Casino Marketing Lifetime Achievement Award
Casino Marketing Conference established the Casino Marketing Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004 to honor individuals who have made outstanding contributions in the area of casino marketing, promotions and customer service.
2018 Lifetime Achievement Award Winner
G.H.I. Soultions, Inc.
2018: Claudia Winkler, President, G.H.I. Solutions, Inc.
Claudia Winkler is one of the industry’s most recognized and respected marketing and technology experts. Her numerous leadership roles have resulted in a proven track record and unrivaled knowledge of gaming and hospitality systems. Claudia has been a force in the technology that supports the gaming and hospitality industry for over 30 years. Her extensive client list includes major casino companies, Native American enterprises, gaming system manufacturers and software development companies. Past technical and corporate management positions include Boyd Gaming Corporation, Harrah’s Entertainment and Station Casinos.
Her many accomplishments include:
- The development of the first corporate database for Harrah’s Entertainment and the marketing tools required to improve direct marketing campaigns and enhance the guest experience.
- Claudia was a key player in the development and launch of the original Harrah’s Gold Card (now Harrah’s Total Rewards)
- The development of the requirements for corporate-wide systems standards for Boyd Gaming.
- Key casino openings include: Lady Luck Rhythm and Blues Casino Hotel in Lula, MS, Station Casino Kansas City (now Ameristar Kansas City), Boothill Casino in Dodge City Kansas, Wynn Las Vegas, and SLS Las Vegas.
Claudia and her trusted team of associates has provided IT leadership for the change of control of the Las Vegas Hilton to Colony Capital and Lumière Place to Tropicana Entertainment. Additionally, they have performed 300+ engagements over the past 15 years that include: Facilitating major system selections and upgrades, Information Technology Assessments, Strategic IT leadership, Technology gap analyses, Expert witness and litigation support, Project management services and most importantly -- providing customized engagements and solutions to meet the critical business needs of her clients.
Claudia has been recognized as one of the “Great Women in Gaming” and she is an internationally published author with technology columns appearing in several leading industry publications. She serves as an instructor for the University of Nevada, Reno - Gaming Management Department and she is a frequent speaker at industry conferences including G2E and NIGA. Claudia is also a judge for several of the industry’s technology awards including Casino Journal’s Top 20
She is an honors graduate from Penn State University.
Previous Lifetime Achievement Award Winners
2017: Janie Dillard, Executive Officer of Operations, Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, Division of Commerce
Janie Dillard began her career with the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma in 1982 as a secretary for Community Health. In 1984 she moved to the Women, Infant and Children Program (WIC) where she was quickly promoted to Director the next year. In 1987 Janie transferred to the newly opened Choctaw Bingo Palace as a Floor Manager. This move set her roots in the gaming industry.
Choctaw Indian Highstakes Bingo opened its doors in 1987. In 1990 Janie was named General Manager of Choctaw Highstakes Bingo. Throughout the late 90’s and early years in 2000 the Choctaw Nation expanded it’s gaming operations throughout it’s boundries of Southeastern Oklahoma, with Janie heading expansion efforts as Director of Gaming for the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. In October 2001, she was named Executive Director of Gaming for the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, a position she held for 14 years. October 2015 she moved into the newly developed, Choctaw Nation Division of Commerce, as Executive Officer of Operations.
Janie was instrumental in her Tribe’s compact negotiations with the State of Oklahoma. The Oklahoma State Gaming Compact was signed in 2004.
In 2009 the Choctaw Nation aggressively expanded their gaming enterprises with new construction and the opening of three new casinos within it’s boundaries in Southeastern Oklahoma. In 2010 The Tribe opened its newest casino Choctaw Casino Resort in Durant that concluded a $300 million dollar expansion budget. Janie was involved in every aspect of the expansion projects and celebrated with the great Choctaw Nation in finishing all expansion projects debt free.
Janie has served as an Officer for the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association for the last 18 years. In 1994 she was one of the founders of our first OIGA Tradeshow and Conference at the Choctaw Nation owned Arrowhead Resort. The meager vendor count was 12 and attendees where no more than 50. OIGA was small but had a vision. That vision was to bring the products and workshops to the people in Oklahoma gaming that could not afford to travel to the “Big” shows out of state. That vision was realized and today OIGA no longer can tout their show as the “Best Little Show in Indian Gaming”. Now in its 21st year, OIGA has grown to be one of the premier Gaming Tradeshows in the industry.
Janie received the 2010 OIGA Warriors Award for her lifetime achievement as a champion in the cause of Oklahoma Indian Gaming. She was recognized again in 2011 by Casino Enterprise Management for her outstanding professionalism, perseverance, drive, commitment and mentorship by honoring her with 1 of the 11 “2010 Great Women of Gaming Proven Leader Awards”.
Janie Dillard now leads the business operations for the Division of Commerce and oversees a budget of over $455 million.
Janie is a Tribal Member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and resides in Caney, Oklahoma with her husband.
James F. Allen
2016: James F. Allen. Chairman, Hard Rock International, Chief Executive Officer, Seminole Gaming
Responsible for gaming operations at the Seminole Tribe of Florida since 2001, James F. Allen has guided the development of Seminole Gaming into one of the world’s most profitable gaming entities, with seven casinos located throughout Florida. Allen led the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s 2007 acquisition of Hard Rock International, the first acquisition of a major international company by a North American Indian Tribe. He also guided successful Gaming Compact negotiations between the Seminole Tribe, the State of Florida and the U.S. Department of the Interior.
As Chairman of Hard Rock International, Allen oversees all operations of one of the most globally-recognized brands, known for rock music and its signature cafes, hotels, casinos, memorabilia and live concerts, with 205 venues in 64 countries, including 157 cafes, 23 hotels and 11 casinos.
Allen led the development team for the highly successful Seminole Hard Rock Hotels & Casinos in Tampa and Hollywood, Fla., which opened in 2004, and he has directed Hard Rock International’s aggressive expansion program in the hotel and hotel-casino sectors. In addition to Tampa and Hollywood, Hard Rock hotels or hotel-casinos are located in exciting locations including Bali, Chicago, Cancun, Ibiza, Las Vegas, Macau and San Diego. New Hard Rock hotel or hotel-casino projects include Atlanta, Berlin, Daytona Beach, Dubai, Los Cabos, Tenerife, Abu Dhabi, and Shenzhen and Haikou in China.
Allen is a gaming industry veteran with 34 years of experience and he has held executive positions with the Trump Organization, Hilton Hotels & Resorts, Hemmeter Companies, Park Place Entertainment and Sun International Resorts. A former member of the New Jersey Casino Control Commission Task Force on Gaming Regulation, Allen has lectured on countless casino industry topics at many professional conferences, governmental programs and college campuses, including the New Jersey Governor’s Business Development Conference and both Harvard and Cornell Universities.
2015: Steve Browne, President, Raving Service
Steve Browne was honored with a Casino Marketing Lifetime Achievement Award because of his passion, his perspective, and his persistence during a 35-year career in the gaming industry.
His “passion” has been on full display, whether it was as a craps dealing “lumpy” in Northern Nevada, a player-engaging pit boss, a casino owner with an unheard of formula of “customer worship,” or an international marketing consultant selling the notion of gaming as an “entertainment experience that enriches people’s lives.”
His “perspective” comes from his appreciation of the honorable work that casino workers do, and joining them in it, in their world and in their unique language. It comes from the 100 machine, new tribal casino and the 5,000 machine, 300 table game megaresort. It comes from his “hero,” his daughter, Katie, who raised “him” while she grew up with cerebral palsy.
And finally, Steve Browne was honored for his “persistence.” Not for the hundreds of consulting projects he has done over the decades, nor in the scores of states and countries in which he has done them. Not for the tens of thousands of employees he has taught and inspired to give better service or be better hosts. Not for the books he has written, not the speeches he has given, nor the information gathering and reports he has done. But Steve is being honored for his persistence in coming back to us again and again, to remind us of our better selves, that our customers are real people and that success in our industry is built on relationships and not “stuff.”
2015: Dennis Conrad, President and Chief Strategist Raving Consulting
Dennis was honored as a leader in casino marketing for his unwavering strategy and teaching based around one question “Does this tactic, does this promotion, does this policy, truly serve the customer?”
Ask any conference attendee, any reader of his long-running columns, any client, business associate or his team. They’ll say Dennis has an uncanny ability to see through marketing and operational efforts that disguise themselves as benefiting the customer, but really profit the organization or the executive.
Dennis recognized early on in his career, over 40 years ago, that the changing landscape of gaming, more often than not, has resulted in under serving the people that play our slot machines and bet at our table games. His perspective is through hands-on experience; he’s a passionate table games player and moved through the ranks as a keno writer in Laughlin, NV, an accomplished craps croupier at a Las Vegas Strip mob joint, a marketing director, a corporate vice president and eventually as a gaming consultant.
It has been his quest and why he’s being acknowledged with this award, to educate operators and marketers through every avenue possible, including creating true learning events that focus on this common-sense and strategic approach to guest delight. Either as the sole creator or as a co-producer, Raving-branded conferences have influenced thousands of casino executives with his signature approach using candor and humor. You might be familiar with a few of these long-running industry mainstays: Raving’s Indian Gaming National Marketing Conference, Raving’s Host and Player Development Conference, Casino Marketing, and many more.
Dennis was recognized for his unyielding efforts to challenge casino organizations and executives to answer honestly, “Does this tactic, does this promotion, does this policy, truly serve the customer?”
2014: Bruce C. Rowe, President, Renaissance Casino Solutions, LLC
Most gaming insiders don’t realize that Bruce Rowe’s college degree was in technical theater and he once was the Director of Entertainment for Harrah’s Atlantic City. They know him more simply as the guy who helped steer us into the technology age and made us comfortable and aware of how systems, specifically marketing systems, could benefit the gaming industry’s customers, employees and businesses.
In his more than 30-year career, Bruce Rowe participated in sixteen casino openings for Harrah’s Entertainment (as well as a few closings) and held senior roles, both at the property and corporate levels in technology and gaming. He has held difference-making senior executive positions at GTECH and Bally Technologies. He has been a “go-to” consultant for both gaming manufacturers and operators.
But Bruce is not being honored with the Casino Marketing Lifetime Achievement Award just for his many professional successes over more than three decades in the gaming industry. He is being recognized for his innovative spirit. For teaching us all the importance of family and friends in one’s success. For helping us understand the customer and employee perspective, and that systems or organizations should be squarely focused on serving them. And for showing an entire industry how to embrace technology to produce an incredible marketing result – happier casino guests.
Bruce Rowe started his casino career in 1980 in Entertainment, reporting into the Marketing department. Following that, he held positions in Information Technology, Strategic Planning, and Corporate Slot Operations during his twenty-three years with Harrah’s. During that tenure, he participated in the openings of sixteen domestic and international casinos, and was involved in the deployment of the one card strategy and the strategic redirection of the company that led to the Total Rewards and Focus programs.
Since then, he has worked for GTECH and Bally Technologies, involved in strategy, operations, research and analysis, as well as customer consulting. He is now President of Renaissance Casino Solutions, LLC, providing consulting services to casinos, manufacturers, and system providers.
Rowe has served in various industry associations, is a frequent contributor to industry publications, and often serves as a moderator and panelist at trade shows and technology events. He is currently serving as a member the G2E Advisory Board, and as a board member of the Nevada Childhood Cancer Foundation and the Las Vegas Area Council of The Boy Scouts of America.Close
2013: Michael Meczka, Principal, MM/R/C
In every industry, it seems like there is always one individual who holds that industry’s feet to the fire, who reminds it of what is really important, questions embedded craziness, speaks truth to power, and routinely challenges the status quo. In the gaming industry, that individual is Michael Meczka, the 2013 Recipient of Casino Marketing’s esteemed Lifetime Achievement Award.
A market researcher by trade, Michael has personally conducted more focus groups with more casino customers than any other researcher in the gaming industry. This deep insight into casino customers has also lead him to become one of the most widely utilized and trusted consultants in the industry, with a gaming client list too long to mention each company by name.
Known for his frank, measured, “in your face” speaking style, Michael has sobered audiences with his comments like “It’s the gambling, stupid!” He has asked rooms full of senior gaming executives to raise their hands if they have ever taken $500 of their own money for a night out gambling (“Then how can you understand the very type of casino customer you are trying to attract and make loyal?”). In his headline grabbing remarks at a regional gaming conference, where market casino executives were falling all over themselves discussing how their shriveling gaming business wasn’t really so bad, Michael bluntly stated, “Yeah, nice place to live, but who’d really want to visit?”
Michael Meczka is being honored for his four decades of quality research, his unparalleled wisdom and understanding of all things gaming, and his generosity of spirit in mentoring casino marketing “cubs” and sharing honest information with all who might ask.
Staci Columbo Alonso
2012: Staci Columbo Alonso, Vice President of Global Marketing and Chief Marketing Officer, IGT
Staci Columbo Alonso has worked in the gaming industry for twenty-five years. She recently joined International Game Technology (IGT) as Vice President of Global Marketing/Chief Marketing Officer. In this role, she oversees all global communications, creative services, research, events, sales enablement and product marketing.
Prior, Alonso served as CMO for Warner Gaming, LLC, a casino management & consulting company servicing clients in New Mexico, California, Las Vegas & the state of Washington. Warner Gaming LLC, led by former Station Casinos COO, Bill Warner manages the Hard Rock Resort Casino in Las Vegas, as well as several tribal casinos in various jurisdictions.
2011: Victor Rocha, Owner and Editor, Pechanga.net
Victor Rocha is owner and editor of Pechanga.net, a leading source of Indian and gaming news on the Internet. Rocha has been involved in Indian gaming politics for more than 12 years and has earned numerous awards for his work, including the National Indian Gaming Association's 2002 Outstanding Contribution to Indian Country, VCAT's 2001 Catalyst Award, and recognition as one of Global Gaming Business Magazine's "40 Under 40."
A true casino marketer, Virginia cut her marketing teeth in the Atlantic City market, holding a variety of executive positions over a sixteen year period. From there, she joined Argosy Gaming Company as Vice President of Sales and Marketing, ultimately holding the position of Senior Vice President of Operations. Before becoming President and COO for Isle of Capri, she was the Executive Vice President and Chief Information Officer for Trump Entertainment Resorts.
Virginia has received many gaming and community honors. She has been recognized as one of the Great Women of Gaming and last year was named Casino Journal's Gaming Executive of the Year. She is being honored with the Casino Marketing Lifetime Achievement Award not only for her numerous gaming industry marketing achievements, but her lifelong appreciation of the casino customer, the casino employee and “marketing” as more than a department, but an important, integrated way of doing business.
2009: Lyle Berman, Chief Executive Officer, Lakes Entertainment
Berman was first a casino customer, as a world class poker player who now sits in the World Poker Hall of Fame. Then he was a casino company founder and CEO (twice) with Grand Casinos and Lakes Entertainment, Inc. Along the way he found time to help launch the World Poker Tour and become Chairman of the Board of PokerTek. Through it all, Berman has found success through an integrated marketing strategy that recognizes the importance of the three main constituencies of customers, employees, and communities. He is being honored for his vision, his formula and his results, which truly define his skill as the ultimate casino marketer.
2008 Ginny Shanks, Senior Vice President of Brand Management, Harrah’s Entertainment, Inc.
In Shanks’ 25-year career at Harrah’s, she progressed from a junior executive with Harrah’s Reno’s in-house advertising agency (when Harrah’s operated four casinos) to the most senior corporate marketing executive responsible for maximizing value of Harrah’s key strategic brands (when Harrah’s operated 49 casinos). She was the key linchpin in Harrah’s transition from the original operations and service culture of Bill Harrah to the modern day international gaming company and marketing juggernaut.
2007: John Acres, Chief Executive Officer, Acres Concepts
With his Acres Player Tracking System, John Acres arguably became the “Father” of the modern day player management system and the force behind a more powerful and more efficient way of executing casino marketing. Now the CEO of Acres Concepts and still the consummate innovator and inventor, John Acres continues to challenge the gaming industry to be simpler, better and more mindful of what our gaming customers really want. He is being honored for a lifetime of thinking outside the casino box and bringing us the tools and better ways of doing business that are now standard in the gaming industry.
2006: Bill Harrah, founder, Harrah’s Entertainment (posthumously)
Phil Satre, former Chief Executive Officer, Harrah’s Entertaiment
Both Bill Harrah and Phil Satre stand out as shining beacons for their lifetime of service around the powerful notions that customers and employees matter most, and that effective casino marketing can indeed be strategically scientific. From the early days of Bill Harrah walking his casino floor, building the first rudimentary player reward program and pioneering casino entertainment, to the modern day Phil Satre planting the seeds and framing the vision for the marketing wizardry that would catapult Harrah’s into the 21st century as an industry leader, these two gaming giants from different eras have changed the face of casino entertainment forever. They are being honored for their significant contributions to the casino marketing field and for their passion for their customers, their employees and their communities.
2005: Jack Binion, Horseshoe Casinos
Growing up with the family-owned Binion’s Horseshoe, Jack Binion became one of the country’s most successful gaming operators by developing Horseshoe Casinos, with properties in Mississippi, Louisiana and Illinois. He is being honored for having the most powerful marketing strategy in the gaming industry today. Horseshoe Casinos are known for being places where “real gamblers” like to play; Binion understands it’s all about giving players a good gamble. In addition, he uses quality food as a real marketing tool, understands the value of employees and customer service, and he knows his customers.
2004: John Romero
John Romero is a renowned casino marketing consultant, writer and lecturer specializing in direct mail, direct response advertising, casino promotions and database building, and he is being honored with the very first Casino Marketing Lifetime Achievement Award for his invaluable contributions to the field. He spent 19 years as marketing director of the Sahara Las Vegas, and then formed his own Las Vegas advertising company. He is also a co-founder and principal owner in World Championship of Blackjack, Inc., which became International Gaming Promotions, Inc., and he also co-founded Player’s International, Inc.