I’ve noticed there aren’t a lot of historians keeping tabs on the evolution and development of the gaming industry. The main “keeper of the flame” has been John Romero, and his newest work, Las Vegas, The Untold Stories (which I recommend highly and is available as an eBook), contains many compelling, crazy, almost unbelievable “war stories.”

Well, as a nearly 40-year casino industry veteran with almost 30 years on the marketing side of the biz, I realized that I have quite a collection of war stories myself. And before I begin to forget some of them, I thought I’d share a few of my favorites with you now, particularly those that somehow, someway, have a marketing lesson attached to them.

“What can I do for you?”

Early in my career, when I worked for a casino property, I was fond of throwing out crazy ideas in management meetings (well, I didn’t think they were crazy). Once I blurted out, “You know, we spend so much time talking about what our customers want, why don’t we all go down on the floor and ask them?”

The GM was intrigued by this notion, while my fellow department heads were annoyed, especially when we all hit the casino floor the next morning to introduce ourselves to slot players and ask them if we could do anything right then to help them have a better experience. The customers’ top three responses:  “Nothing,” “Yeah, get me a drink” and “Let me win.”

THE MARKETING LESSON: While you may never know what your customers will say when you ask them questions, be prepared with some good answers.

Barred from the craps table

Very early in my career, when I was a dealer on the Las Vegas Strip, I used to occasionally stop at a little joint on the way home to have a drink and play a little craps on a low-limit table. On three straight visits, I got lucky with my aggressive, “hit and run” playing style and won a few hundred bucks each time, while the pit boss in the small table game area sweated the result.

On the next visit, the surly pit boss approached me and said, “We don’t want your action anymore,” and refused to let me play craps. Now, most casino executives know that craps is a “negative expectation” game and any player will be expected to lose over the long term at a mathematically understandable rate. I stopped visiting this little casino, stopped taking my out-of-town friends to one of my “gambling haunts,” and bad-mouthed this cheap little place to anyone who would listen.

THE MARKETING LESSON: Treat player winnings as gracious “loans” and they will return it to you in due time, with interest.

The Fun Force

Once, as an outgrowth of an executive development program that a few of us mid-level managers were involved in at the time, we created the “Fun Force.” The concept was to have senior managers take a couple of hours each month and positively impact the guest experience through organized activities, like serving orange juice and champagne to guests in long Sunday check-out lines, welcoming guests in valet parking and washing their car windshields, and serving small Hershey’s Kisses to active slot players.

While Fun Force lasted for several months, several of the senior managers began referring to it as “Forced Fun,” and the program eventually disintegrated.

THE MARKETING LESSON: No matter how cool the goal or activity, get buy-in if you want to be successful.

The slot host bonus

At one time early in my career, we attempted an incentive program designed to drive more guests to play in our successful, high-impact slot tournaments. We offered the slot hosts (who booked the tournament registrations by phone at that time) a $20 bonus for each first-time tournament player they secured for a slot tournament. The hosts quickly figured out that just by asking “Is this your first tournament?” to all guests who had called to sign up, they could get lots of $20 bills from the pool of unprompted first-timers.

THE MARKETING LESSON: Beware of unintended financial consequences, even from the best of ideas.

I’ll share more war stories in a future Casino Journal issue—I think we can learn a lot from these battle scars.