Compiling the annual list of Best (and Worst) Casino Promotions has been a great ride, but I’m declaring it officially over. And this time, there’s no going back on the decision.

 


Article Index:


This will be the last edition of the Best (and Worst) Casino Promotions. For over two decades now, I have been writing and speaking about this unique genre of all things smart and dumb when it comes to casino promotions.

It truly has been a labor of love, scouring the gaming and non-gaming landscape to find the hidden gems, as well as the fool’s gold of casino promotions and operational innovations that have created (in my mind at least) an unmistakable and positive casino marketing result. You know, like happier guests or a more fun casino experience or, OK, even more casino revenue.

The Best (and Worst) Casino Promotions brand has not been about the big time, big dollar casino giveaways, although I have highlighted a few of those over the years. No, this annual kudos and slams list has been mainly about the small things, both good and bad, that casinos do which leave an indelible mark. Sometimes that mark is a golden stamp of approval; at other times, it’s a wretched stain.

If you are among the group of followers who actually looks forward to hearing about the Best (and Worst) Casino Promotions every July, you will probably be somewhat sad at its passing. But not to worry—you can scour the gaming landscape for your own Best (and Worst). Casino websites, direct mail samples, customer blogs, Internet news, and, of course, casino visits will give you enough information to find those marvelously wonderful and quirky things that casinos annually do; as well as the incredibly stupid and ill-conceived crap they sometimes proffer.

Without further ado and for one last time, here is my list of the Best (and Worst) Casino Promotions of 2014:

 

THE BEST




FRED’S WINE LIST
Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort (Chester, W.Va.)

La Bonne Vie at Mountaineer in West Virginia is a great restaurant. I should know; I overate… I mean, I ate there last year. On their wonderful menu is a page called, “Staff Preferred—The Staff at La Bonne Vie has made these selections from our list, their ‘Preferred Wines.’” On my menu there were listed wine selections from Kevin, Fred, Jeremy, Josh and Jerrod. No doubt they were all servers in the restaurant, and all listed a selection of four different kinds of wines, in four different price ranges. So, why highlight Fred? Easy, he suggested two of my favorites, Joseph Phelps and Far Niente. What a discerning guy!


PIE IN THE SKY
Various Las Vegas Casinos

Most Las Vegas casinos that serve a sizeable locals market have discovered the power of pie. Just this past year, Station Casinos, The Palms, Boyd’s local properties (Orleans, Gold Coast, Suncoast), Hard Rock and others did free pie giveaways, usually around the holidays. Apple, pumpkin, cherry… it didn’t matter, and they were all free for players’ club members for a limited one- or two-day redemption window. Las Vegas has been doing these pie promotions for so long, that I know they must be extremely (ful)filling. Pie are squared and coin is round—get baking!


SIGN-UP CARROTS
Palms Casino Resort (Las Vegas)

Those smart devils at The Palms also featured a “48 Hour Gift Giveaway,” whereby Club Palms members who redeemed their points within the first 48 hours of new membership got bonus gifts ranging from a Palms T-shirt or shot glass to $100 in free play. More casinos should do these welcome, we love you-type of introductory bonuses for new members, especially if they incentivize playing just a little more in the first 48 hours of the relationship. Great stickiness!


SPRING(ER) IS IN THE AIR
Turning Stone Resort Casino (Verona, N.Y.)

Admit it, you love watching the craziness on The Jerry Springer Show. It is sort of like the morbid fascination with train wrecks. But Turning Stone flipped the Springer switch by having him host the “Price Is Right Live Stage Show” at the resort. Show tickets were discounted for Diamond Card members, helping to assure a quality gaming group in the audience. The promotion built on one of the most powerful brands in the game show world, with a gambling theme to boot. And Springer probably got to leave all of those stage bodyguards at home.


NEAR TIER NOTE
Gold Coast Hotel & Casino (Las Vegas)

Many casinos now have tiered players’ clubs where players move up and down from level to level, based on current play and other factors. But few casinos communicate to their players, as they bounce in and out, as effectively as Gold Coast. “You’re Almost There,” screamed the letter to the “oh-so-close Emerald status” player. An easy-to-read, visual, color-coded scoring gauge and some damn fine offers accompanied the note, along with a hard-to-resist mention of the juicy tier benefits that the almost-Emerald player would receive. Move ‘em in, move ‘em out, but like Gold Coast, please bring those tiers smiles and encouragement instead of tears and threats.


DOUBLE THE FUN
Caesars Windsor (Ontario, Canada)

From our Canadian friends north of the border comes a two-fisted Best. Caesars Windsor, in a month of award-winning magnificence, held a VIP Bingo Event called “Elvis Bingo,” with eight one-hour sessions featuring $2,250 of free bingo prize money per session. Guests were invited to “put on those blue suede shoes and join us for some fun” with an Elvis lookalike bingo caller. Later in the month, they also ran a “Hidden Diamonds” promo, where VIPs were invited to come in and pick up their free gift, a cubic zirconia pendant necklace. Except… there were 10 real diamond necklaces in the gift batch, worth thousands of dollars, for 10 Caesars Windsor VIPs on whom luck would shine. Elvis, Diamonds… it all sounds like fun. Don’t be a hound dog with your best players, throw ‘em some real bones!


FRIENDS HELPING FRIENDS
Barona Resort & Casino (Lakeside, Calif.)

Every year, there are numerous casinos that execute truly remarkable and award-worthy events and promotions for charities. I chose to award a Best to Barona for its American Red Cross Philippines Typhoon relief efforts. Donations were accepted at any Club Barona booth. Filipino dishes purchased at Ho Wan Noodle Shop were matched by Barona as a donation, dollar for dollar. Barona made a $10,000 donation itself, to the American Red Cross Typhoon Haiyan Relief Fund, and promoted it all under a “Friends Helping Friends” banner. Barona’s many Filipino customers and employees were not only touched, but moved to involvement as part of the Kapamilya (“Family”).


BEER BITS
Golden Gate Hotel Casino and The D Hotel and Casino (Las Vegas)

In another Double The Fun fest, the Golden Gate and The D Casinos (owned by the same company) held a Beer Fest, featuring more than 60 craft beers from 50 international breweries, dancing dealers, DJs and Coney Island hot dogs. Ticket prices ranged from $20 for a five-beer sampling to $40 for a “bottomless brews” ticket. Then later in the year, Golden Gate/The D received international press for being the first casino to accept Bitcoin, the innovative new currency that’s taking the world by storm. Golden Gate and The D—a double dose of Best innovation—for bits and brewskis!


JACKPOT TOKENS
Angel of the Winds Casino (Arlington, Wash.)

Thanks to John Cronin, perennial Best contributor at Angel of the Winds Casino near Seattle, for sharing this gem. It started as an idea a few years ago to celebrate slot playing jackpots with a cool Angel of the Winds commemorative coin. The tokens were a huge hit, so much so that guests wanted them for every jackpot beyond the first one. How to solve the problem? Simple, create a collectible token series for jackpots 1, 2, 3, 4, etc., available to every guest. And they just finished minting Jackpot Token Number 100, and a few guests have all of them. Now that’s a mint collection of guest-pleasing marketing.


HATS OFF!
Four Queens Hotel & Casino (Las Vegas)

A Hat Contest as an award-winning Best? Yes, actually, and the Four Queens Hotel & Casino earns it for spicing up its Crazy Hat Slot Tournament with a little fun. Guests were asked to wear their favorite crazy hat to registration and to play their tournament rounds, and then were entered into two drawings for $500 in cash each. The invitation for the tourney had a picture of a goofy dog, in sunglasses and a goofy hat, surrounded by other goofy hats. Hats off to Four Queens for brimming with fun, for capping off a casino event with creativity, for finding a fedora for Dora, for… OK, that’s enough.


FAN DISCOUNT
Albertsons supermarkets

In the tradition of the Best (and Worst) and the concept of finding stuff outside our industry that just might work in it, I bring you the Albertsons’ NFL promo. This past year, if you shopped on a Sunday at one of many participating Albertsons across the country and wore an NFL jersey of the home team with a name and number on it, you got 10 percent off your bill. Team spirit, uniqueness, cross-marketing opportunities and brand association—hey, why didn’t we think of that?


HERO CLUB CARD
Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort (Mount Pleasant, Mich.)

At Soaring Eagle, they honor their heroes. Active, retired and veteran members of the U.S. military (with a military ID) are special there, receiving: a complimentary room night per month, plus discounted hotel rates; $20 per week in free slot play; 30 percent off the Aurora Buffet and 20 percent off all other outlets; 50 percent off one concert ticket purchase; 20 percent off at the Spa; and 20 percent off gift shop purchases. It’s called the Hero Club Card, and Soaring Eagle is heroic for offering it. Screw ROI (sometimes), occasionally you just have to do the right thing.


PUMP UP THE LOVE
Mardi Gras Casino & Resort (Cross Lanes, W.Va.)

Sometimes, casino marketers just have to make lemonade out of lemons. When parts of West Virginia suffered through chemical-leak induced water restrictions combined with a long bout of subzero temperatures, Mardi Gras’ Marketing Director Cathy Brackbill knew that both casino customers and employees needed a morale boost. Enter a surprise promotion for a few hours before a 9:00 p.m. car giveaway. Neither guests nor employees knew about it, but at 7:00 p.m., the marketing team delivered $10 free play bounce back coupons to surprised employees, who were asked to give them to guests on the floor, along with a big thank you for being at Mardi Gras during bad weather and no drinking water. They cranked up the music, hit the floor and awarded every guest they could. Thanks, Mardi Gras, for sharing something so simple and so powerful. Why don’t we see more of this?


SEXY BIKE WASH
Cadillac Jack’s Gaming Resort (Deadwood, S.D.)

And finally, I bring you Cadillac Jack’s Bikini Bike Wash. In conjunction with personal appearances and free poster signings by two Penthouse Pets, they offered a free Bikini Bike Wash for Harley riders, no doubt part of the throng for the big Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. Now, I don’t know that the Pets actually washed any Harleys… but you’d have to be a boob to not believe that.

 

THE WORST

 


Once again, the number and variety of casino snafus, snags, snarls, silliness, sick spoofs and stupid stuff did not disappoint. What a year it was for award-winning Worsts!


STUPID TAG LINES
Several U.S. Casinos

My gosh, where does one begin? Well, there was the classy little boutique casino that catered to area locals and opened up a (supposed to be) hot new bar and lounge. They promoted the new venue with a slogan of “Every Night Is Ladies’ Night (Open Thursday-Sunday).” No kidding. Then there was the casino that celebrated a Labor Day Coors and Coors Light drink special with an Uncle Sam character shouting, “I Want You to Work Less and Drink More!” Really? Still not quite as Worst-worthy as two of my all-time favorites from years past, “Buffet Blowout” and “Hit a Royal, Win a Pistol.” Geez.


PARK THIS!
Unnamed Nevada Casino

This Worst raspberry goes to a casino I know very well, and it happened to me. Returning to my car from a short stint of video poker play, I noticed a ticket on my windshield. The offense? “Platinum member parking in Diamond Parking,” and trust me, there were plenty of parking spaces available for both tiers in these adjacent (and confusing) areas. So I got a “Parking Violation Notice,” complete with the initials of the issuing security officer and a description of my offense. It was interesting to get a note that began with “Thank you for visiting X Casino,” and ended with “Third Offense—Subject to Towing at Owner’s Expense.” I wonder if lowly no-status players’ club members who park in the wrong spot receive a death penalty note. Yikes!


PROGRAMMING DEATH
Various North American Casinos

Certain casino promotions need to be programmed, not necessarily through a software program, but set up mathematically to have a range of promotional payouts. And once again this year, several casinos screwed up the math or the programming. “Royals and Blackjacks in Diamonds Pay Double All April” was a particularly costly one. A miss-programmed promotional Swipe, Play and Win kiosk told a casino player that she won $1 million, when she should have won a Frisbee. And several casinos sent out tier mailings that told thousands of players with an average daily spend of $10 to come and get several hundred. Makes you wonder who’s watching the store.


HEART ATTACK GRILL
Downtown Las Vegas

This Worst Award goes to a restaurant instead of a casino, although the Heart Attack Grill is located very near all those casinos in Downtown Las Vegas. The Grill features such items as an “octuple bypass burger” with forty slices of bacon; a vodka butterfat shake made with chocolate and vanilla ice cream, whipped cream marshmallow bacon, cookie dough, pumpkin pie, cake, and espresso; and a half-pound chili “coronary” hot dog with bacon. The unofficial spokesperson for the restaurant died of a heart attack last year, and the restaurant has a bag of the cremated remains of a customer who died there. Interestingly, the owner, Jon Basso, says he is the only restaurateur in the world telling you his food is bad for you and will kill you and to stay away from it. “Don’t come to my restaurant!” he says. And of course, they come in droves. Please, please, please casinos, don’t turn your coffee shop into a Heart Attack Grill. It’s hard to keep a corpse at a slot machine.


TOUCHDOWN JESUS
Unnamed U.S. Casino

Finally, I bring you the casino that offered Tim Tebow a job. Yes, that Tim Tebow. The casino “reached out” to Tebow’s agent at William Morris Endeavor to offer him a job as CWO—Chief Winning Officer—to be the “face of the casino hotel” and “principle [sic] liaison with the casino’s guests … ensuring that they are all having a winning and enjoyable experience.” Never mind that deeply religious Tebow would never have an association with a casino, wouldn’t allow them to use his name in a casino press release, and would be greatly offended by the offer. I guess you can promote anything in your casino marketing; but that doesn’t mean you should, no matter how badly a washed-up NFL quarterback needs a job.


 

SPECIAL "WORST TO FIRST" AWARD




WHO'S THE REAL KEVIN LEWIS?
Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati

It was one of those big-money giveaway promotions that help define the Horseshoe brand. Three people were going to win $1 million each, in separate drawings during the summer. And Kevin L. Lewis of Cincinnati was thrilled to hear that he had won a million bucks.

But after Kevin L. accepted the prize, casino officials realized that the real winner was a different Kevin Lewis, also of Cincinnati, also a Horseshoe customer. So, what did Horseshoe Casino and its parent company, Rock Gaming LLC, do? Did they stiff the first Kevin? Both Kevins? Did they hide behind some legal mumbo jumbo?

No, they acknowledged “human error in the winner verification process” and paid them both. A million bucks each.

Thank you, Horseshoe Cincinnati and Rock Gaming, for doing the right thing and showing our entire industry how to handle a screw-up, even a million dollar one.

And there you have the Best (and Worst) Casino Promotions of 2014, the final edition. It may not be the best, or the worst, but it is the last. You can now breathe that sigh of relief.


R.I.P.: 20 Years of the Best (and Worst)

My Best and Worst Casino Promotions franchise started 20 years ago. I was a panelist on a Casino Promotions session at the World Gaming Congress and Expo (now G2E) in Las Vegas. I thought it would be cool to come prepared with a list of the 20 best casino promotions I had seen up to that point in my gaming career.

My presentation was well-received. The next year the podium was all mine, and I highlighted the best casino stuff that I had seen in the last year. And as a lark, I added a few of “The Worst.”

The Best (and Worst) Casino Promotions brand was born.

It is not lost on me that readers and listeners really want to hear about the Worst; it’s like the morbid fascination with car wrecks or the crazy interest in Mr. Blackwell’s annual Worst Dressed List.

Over the years, I have released my annual Best and Worst list at G2E, then at the Casino Marketing Conference, and (for the last 10 years) in Casino Journal’s July issue. I have made many casino properties (and companies) happy with my praise, and a few unhappy with my scorn, even if they indeed deserved it.

Early on in The Best (and Worst), I named the casinos that produced “A Worst.” Bad idea—it cost me a few potential business relationships. The last several years, I have not mentioned the offending casinos by name, but with the advent of Google and social media, determined dirt diggers can still often find out which casino screwed up.

What has been most interesting for me over the last 20 years has been the lobbying that some casinos and marketing executives do with me to actually be included on the list. And some gaming vendors that may have been a significant part of a Casino’s Best Promotion have even taken my praise and used it as some form of legitimate endorsement by myself or (tacitly) by Casino Journal.

That’s interesting. The only thing that I fully endorsed over the last 20 years are efforts by casinos to make their guests smile, have a better experience or get a little more value from their hard-earned gambling dollars.

And for me, that has been enough.

Thank you for allowing me to share my Best (and Worst) Casino Promotions with the gaming industry for all these years. I am ready for a nap.

—Dennis Conrad