Well, it’s that time of year again. The time when I go through the saved emails, the boxes of casino direct mail and the promotional items gathered from the past year’s visits to scores of casinos across North America all for one purpose: uncovering this year’s list of the Best (and Worst) Casino Promotions.

I have been doing this for over 15 years now, with the list annually released exclusively in the July issue of Casino Journal. Loyal readers of this column know that my “picks and pans” tend to focus on the smaller, underappreciated and innovative casino efforts that either delight or accidentally enrage casino customers. The Best and Worst tend to not be about the big, “home run” casino promos or the million-dollar flops.

I like to think of this annual effort as akin to being a treasure hunter on a beach and occasionally unearthing the coins and gems among the bottle caps and plastic beads. So here they are, in all their unique glory, my list of the Best (and Worst) Casino Promotions of 2013.

 

THE BEST

“NO PARKING” THAT MAKES YOU SMILE
Sands Regency Casino Hotel (Reno, Nev.)

I have seen countless casino NO PARKING signs that threaten the offenders with towing, hefty fines or worse. But only at the Sands Regency have I seen VIP Reserved Parking where offenders will have their “vehicles recycled into party favors or slot machines.” Somehow that gives me the message with a smile and not making me feel like an evil trespasser for checking out the space. No parking—no kidding, well, yes, kidding!

WE’RE OPEN
Amelia Belle Casino (Amelia, La.)

Sometimes the best casino promotions are the most simple. Last year, when a hurricane threatened several casinos along the Louisiana bayou right before the typically busy Labor Day weekend, some of the facilities shut down for brief periods of time (thankfully there ended being no damage from the storm). Amelia Belle sent e-mails to their entire database, letting their worried regulars know in the subject line that they were “Now Open” and “Labor Day – Open 24 Hours.” So simple, but alas, so seldom.

12-12-12!
Seminole Casino Coconut Creek (Coconut Creek, Fla.)
Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Biloxi (Biloxi, Miss.)

You won’t see them for nearly another hundred years. What, you ask? Well, the triple digit dates of 1-1-1, or 2-2-2, or last December’s 12-12-12. So, I guess I expected more casinos to jump on the numerical oddity bandwagon, like Hard Rock Biloxi did with its “12-12-12” $12,000 Xtra Credit giveaway or Seminole Coconut Creek with its 12-12-12 “Win $1,200 Cash With One Winner Every 12 Minutes” promotion. Not to worry, 7-7-7 lovers, the opportunity will come around again in 2112!

NOON YEAR’S EVE
Choctaw Casino Idabel (Idabel, Okla.)

So, what could possibly make sense for a New Year’s Eve casino promotion? I mean, the joint will be packed and why do more than hand out noisemakers, funny hats and cheap champagne? Well, at Choctaw Casino Idabel, they realized it wasn’t really busy at noon on New Year’s Eve, so why not have a NoonYear’s Eve celebration, complete with party favors, a New Year countdown and, oh yeah, some chances at free play? Seniors, non-drinkers and all those who just can’t stay up that late appreciated their very own celebration. Hey, on that day, every hour is New Year’s somewhere.

PLAY THESE
Carson Nugget (Carson City, Nev.)

I’ve never thought casinos do enough to promote their new slot games to their slot players, especially their VIPs. I mean, why do you think Costco offers all of those free samples of cheese and crackers? So, I was pleasantly surprised to see the Carson Nugget offer $10 in free slot play to its Gold Prospector Club members to come in and try the new Epic Monopoly and Plinko machines. And on top of that, the warm, inviting letter was personally signed by the Carson Nugget’s general manager, complete with news about her new granddaughter. “Baby needs new shoes” … and casinos need more encouragement for their players to “try these new babies on the floor.”

EAT LIKE A HORSE
Vernon Downs Casino & Hotel (Vernon, N.Y.)

So, how do you make your casino restaurant stand out in a crowded field? Well, if you are Mr. G’s at Vernon Downs, you offer the Trifecta Challenge, where brave diners get one hour to devour all three signature sandwiches – corned beef, turkey and pastrami. Once started, eaters may not leave the room and no bathroom breaks are allowed. All sandwich accompaniments must also be eaten (chips, pickle, etc.) and rules state “no losing your lunch after you have eaten it.” And the prize for such “gorge-us-ness?” A commemorative “I Ate Like a Horse at Mr. G’s” T-shirt. Winners should wash the meal down with a Colt 45 when they pony up to the bar.

TRIAL A-LIST STATUS
Southwest Airlines (nationwide)

In the continuing tradition of the Best and Worst, I bring you a promotion from outside of gaming that very easily could be “casino-fied.” The magnificent folks at Southwest Airlines recently sent me a three month “A-List Trial Status.” Those smart marketeers knew I fly at a pace that is just short of a VIP ranking which includes the perks of priority boarding, check-in and security lane access, as well as a 25 percent point earning bonus. And after this “taste,” I had three months to fly “just a little more than usual” to be a VIP for the whole year. It cost them nothing to “whet my whistle” for the good airline life. So, casinos, what about temporary top-tier status for those players so close they can almost taste it?

DECK THE HOSTS!
Tropicana Express Hotel & Casino (Laughlin, Nev.)

Casino hosts are wonderful people who do wonderful things for their wonderful (and highly valuable) players. But until this year and this cheerful holiday example from the Tropicana Laughlin, I had never heard of casino hosts Christmas caroling at their players’ homes. All guests were called to see if they would enjoy such front door singing, and to confirm that they would actually be home. I’m told that neighbors even joined in on the fun, and that the only issue involved guests who couldn’t understand why their favorite hosts wouldn’t stay to knock down a few eggnogs with Cupid and Blitzen.

WINNER, WINNER
Siena Hotel Spa Casino (Reno, Nev.)

Then there was the “Official Winner Notification” that I received as “Today’s Siena Email Express Winner.” Even though it was only $5 and good for that day only (and perhaps there were hundreds of similar winners that day), none of that matters. It made me feellike a winner. And when is the last time you did thatfor your players? In their e-mail inbox, no less.

LOSERS INTO WINNERS
Gold Coast Hotel & Casino (Las Vegas)

Speaking of winners, the Gold Coast Race & Sports Book held “Betting Bucks Drawings” after races two, four, five and six at Santa Anita. The drawing tickets were made up of losing race tickets and 10 winners were selected to each receive $100 in “Betting Bucks,” money-like scrip that could be used for future horse bets. Not only did bettors receive a second chance to win, it probably kept all those losing tickets off the race book floor. Now that shows real horse sense.

WHITE FRIDAY
Pechanga Resort & Casino (Temecula, Calif.)

In the first casino example I have seen trying to leverage “Black Friday” (you know, that crazy shopping day after Thanksgiving Day) as something positive, Pechanga told its club members to actually come to Pechanga on Black Friday. “Don’t get stuck waiting in line. Let Pechanga do your Holiday shopping for you!” screamed the newsletter copy. Drawings were held every 15 minutes from 10:00 am to 10:00 pm that day, for a wide assortment of cool electronics, and guests were allowed to win multiple times. Turkey Day, Black Friday, Pechanga Day!

SLOT CHAMPIONSHIPS!
Multimedia Games (nationwide)

To promote its TournEvent slot tournament system, Multimedia Games, a slot manufacturer, created the 2013 TournEvent of Champions, “a high-energy national tour of fast-paced and interactive slot tournaments,” held at participating casinos and arriving via a 45-foot tour bus. The event is traveling to more than 60 casinos across 20 states in seven months, leading to a national champion who earns a $100,000 grand prize. Billed as the “first event of its kind,” the TournEvent of Champions began at Porterville, Calif.-based Eagle Mountain Casino on March 2, and ends in Las Vegas in September. Lots of winners; a branded, traveling event sure to drive a huge casino revenue day with invited TournEvent players; and a slot vendor footing the marketing tab. What a great way for Multimedia to get some of its games on casino floors across the country.

EMPLOYEE CALENDAR
Angel of the Winds Casino (Arlington, Wash.)

Finally, I bring you my personal favorite this year: The Angel of the Winds’ calendar made up of photos of its employees and sent to its players club members. Each month of the calendar features a group photo of various operational departments, from the highest-profile ones to the seldom-seen “back of the house” ones. Not only are holidays noted in the large-sized, fold-out calendar, but so are certain casino activities, like the Free Hot Dog Barbeque on July 4. Billing itself as “The World’s Friendliest Casino,” this angelic Angel of the Winds example of “putting the servants in front of the served” leads me to believe they just might be right. And their calendar sits on the wall next to my desk.