Each year we recognize excellence in casino marketing with the Romero Awards at the Casino Marketing & Technology Conference.

This has been going on since 2006, and up through 2014, John Romero himself was on hand to greet the winners with a handshake, pose for photos and offer words of congratulations and encouragement. He’d even write his autograph for whoever wanted a signed copy of his book (Casino Marketing or Secrets of Casino Marketing) and, each year, there’d be a good crowd of people waiting for just that, even after an awards breakfast that lasted the better part of two hours.

It was one of those rituals you knew you were going to miss when it was gone and, fortunately, we had nine tries at it, so John’s personal stamp on the occasion continues to inspire everyone associated with the award.

And that’s a good thing because we were reminded again this summer why the Romeros themselves are a very good thing. After all, where is an individual casino without great marketing? Even if you’re one of the lucky few blessed with a healthy target market and limited competition, you’re leaving lots of money on the table absent a vital and consistently creative marketing team. With that, here are some of my selective takeaways from this year’s winners:

Stuff happens, take advantage:  No matter what you have to work with as a property, you are in the world and events are an opportunity for you. And social media, where most people are getting their news these days, can be a great way to go. Case in point: earthquakes in Michigan. In May, the Battle Creek area experienced its second spring earthquake. Many locals took to social media to discuss, making it a trending topic. To take advantage, FireKeepers Casino posted a photo of Elvis, with the caption “All Shook Up,” to its Facebook page. Guests were asked to show the photo at their rewards club in return for free play from 12:00 pm – 4:00 pm the following day (Sunday). Result: a $930 investment drove $46,000 of coin-in.

Likewise, when the Powerball jackpot cleared the $1 billion, Oaklawn Racing and Gaming announced a Winning Numbers Watch Party. Pulled together on two days and announced exclusively on Facebook the morning of the drawing, the first 1,000 carded players to show up were offered a free ticket. Plus there was a drawing which everyone in the game room with a players card could enter. Tracked headcount was up 252 percent over baseline dates and 14.4 percent year over year.

Technology is fun; use it: In June of 2015, Soboba Casino celebrated its twentieth anniversary. The team at Soboba decided to honor this occasion by becoming the first casino in history to successfully “launch a slot machine into space,” using a small plastic replica and GoPro footage in full HD of an aerospace-designed “spacecraft,” which rose with the help of a high-altitude weather balloon to over 99,000 feet. The video has received over 370,000 hits on YouTube and the story was picked up by over 200,000 media outlets and innumerable humorous blog and webpage postings. The marketing goal was to reinforce Soboba’s reputation for fun. Mission accomplished.

Amenity-challenged properties can play, too: Many casinos are constrained by resources or regulations from offering resort-style non-gaming amenities, butthat doesn’t mean they can’t make use of regional non-gaming assets. A straightforward and effective example comes from Batavia Downs Gaming, whose February Suitestakes promo goosed up business on weeknights in the dead of winterwith “suite” drawings. The property has purchased suites at both major arenas close to its facility (First Niagara Center in Buffalo and Blue Cross Arena in Rochester) as well as seats at the local theater (Rochester Broadway Theatre League). Tickets to events at these facilities were given away with sporting events,major bands, comedians and plays among the prizes. Attendance for the month was up over 10 percent, even in the face of more severe weather compared with 2015.

Winning isn’t everything: FireKeepers (them again) has a really cool way to engage and get to know their top players via a VIP cruise promotion: It sends three host department team members on the week-long cruise so they can build relationships with these guests (30, plus their own guest) outside of the casino. Per the property’s entry, “This has also been beneficial because we are able to find out a lot of information about our VIPs and experience a different side of them. During this week of travel the VIPs also meet other VIPs and developedfriendships which continued once returning home.” New social connections give top customers another reason to return.