I wish I had a magic bullet to bring customers through the door, but I don’t -- Jeff Inman, Dancing Eagle Casino

Nick Dillon, senior vice president of gaming operations, Barona Valley Ranch Resort & Casino, Lakeside, Calif.

Hot Seat has been our best promotion for bringing in customers since January. On two days during a given month, we play Hot Seat from noon to midnight, during which every 15 minutes a random seat will be designated as the ‘hot seat,’ and winner of a $1,000 reward. Winners are selected randomly from among customers plugged in with their players cards using the Rapid Fire system generator in the Bally Power Winners program. To create an air of excitement, we set up a countdown meter. And a Celebration Team goes out to where the winner is playing to present his reward (and verify that the player and card match). Winners have the option of taking their rewards entirely in cash, entirely in free play, or half-and-half. On Hot Seat days, our slot count has gone up on average by 40 percent with no attrition on prior or following days.

We intend to offer more Hot Seat days in the future, whiling mixing things up a little to keep it interesting. One idea is to stagger the times between wins instead of straight 15 minute intervals. Another is to try it on days other than Wednesday or Thursday.”

Shawn McDaniel, director of gaming operations, Three Rivers Casino, Florence, Ore.

Extra Cash has been our best customer promotion. Using our IGT management system, we put additional cash in players card accounts, but put a time limit on when they can use this cash. Customers are alerted by mailers that on certain days between certain hours the extra cash in available for them to play. It appears as soon as they insert their card in a slot machine. If this promotional cash isn’t used when designated, it disappears from the account at the end of the day. We’ve seen an influx of additional day players on Extra Cash promotional days, essentially because most players like getting free play.

Other promotions that have worked involve mailings of Cash Incentive coupons that when presented entitle customers to double or triple points on winnings. Enticing more day players is important as, because of the economic downturn, fewer customers are making multiple day trips to casinos.”

Jeff Inman, general manager, Dancing Eagle Casino, Casablanca, N.M.

I wish I had a magic bullet to bring customers through the door, but I don’t. So we’ve gone back to marketing basics of checking our data base of past customers and sending out promotional pieces by mail and e-mail. And while we’ve budgeted the same amount of prize money to entice customers, we’re spreading it out, offering smaller prizes but more of them. For instance, instead of a single $10,000 prize, we offered five $2,000 prizes. And while in the past we might have offered a Hummer or a Ford Escalade as a bonus prize, we now offer four Ford Rangers.

Customers have told us they are happier with the smaller prizes because they have a better chance of winning one, so that is what we currently offer. As for the big cars, in the current economy those monster SUVs are no longer seen as luxurious status symbols but money-eating gas guzzlers by our customers, who seem more enthusiastic about winning one of the smaller but more fuel efficient vehicles – based on the larger number of players who turned out to play slots when we offered the Ford Rangers.”

Marcus Zavala, general manager, Ellis Island Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas, Nev.

We haven’t had any really big promotions. Instead we’ve engaged in the types of small promotions that have brought customers in the doors in the past, only we’ve staged them more frequently and promoted them through different media. What really brings customers onto the gaming floor is the offer of free play. So we’ve spread free play coupons around in publications (some we haven’t used in five years) and assorted handouts. When a customer checks into our hotel, he gets coupons for free slots play. Once a customer is in our data based, he gets regular mailers containing free play coupons. We even decide the quantity of free play customers in the casino get based on the weather outside. Under our ‘Double the Heat’ promo, whatever the high temperature is, customers with players cards automatically get $2 free play for every dollar. For instance, if the high temperatures hit 107-degrees-Fahrenheit as it did the other day, $214 in free play turns up on the cards when a customer inserts his in a slot machine the next day.

But we also look at the big picture. While customers are enticed by free play coupons, we want them to stick around and continue playing after the freebie is gone. So we make sure our floor is filled with slot machines whose games are not only enticing but highly entertaining. That is why we aren’t slowing down changes in our game mix during the economic downturn. All games have their lifecycle and after a while, customers lose interest. ‘I Dream of Jeannie’ was big five years ago, but hasn’t been in a while. New slot games based on ‘Indiana Jones’ and ‘Star Trek’ are currently keeping players glued to their seats. What casinos want more than anything is ‘time on machine’ and an entertaining machine will do that.