I’ve lived in the West for over 40 years now. For the last 20 or so, I’ve only been a three-hour drive away from the Napa Valley in California, truly the most fabulous “wine country” in the United States.

But my wife and I didn’t start visiting Napa Valley (and adjacent Sonoma Valley as well) until three years ago. Since then, we’ve gone there every year, when our British friends come to visit us. Over that short time, we’ve visited at least 16 wineries, both large and small, representing moderately priced to very expensive wines.

For some reason, I like the very expensive wine, even if I can’t afford to buy much of it.

The Napa and Sonoma areas are very interesting. They contain numerous small cities and towns (Napa, St. Helena, Oakville, Healdsburg, Calistoga, Geyersville, etc.), scattered over many rural miles of beautiful scenery, and yes, hundreds of vineyards. Quaint shops, restaurants, and small hotels and motels complete the landscape.

It is very “touristy,” not inexpensive, and the region counts on visitors to liberally spend dollars on something that’s not considered a life necessity—namely, wine (although you might disagree with that).

Hey, that sounds an awful lot like the casino business! Attract visitors of value… willing to spend their discretionary dollars… on something that isn’t a necessity (in fact, it’s viewed by some as being a little decadent)… but creates a pleasurable “rush.”

I’ve been observing and taking notes on my Napa/Sonoma visits, looking to pick up pointers for us in the casino business. While I certainly am not a wine, or even a wine country, expert, here are a few things I’ve noticed that just may be useful for your gaming operation:

  • For wineries, just like casinos, it is all about creating value. That value can come from a scenic vineyard, an informative winery tour, well-rounded wine tastings with interesting food pairings, or great wine at a fair price. What are the ways that you are adding value for your gaming customers, and what opportunities might you be missing?
  • Brands are as important to winemakers as they are to casinos. Far Niente is great wine for wine snobs on immaculate, historic grounds (think Wynn Las Vegas). Ferrari-Carano has a marvelous estate with first-class curb appeal. Benziger is the ecologically-friendly wine grower (no pesticides, good insects to control the bad insects, unused plants turned into fertilizer, recycled rainwater, etc.). Sterling and Castello di Amorosa are all about the tour—one starts with a tram ride, the other was built as a castle. What is your brand, and do your customers know what it is, really?
  • The “mystique” of winemaking is part of the appeal. The types of grapes, the harvest process, how master winemakers blend the different grapes, what the wine caves do—these are all items that differentiate one winery from another and make for memorable customer experiences. Casinos, too, have their own mystique—what are you doing to enhance it?
  • Segmentation is important to maximize profitability. Some winery tours are expensive by design, to attract wine aficionados who can afford their premium blends. Some wine tours are only for wholesalers, restaurant owners or distributors (the big buyers). Wine club members of various vintners (regular buyers of wine product by mail) get preference at the winery. Are you catering well enough to your gaming company’s best customers, or do you just care about volume?
  • The best marketed wineries are all about sales. While at a tour or a tasting, you’ll hear how you can buy that delicious cabernet you just tasted. The whole wine tour might be free if you buy six bottles when the tour is over. Good wine tour guides are always (gently) promoting why their wine is superior to other Napa or Sonoma blends. Are your casino employees selling why your slots are the ones to play or your steakhouse is the one to eat at?

Wine and gambling are very similar. They both feel great when you do them right. Great customer service can overcome bad wine or an awful run of luck. And they go very well together.

If you haven’t been there, check out Napa Valley. Stay at Twin Pine Casino & Hotel; be sure to tour Far Niente and Ferrari-Carano.

And say “hi” to Andy at Reverie. Now there’s a real character.