Casinos are a treasure trove of innovative ideas and practices. Most of us are familiar with the really significant, commercially viable, revenue-impacting, major innovations, like ticket in-ticket out technology, penny slot machines, player tracking, progressive games, bonusing systems, action buffets, and several others.
But there is another category of casino innovation that has generated very little notice over the years, but in its own way has been just as creative, just as unique, and just as interesting. Maybe these hidden gems didn’t have huge commercial impact, but made someone smile, improved the casino guest experience, or just added a little damn fun.
I now share a few of the best of these little-known and underappreciated casino innovations:
• The Coffee Mug Giveaway (Sands Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas, circa 1980)—I have seen numerous “hooks” used by hawkers at casinos to try and get passersby into their facility. One of the best and most effective was a coupon from a sidewalk barker in front of the old Sands property on the Las Vegas Strip. He had these cool-looking commemorative Sands coffee mugs laced between his fingers. And they were free. You just had to take the coupon and go inside, very deep inside, the Sands. It diverted impressive numbers of pedestrians to go get a free coffee cup that probably cost a dime.
• The Laughing Lady (Boomtown Casino Hotel Reno, Nev., early 2000s)—This was a small, shed-sized building with windows that sat outside the entrance to Boomtown. Inside was an old Western lady animatronic mannequin. You pressed a button and she would start laughing, tell a corny joke (think Will Rogers), and then laugh some more. Press the button again, she’d tell a different joke. You couldn’t help but stop, press the button, and laugh. Somehow it all worked, even for losing, departing gamblers.
• The Tennis Ball Floor Cleaner (Choctaw Casino Resort Durant, Okla.)—I have come to learn that scuffs, gum and other sticky items are the hardest stains to clean off casino floors. EVS employees typically have to get on their hands and knees to remove them. But at Choctaw Casino Resort Durant, I found an innovative EVS employee, who put a tennis ball on the end of a six-foot wooden pole to clean these stains, while standing, with much less effort. He informed me that it works best with new balls – the fuzz on them aids in the scuff removal. Brilliant.
• “Longest Hands” Meters or Clocks (Harold’s Club Reno, Nev., circa 1985)—I have since heard that this approach is still being used, mainly in Nevada. It involves a simple meter or clock (or both) at the craps table to record how long or for how many rolls a shooter has held the dice. While meaningless as an indicator of future results, it plays into crapshooter superstitions (“How hot is the table?”) and can be used as the basis for promotions (Long Roll prizes or Longest Shooter event invitationals).
• Valet Windshield Wash (Win-River Resort & Casino, Redding, Calif., circa 2000)—When it first opened its new casino expansion, Win-River offered valet parking at the new casino entrance. Unbeknownst to the guest, the valet parker would clean the car windshield. Upon returning the car to the departing guest, there would be a small hard candy left on the dash with a note saying, “Thank you for visiting Win-River. We have cleaned your windshield to help you see your way safely home.” I am not sure if Win-River still has this “guest-wowing” practice. I hope so.
• The Yellow Plastic Duck (Chukchansi Gold Resort and Casino, Coarsegold, Calif.)—My final little-known casino innovation may be my personal favorite. It is the little, yellow, plastic toy duck (with the cutest smile) that graces the amenity baskets in the hotel bathrooms at Chukchansi. You might think that is not only goofy, but an unnecessary expense. Yet, the hotel manager told me, nothing at Chukchansi—not the beautiful casino, the wonderful rooms, the lavish VIP events, nothing—gets as much positive guest response as the little yellow duck smiling at you in the bathroom.
And that’s why certain casino innovations may be little known, but have a major impact on your guests’ experience.