Crazy ideas I fell for

July 11, 2023 8:54 PM
  • Dennis Conrad
July 11, 2023 8:54 PM
  • Dennis Conrad

I’ve had a lot of crazy ideas in my casino-industry career and I actually pursued or implemented some of them (it helps when you’re the sole decision-maker on the craziness). A few of these off-the-wall notions became great artistic and/or financial successes, even establishing their own marketing brands (World’s Longest Golf Hole, Fun 21, Winner Wonderland, Executive Fun Force, etc.) and leading to some mostly undeserved awards and industry notoriety.

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More interesting, however, were the kooky/screwball/cockamamie marketing and business-development ideas that I only half-baked, fell for, or was conned into. These clunkers were abject failures by any measure. They usually wasted time and resources, had no discernible positive business impact, and were often the cause of much personal and professional embarrassment.

I share some of these flops with you now, knowing that many of you also have some crazy ideas that you believe would rock your corner of the casino world. “Crazy” isn’t necessarily bad and can truly make a difference; you can survive even your biggest unhinged failures. That is, if you learn something from them. And don’t repeat them.

Booster playing cards

Two and a half decades ago, I launched my casino-consulting company and was scuffling to find consulting work before my start-up bankroll evaporated. And one of my strategies for trolling for clients was to have (an expensive) exhibit booth at the international gaming conference and trade show in Las Vegas.

In the last hour of the trade show, after three mostly fruitless days of scouring for consulting gigs, a gregarious guy stopped by, representing a product called Booster Playing Cards. The company had a patent on the concept of taking a deck of playing cards and using the suited sides to make coupon offers. The fast-talking executive said, “This would be perfect for casinos! Give the 100,000 players in your database a gift deck of cards with 52 coupons — a different weekly offer and reason to visit!”

And that’s how I got sucked into having the “exclusive” West Coast rights to sell and distribute Booster Playing Cards to casinos. All on the if-come, at my expense, to market the cards to casino execs. The result? No interest. Zero sales. One big lesson learned over a year. Funny thing is, I still think the crazy idea has potential.

Trade-show strippers

A couple of years after the Booster debacle, my consulting company (still in business!) was back at the same trade show in Las Vegas. Even though it was after 9/11 that year, the show was still held, albeit with a more somber mood and diminished attendance. I felt it was important to do something patriotic and benefitting a good cause. And that’s how I got the idea to sell bumper stickers (seven different patriotic messages, some of which I was told were inappropriate) with all sales proceeds going to the American Red Cross. Even worse, I engaged a Las Vegas strip club to provide a few of their dancers, both male and female, to have their pictures taken with trade-show attendees who would make a $10 donation to the American Red Cross.

I will say we created a stir at the trade show with this boondoggle. But the several hundred bucks we raised for the Red Cross at the show in no way made up for the humiliation I endured over the next year from my fellow casino executives—even if they did buy a “Has Been Laden” bumper sticker and a photo with a Las Vegas stripper.

Free-ace promotion

My very first marketing role was on a trial basis at a Las Vegas casino and I was tasked with helping to drive business for the Table Games Department (table games still needs this help). I’d seen a coupon book at a casino down the street that had a coupon for a “first ace.” Bring the coupon to any blackjack table and it becomes an automatic ace as your first card in your first hand of blackjack. What an appealing offer to a blackjack player, I thought.

I decided to give a first-ace coupon to everyone who bought a ticket for our evening show, Keep Smilin’ America. This was 300-500 people a night, many of whom were staying at other hotel-casinos. I figured a first-ace would compel them to belly up to a blackjack table after the show. Oh, the table-game revenues that would be generated! What could possibly go wrong? Well, I’ll tell you.

Many of the showgoers didn’t play blackjack and threw their coupons in the trash or left them on the table in the showroom and “entrepreneurs” (advantage players) scooped them up by the handfuls. Each first ace had an expected value of $5 to the player using it. The pros didn’t stick around after playing their hand with a guaranteed ace. The other players at the table grumbled that the ace, not dealt from the deck but inserted into the hand by the first ace player, disrupted the flow of the cards and made them lose.

The first-ace promotion lasted exactly one week. I noticed a lot of rolled eyes among the table-game executives on that crazy idea.

Reverse raffle

Early in my career as a casino-marketing manager, I went on a cross country trip to Akron, Ohio, with our new VP of casino operations. The occasion was a charity event supported by two of our best Ohio customers. It featured a “reverse raffle,” a concept where the winner of the raffle wasn’t the first ticket drawn from the drum, but where ALL the tickets were drawn, and the winner was the LAST person drawn. I thought it was unique and fun. Everyone started by standing, then sat sit down as their ticket was drawn in rapid fashion. The winner was literally the last person standing.

Of course I had to bring this reverse-raffle concept back to Las Vegas and use it as an invited-VIP event. Our VIPs, although a little skeptical about the concept, seemed willing to give it a try, especially with a $5,000 prize for the winner. What could be wrong with that?

Well, there were 200 numbered drawing tickets in the drum. As each ticket was drawn, a scoreboard meticulously recorded every number that was drawn and which numbers were left. Except … after the 199th number had been drawn, one last remaining number (and the reverse-raffle winner) should have been left in the drum. But somehow, two tickets were left in the drum. Don’t ask me how we made a $5,000 mistake, but we did make two VIPs very happy, mainly because our new VP of Casino Operations told me to do the “right thing.” And he didn’t fire me for trying to make a crazy concept work.

So many more

I fell for dozens more crazy ideas in my career. The Flea T-shirts. Starting an executive-search division in my consulting company with no clue to what we were doing and against reputable, more established competitors. Giving free rooms to the homeless in downtown Reno (well, it wasn’t SUPPOSED to work that way). Wearing a too-small lobster costume to an Employee Fishing event. The list is a long one, unfortunately.

But I will say this. For every four or five crazy ideas in my career that flopped big time, perhaps one crazy idea went down the road less traveled, worked exactly the way I envisioned it would, and customers raved and bosses or associates patted me on the back for a marketing impact. When that happens, you don’t get called “crazy,” you hear words like “innovative” and “category leading” and “not afraid to fail.” I think that’s a good trade-off.

So, if you have a few crazy ideas that you think might help your business, don’t automatically disqualify them. Embrace them, think them through, and ask a lot of “What if?” questions. And you too might see potential value where others can’t get past seeing stupidity. And that to me is kind of crazy.

Earlier posts by Dennis

The Blonde Elvis

How to stop gambling from being banned

What about these Electronic Crap Games?

Some overdue recognition

My top 10 casino pet peeves

Service you can trust. Really.

I Need Help!

Top 10 things casino players hate

Making lemons out of lemonade

David Kranes: The most unappreciated man in gaming

Two Dinosaurs Walk into a Bar

The magic of Barona

My Top 10 big-picture casino-industry trends

I am your customer

The Rad Bar — If I owned a video poker bar

Stop eroding player value

What? You’re still alive?