With a mixture of appreciation and life-changing events,casinos are enticing slot players to come out more often

Hard-core slot players need few incentives to come out and play their favorite games. But others – especially in these less than stellar economic times – require a little more coaxing.

To get the casual players to come out, and the hard-core players more often, casinos have resorted to assorted promotions. These fall into two categories: Making the customer feel appreciated and giving patrons an incentive to come out and partake in a potentially life-changing event.

By creating such promotions can be hit or miss. But how does a casino know which will work?

“It pays to know your customer base,” one casino executive told Slot Manager.

“Our slot customers have told us they prefer small rewards to big prizes,” said Nick Dillon, assistant general manager, at Barona Resort & Casino near Lakeside, Calif. “So we regularly offer a lot of small but frequent prizes that customers can win just by being at a randomly selected machine.

“We used Bally’s Power Winners System right out of the box and have built several regular promotions around it that we offer once a month,” Dillon added about the Bally product that facilitates awarding such prizes.

In a given month, Barona will offer Rapid Fire, which on two consecutive days from noon until midnight the system will randomly select every hour a player card currently plugged into a slot machine and award the player $1,000 cash. Players can request the prize in cash (which comes with an IRS report form) or as non-cashable play credits (which are not taxable if they stay on the card or go into the machine), Dillon said.

In other months, Barona might offer TNT, in which the system, two days a month, randomly designates winners who automatically get $10 worth of credits added to their player cards.

“On days when we offer these promotions, slot player attendance spikes by 30 to 40 percent,” Dillon said.

Another popular promotion is the Barona Lottery, in which players receive an entry ticket for every 250 points they wager. On this ticket, the player designates five numbers. Every week, Barona selects four numbers and the player whose ticket matches all of them wins the $25,000 jackpot. If nobody selects the winning numbers, the prize is rolled over for the next week, building some rather large pots, Dillon said.

Other lottery prizes are $500 for matching three of the four numbers, and $50 for matching two numbers.

Other small rewards presented by Barona include T-shirts, buffet tickets and other complimentary items.

In an unusual move, the Dancing Eagle Casino in Casablanca, N.M., offered premiums at the door to entice slots players. According to General Manager Jeff Inman, weekly attendance by casual slot players was improved by offering a four-piece bakeware set. One piece of the set was doled out each week for four successive weeks.

The Seminole Hard Rock Casino in Hollywood, Fla., has likewise boosted attendance on its slot floor with Hot Seat, a promotion that randomly designates winners who are currently playing at a machine. Depending on the time of the designation, players can win $1,000 or $500 in cash, or $200 in free play.

But some players like big prizes, even if the odds of winning them are very long.

In recent years, the Seminole Hard Rock has offered chances to win cars, cruises and a yacht. According to Public Relations Manager Ryan Rogers, these prizes are randomly hidden in the player account of a single slot player. In the Mercedes Millions Swipe and Win promotion, the hidden prize was a Mercedes Benz luxury sedan. But in a wrinkle similar to the movie theater Bank Night promotions in the 1930s, the lucky winner has to be present to win; or in this case, visit the casino and have his player card swiped to see if the prize is hidden in his account.

Still, Rogers noted, there is nothing like a slot tournament to bring out the hard-core player. This June, the Seminole Hard Rock promoted a two-day tournament in which the player accumulating the highest points won $150,000.

The Coushatta Casino Resort in Kinder, La., reported having good luck in boosting slots floor participation by targeting slot tournaments to specific age groups. Tournaments aimed at senior citizens have filled chairs before machines at mid-week when attendance is usually the lowest, said Warren Davidson, director of slot operations at Coushatta.

Many casinos report that their best slot promotions involve awarding cash prizes, or as one described it, “the one-size-fits-all prize.” And while some still put all their “eggs” in one basket, offering top cash prizes of $250,000 or more during a promotion, others find that spreading the prize money out – offering smaller but more plentiful cash rewards works even better in these hard economic times.

The same goes for gifts. Instead of offering a single large prize such as an SUV, some have tried breaking up the prize budget by offering smaller items in greater quantity. Slot managers have marveled at the Detroit casino that reportedly gave away in its late fall promotion 16 snowmobiles or the New Mexico casino that awarded 10 lawn tractors.

Another small-cost promotional effort casinos are increasingly using is awards of gift cards. The most popular cards provide $25 to $100 of free gasoline – no doubt due to the spike in fuel prices in the past three years. Gift cards for popular retail chains and limited debit cards also are popular.

Des Plaines, Ill.-based SVM Cards has a program especially tailored for providing gasoline cards to casinos.

“Our program supplies in bulk cards that can be redeemed for gasoline at the pumps of all leading gasoline brands,” Pam Gerhardt, senior director of marketing at SVM, said, noting the company also offers gift cards from other retailers as well.

“The beauty of gasoline cards is that it gives customers an added incentive to visit the casino, as they now have the fuel at no cost to them to get to the exurban locations of most gaming businesses. Our program enables these cards to be awarded to players through loyalty programs based on earned points and can be easily mailed to those who earn them,” Gerhardt explained.

Fishing for a Fortune promotion, from SCA Gaming, offered a lifechanging $250,000 top prize.

No risk, big rewards

Staging big-money and big-prize promotions carries some risks for casinos. But these risks can be mitigated by contracting with a company such as Dallas-based SCA Promotions, which, through its SCA Gaming division, offers a number of ready-to-play games or can develop a customized promotion based on ideas presented by the casino.

SCA Gaming specializes in exciting high-stakes slot promotions that result in increased slot revenue and loyal customers.

Autumn Gregg, director of SCA Gaming, noted that casinos “have always struggled to win over and maintain a loyal slot customer base. With the same or similar slot products on the casino floor, operators rely more and more on innovative revenue driving slot promotions to help differentiate their casino from their competition. As an example, weekly slot tournaments with mediocre prizes aren’t enough to entice players who are being courted extensively by competing casino operators.

“Players want fast-paced, high-stakes events,” she said. Recently, Pearl River Resort in Choctaw, Miss., held such an event, Gregg said. “Pearl River was offering a chance to win cash prizes up to $1,000,000. The turnout, which was expected to be 500, was in fact 850 of the casino’s best players, thanks in no small part to the skilled energized tournament staff,” she said. “Players enjoyed upbeat music from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s during each session and contestants were made to feel very special. It is no coincidence that over the duration of the event, it was rare to see an empty machine on the slot floor.”

This SCA promotion called SpinAMillion helped Sycuan Casino generate excitement and loyalty, ultimately driving higher revenue.

Calling itself the world’s leading resource of risk-free mega-jackpots for gaming operators, SCA has worked with more 350 properties in North America, South America, Australia and Europe. It has staged more than 3,000 gaming promotions across the globe, paying out over $90 million in cash in prizes and covering close to $100 million in promotional risk, said Linda Gordon, director of marketing with SCA Gaming.

“She explained that SCA offers a no-risk, fixed-fee contest “because we pick up the tab in full when there’s a winner.” SCA specialties can be broken down into two different areas: promotional gaming programs and cash gaming programs, Gordon said.

With promotional gaming programs, SCA works with casinos to help them achieve specific revenue or volume objectives, Gordon explained. These include increasing incremental gaming revenue, sign up rate for slot clubs, play volume on specific games, direct mail response, or more.

When a casino is ready to stage a $1 million or more promotion, SCA can work with it to develop it around a theme desired by the casino. Or casinos choose from a variety of our turnkey promotions, such as the Million Dollar Deal, MegaSlot, Spin a Million, Royal Flush, and many others. These game show-style promotions are ready to plug into a casino marketing program, drive excitement and help your marketing team meet its objectives. And casinos can provide their own masters of ceremony.

And should a lucky winner emerge from these contests, SCA pays the prize while the casino reaps the benefit of the publicity and buzz. SCA is able to do that by insuring the possibility that a mega-jackpot will be won, Gordon said.

SCA also offers cash gaming programs that add a “life-changing” prize to your traditional game offerings at no risk to the casino.

“Imagine the excitement of adding a chance to win $1 million dollars or more to slots, bingo or many other games. This will keep your players at the machines longer and drive up your revenue. SCA will work with you to design a mega-jackpot that captures attention and delivers great results,” Gordon explained.

Solutions offered by SCA range from a simple scratch-off promo to an innovative technology solution; or a custom scripted TV game-show style promotion that fills showrooms. And once the mega-jackpot promotion is set up, SCA even offers assistance in designing the direct-mail campaign.

Get the word out

Before players can participate in slot promotions, they need to be informed about them. While many casinos still rely on direct mail and increasingly e-mail, some are using social media Web sites, such as Facebook, to get the word out. (See related story, Page 12)

Whenever a special slots-related promotion is announced, Coushatta Casino posts the information on its Facebook fan page, which most recently is regularly visited by more than 6,000 hard core slot players.

Some of the information posted isn’t even related to a special promotion but just a bit of news. When Coushatta adds a new group of games, information explaining the theme and how the game is played is presented in the most entertaining prose. The curiosity factor alone brings players in to see and try out the new games, said Coushatta’s Gregg also sees the importance of newer platforms. “Casinos also want integrated promotions that reward players across multiple platforms. Text messaging, online, kiosk-based promotions, as well as high-impact game shows on the casino floor. The more casinos know about their players, the more effectively they can communicate with them.”

Atlantic City-based Resorts Casino has even created its own social media site: www.MyResortsCasino.com. The site has developed a one-on-one relationship between the casino and its customers, thus enabling Resorts Casino to promote attendance of customers based on their gaming preferences.

And the site is a great source of information, said public relations manager Brian Cahill. Followers of the site have provided the casino with several good ideas for future promotions (slot and otherwise) and the type of prizes loyal players would like to win.