This year marks the 20th anniversary of my annual Best (and Worst) Casino Promotions list and this milestone has made me somewhat nostalgic. Boy, have I seen a lot of casino promotions over the past 20 years—stuff ranging from the magnificent to the ridiculous!

And since the purpose of this column is to educate and inform, I thought some “strategic categorizing” of an all-time best of the Best (and Worst) Casino Promotions would have some value. It just seems, as I think about it, that certain casino promotion concepts or types work better than others. Such as:

• Service promotions—There was the Gold Dust West’s celebration of October’s annual National Customer Service Week many years ago. Cactus Jack’s use of a “Tip Chip” to have guests and employees reward “above and beyond service” with a $5 tip. There have also been many well-executed “vote for your favorite employee” service recognition initiatives that actively involve casino customers. Yep, well-conceived service promos rock!

• The “Car a Day” promos—This category is named after the “Car a Day in May” promo that Station Casinos put on so successfully for so many years. But it doesn’t have to be cars. It can be cash, trips or anything “life changing.” Be warned: this category can be very expensive. Also, be sure to keep it from becoming so big that it deters players from getting to your jam-packed property.

• Seminole Casino Coconut Creek promos—Yes, this Florida casino is a “Best” category all by itself. Why? Well, their “out of the box” casino promotion concepts drive both attendance and revenue. Coconut Creek has given away Bernie Madoff watches and Fonzie’s motorcycle. They’ve offered huge cash prizes if a disintegrating Russian spy satellite crashed onto their rooftop or if Kate left William at the altar. They’ve honored the Chilean miners at a “Heroes and Miracles” event and their best casino players at a “Golden Coconuts” event. Need I say more?

• Construction promos—
The Mill Casino Hotel (Oregon) gave out collectible ear plugs to guests when the casino and hotel were expanding. Steve Wynn in Las Vegas imploded the Dunes (to make room for his fantastic Bellagio) with a choreographed pirate ship cannon blast from his Treasure Island up The Strip. Construction doesn’t have to “deconstruct” gaming revenues.

• Senior executive events—The head honchos of a casino are usually “rock stars” with casino customers. Bring them out of their caves and watch good things happen, as Randy Takemoto of Cache Creek observes every weekend when he and his wife host intimate dinner parties with VIPs. Meanwhile, Cactus Jack offers Bosses’ Night, where senior management replaces frontline employees for a shift, to the delight of customers. Caesars Entertainment properties hold “Executive Invitationals,” pairing senior execs and customers in a team gaming and party format.

• The unbelievably unique—I’ve seen scores of these and they include Chicken Tic-Tac-Toe (first seen at the Tropicana in Atlantic City), Pick-A-President at Gold River Casino in Oklahoma, and the CFO on the Jackpot Bicycle at Suquamish Clearwater Casino Resort. All were crazy, all delighted guests.

• Collectibles, earn the set—Whether it’s dinner sets, commemorative chips and tokens, Beanie Baby-like warm and fuzzies or numerous other collectibles that customers just gotta have, these promos work. Keep quantities limited, make the items unique and desirable, and make players play to get them. They will.

• Casino host events—Well, there was the “Rock the Block Host Battle” at Prairie Band Casino and Resort. The “Reunion Tour” at John Ascuaga’s Nugget, where two executive hosts reprised their rock band of 20 years earlier, for one night, to entertain their players. And the numerous host slot tournaments where executive hosts recruit a team of VIPs and become head cheerleaders.

There are a number of other types of promotions that have been fertile ground for my “Best” awards over the years such as customer appreciation, food on the casino floor, promoting employees on the frontline with guests and, of course, free pumpkin pies.

 And, oh yeah, anything that Barona does. But that’s another story.