
Golden Gates Casino (Black Hawk, Colo.)
A casino “party pit” is supposed to be a table games area where the emphasis is on fun. (Gee, what a concept.) I was an early party pit developer, going back to the 1980s, and over the years I have seen many iterations - hippie themes, sports themes, rock ’n’ roll themes … but, yes, mostly sex themes, usually poorly done. But then there are the G-Girls (do I assume there are also G-Boys?) at Golden Gates Casino in Black Hawk - young, gorgeous and wholesome, hawking “G-Girl” retail items at the Rewards Club, gracing the casino’s direct mail in their sleeveless tops that zipper down the front, creating a differentiated table games experience in the Rocky Mountains. A hit of a pit.
NINE, NINE, NINE
Suncoast Hotel & Casino (Las Vegas)
A number of casinos fell all over themselves a few years ago trying to promote the date 07-07-07 as the ultimate day of luck. I thought Casino Arizona in Scottsdale did it the best. But I don’t know of any casino other than the Suncoast that celebrated 09-09-09 last year: Nine-times points on slots. $9,000 cash drawings. Nine-times odds on craps. Ninety-nine-cent porterhouse and prime rib dinners. (I wonder if customers dressed to the nines.) And, hey, what about those with nonaphobia (fear of the number nine)?
KING OF CASINO POP
Horseshoe Casino (Hammond, Ind.)
It has been a “Thriller” watching the proliferation of Michael Jackson tribute shows since his death. Some have been “Bad,” so their success is not guaranteed, not “Black and White”. But Horseshoe Casino in Hammond definitely “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’” when it celebrated August 29 with a tribute show on the birthday of the King of Pop and invited a bunch of VIPs to boot. You can’t “Beat It”. And I’m betting that in casino land, from now until eternity, every August 29 we’ll see something to rival the Flying Elvi. … Hey, Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough.
WHAT A DOLL!
Flamingo Las Vegas Hotel & Casino (Las Vegas)
When she’s not performing sold-out shows with her brother Donny or hawking weight-loss products, you just might find Marie Osmond giving away Marie Osmond Porcelain Dolls to invited VIP guests at a private reception, like she did at the Flamingo Las Vegas. Casino customers will stampede for the right collectible, and if you pair that with a celebrity doll like Marie, and in a VIP setting, I’m guessing the real collection will happen at your slot bill validators and table drop boxes.
Foxwoods Resort Casino (Mashantucket, Conn.)
Many casinos have advertising jingles, but only Foxwoods has had an über-jingle - a short tune named “The Wonder of It All,” sung by Johnny Pizzarelli, that has been called “one of the most ubiquitous sound snippets of the past decade”. So how do you re-energize a 10-year-old jingle? Well, if you are Foxwoods you have a “Wonder of It All” contest, invite bands from around New England to perform their own versions of the song and offer a $25,000 prize and a recording contract to the winner, as selected by fans and judges. Band fans packing the Foxwoods showroom, a hot new jingle, regional media attention - there’s the wonder of it all.
SOMEONE'S POT OF GOLD
Odawa Casino Resort (Petoskey, Mich.)
OK, it’s St. Patrick’s Day, and you want to drive a little business for your casino. You can decorate and hire a lucky leprechaun to pass out shamrocks. Or like Odawa Casino Resort you can have a “$250,000 Pot of Gold” promotion by randomly loading $100 in “Instant Optimum Rewards” onto the accounts of 2,500 guests from your data base, have it only be valid on March 17, and invite those guests in to see if they are a winner (and give them a $7.77 all-day buffet to boot). Sexy promo, lots of winners, tapping into a holiday famous for drinking - winner, winner.
AMERICAN INDIAN COMEDY SLAM
Indian Gaming 2010 Trade Show & Convention (San Diego)
So you think Native Americans are shy, serious, even stoic? Well, brothers and sisters, you haven’t seen the “American Indian Comedy Slam” and Indian comics Larry Omaha, Marc Yaffee, Jim Ruel, Vaughn Eaglebear, J.R. Redwater and Charlie Hill. They brought the house down at this year’s National Indian Gaming Association trade show in San Diego and have performed at a number of tribal casinos. As you’d expect, a “Comedy Slam” is not for the shy and retiring, but if you want to build bridges between Indians and non-Indians and are not afraid to have your customers wet themselves with laughter as they confront their prejudices, well, book a Slam and laugh along.
A LIGHT IN THE DARK
Cache Creek Casino Resort (Brooks, Calif.)
I’ll admit it, I’m getting old, just like most casinos’ best customers. So how about some senior-friendly menus for those dimly lit gourmet restaurants? You know, ones you can actually read? At Cache Creek they did, and without raising the lights or using six-inch-high lettering. How? With a super-duper back-lit menu, of course (and a back-lit bill tray). See what you’re ordering. See what you’re paying. See what you can do if you put yourself in your customers’ seats?
GET YOUR PHIL
Caesars Windsor Hotel & Casino (Windsor, Ontario)
Yes, you can have Willie Nelson in your showroom. Or Sheryl Crow. Or Jay Leno. Or like Caesars Windsor you can take a shot with Dr. Phil. Yes, that Dr. Phil. (Bet you don’t know his last name.) At 75 bucks a ticket. Yep, differentiate your entertainment offering, leverage a media celebrity, and maybe even provide a little free counseling. (Hey, Dr. Phil, what slot machine should I play?)
BARF FOR A FEW BUCKSTHE WORST
Once again, casinos did not disappoint in their uncanny ability to produce mixed messages, poor taste, typos, insensitivity and plain stupidity in their promotions and messaging. And here they are, the “Worst of 2010” in all their soiled glory and sordid magnificence.
A Western U.S. casino
OK, I realize you’ve got a great buffet, truly a great buffet, known throughout your competitive market. And I know you want to lower your buffet prices to attract even more customers to your great buffet. And I know you want to use an advertising slogan to get those customers excited about that great buffet and those value-laden prices. But when you position it as a “Buffet Blowout” (as this, uh, “tasteless” casino did), well, it makes me want to barf. What’s wrong with a “feast” or a “food fantasy” or a “food lovers’ delight”? A Buffet Blowout? The Golden Raspberries, please!
WE MISS YOU (WE THINK)
A Midwest U.S. casino
When I work with casino clients one of the biggest opportunities I tend to point out is the recapturing of currently inactive customers. So when I saw the direct-mail “Hey, where ya been?” piece from this offending casino I almost started to applaud until I read the opening: “Dear Valued Guest, We’re not sure where you’ve been, but we haven’t enjoyed your company in some time.” Have you ever enjoyed my company? And why would you enjoy my company now? Award-winning mumble-jumble.
WE ARE STUPID
A U.S. casino vendor
Not all of the “Worst” are perpetrated by casinos - we also have Razzy winners among gaming support companies. In this full-page ad in a gaming trade publication a high-profile company touted its high-powered software programs with a picture of a high-resolution ace and jack of spades (blackjack!) being teasingly lifted from a cool green felt with the stupidest caption of all time: “Hit Or Stay?” … Hey, ad agency, there’s only one thing you do with a blackjack and it’s turn it over, scream and get paid 3 to 2. You don’t “hit,” you don’t “stay” and you don’t try to win “Worst” awards when you’re trying to impress your casino clients.
GET REAL DRUNK
A Southwest U.S. casino
I know you are real proud of your casino bar and the fact that you have the largest beer selection in your market. I don’t even mind you promoting that to customers. But when you advertise prizes for finishing all 99 varieties of beer - and include the winner’s name and photo on a Wall of Fame and (are you kidding me?) throw in a case of beer, well, I’ll bet that will make some people MADD. But, hey, at least your prizes included a two-night room stay to sleep off the hangover. A pox upon your barley parlay! But definitely award-worthy.
PROMOTE AND SCOLD
A Midwest U.S. casino
It was a real cool casino newsletter, colorful and well-written. The inside panels glowingly promoted the month’s “hot seat” promotions, a unique coin grab for lucky contestants, video poker and Three Card Poker tournaments and a full monthly schedule of events. But amid this benefit-laden glee, there it was, in big bold print (with a picture of a smiling couple): “New Hotel Procedures. When redeeming hotel offers, you must present your coupon at check-in. We are unable to honor your offer if you do not have your coupon. Unfortunately, there are no exceptions.” … So for raining on your own parade a “Worst” award is gladly bestowed here on behalf of some executive (probably a lawyer) who couldn’t go a whole newsletter page without getting nasty with his best customers.
AN OPEN AND CLOSED CASE
Club Cal Neva (Reno, Nev.)
This is one of the few times I’ve presented a “Worst” award and mentioned the casino by name. In this case, however, the Club Cal Neva in Reno was the victim, not the perpetrator, of stress on its customers. “Cal-Neva Folds Casino For Now” screamed the Reno newspaper headline. Only the closed casino was the Cal-Neva up the road in Lake Tahoe. “Club Cal Neva Still Open” read the next day’s smaller apology headline in the same newspaper after hundreds of Club Cal Neva customers started frantically calling. Same name, wrong casino. Couldn’t happen to you? It could if your name is Nugget, Eldorado, Fairgrounds, Gold Country, Gold Rush, Gold Strike, Wildhorse, Riverside, Spirit Mountain, Lucky Eagle, Grand Victoria, Northern Lights, Palace or Rainbow - to name a few of tomorrow’s potential “winners” for mistaken identity.
And there you have them, this year’s collection of the best and worst casino promotions. Sometime I’m going to take a year off from this stuff. Just not yet. Still too much of the wild, wacky, wonderful and woeful.
Dennis Conrad is president and chief strategist of Raving Consulting Company, a full-service marketing company specializing in assisting gaming organizations. He can be reached at +1 775 329 7864; or by e-mail at email@example.com. For more information visit Raving’s Web site at www.ravingconsulting.com.