Many of you may know that I cut my marketing teeth conceiving and executing casino promotions. Player parties. Gaming tournaments. Daily promotions. Entertainment. Gift giveaways. And much more. If there was anything that might drive business and be fun for players, well, I probably tried it. Some were soaring successes. Others were fabulous flops.
So I’ve had a keen interest over the decades in observing the kinds of promotions that casinos do. For many years, I wrote an annual gaming column, The Best (and Worst) Casino Promotions, and even had a featured session on them for several years at an international gaming conference. Interestingly, the overflowing crowds of casino executives who showed up for The Best and Worst came to hear about the Worst, I guess for the same reason people stop to watch car wrecks. Go figure.
I’ll admit to being mostly unimpressed with the casino-promotions landscape nowadays. It just seems that there is a sameness to a lot of the promotions. Give away some free play. Have a monthly entertainment event. Do a cash drawing. Pass out party hats and noisemakers on New Year’s Eve. Pretty standard stuff.
But that got me to thinking about the types of casino promotions that have stood out to me over my nearly 50 years in the business. Granted, in the categories I’m about to highlight, some casinos screwed them up, but others were so successful with them that there is something inherently powerful — better — in the concept itself.
So I share with you my all-time top-10 types of casino promotions, along with a few tips savvy casino marketers have used to make them successful.
# 10. Linked Slot Tournaments. These slot tournaments are linked among a casino company’s individual properties or a slot manufacturer’s individual casino customers (e.g., Everi’s TournEvent), or sometimes even among casino competitors in a specific market. Slot-tournament players compete in a qualifying round to move on to a final for bigger prizes. These are exciting for players and the best casino marketers of this genre make sure the grand prize is eye-catching, that there are numerous preliminary prize winners along the way, and that some hoopla and pizzazz are injected into the execution of the whole shebang.
# 9. Executive Invitational Events. In these events, casino VIPs are “invited” by members of the executive team, who spend the event partying, playing, and schmoozing with the VIPs. Whether a tournament, private dinner, prize drawing, entertainment party, or anything, this type of casino promotion is extremely powerful if the casino execs truly buy in, spend real time with the VIPs and NOT with one another, and really make fun happen for these players. Warning: Some CFO types who may rarely interact with a living, breathing, casino customer may be awkward in this event. Make them get over it.
# 8. Quality Casino Entertainment. This casino promotion runs the gamut from a hot lounge act to the top A-list entertainers who charge six figures or more. Whatever the case, casino entertainment works as a promotion if the entertainer and his or her genre connect with your players (especially VIPs), the events are held at the right times (e.g., not Saturdays), and don’t actually drive away regular business because of huge concert crowds. And if you can get the entertainer to do something special with your VIPs, like a meet and greet, it can make the event even more memorable.
# 7. Gift Giveaways. Early on, I didn’t care for casino promotions that gave away gifts to players, because, well, you can’t put a toaster into a slot machine. Over the decades, however, I’ve seen so many casinos give away so many different kinds of stuff to so many long lines of eager customers that I know there must be something to these gift giveaways and “continuity programs.” The best ones seem to give away items of high perceived value (even if they’re cheap). These are often a collection or series of items given out over time as a set. They have an element of “gotta have it.” They find a way to give better stuff to better players. And most importantly, they make players play on the days of the giveaway to earn the gift.
# 6. “Too Crazy To Be True.” There may be others, but in my mind, this category is the near exclusive domain of two crazy like a fox marketers, Michael Michaud and Michael Broderick (maybe it’s a “Michael” thing). They’ve pulled off such stunts as shoot a set of special- edition players club cards into space (then give them to VIPs at a special party), and give away Fonzie’s motorcycle and Bernie Madoff’s repossessed Rolexes. They’ve had Academy Awards parties, not to watch the Oscars show, but to honor their players, in a black-tie affair, in a number of categories. The “Michael mavericks” don’t do these promotions just to be different, they do them to create buzz and be memorable, and most importantly to move the marketing needle by attracting their best VIP players, partly by making them smile.
# 5. All You Can Eat Lobster Buffet. With the advent of COVID, the all-you- can-eat buffet isn’t nearly as ubiquitous, or effective. But the AYCE lobster buffet remains a casino-marketing phenomenon, especially at the San Manuel Tribe’s hugely successful Yaamava’ Resort and Casino and Palms Casino Resort. This one is pretty simple. Turn a night (or two) of your buffet into lobster night. Buy lots of (quality) lobsters. Then watch the incredible “queuing for crustaceans.” Just be sure to find a way to handle the huge throngs (and give them time and incentives to gamble before their lobster pig-out). Price the lobster buffet appropriately (they ain’t cheap!). And find a good, quick, and exclusive way to zip VIPs in and out of the lobster orgy.
# 4. The Signature Promotion. A signature promotion is one that a casino owns and is widely and exclusively promoted over a long period of time. Customers love the offer and can always count on it being available at the stated times. It can be free, like the free photo in front of a million-dollar display at Binion’s in downtown Las Vegas. It can be cheap, like the $2 hot dog and beer special at the Downtown Grand in Las Vegas. Or it can be expensive, like the 200-day, dry-aged, ribeye steak (for $1,000!) at Resorts World. Whether a signature promotion is a shrimp cocktail, a free seniors’ slot tournament, a unique players club sign-up incentive, or any of a number of cool and creative offers, it must be appealing, able to be counted on to be there over time, and “yours.” And it must move the needle.
# 3. Instant Up-Tiering. Here’s a signature promotion that’s little known and little utilized (yet). Most players clubs now have tiers, levels of recognition (and benefits) for players at various levels (spending). Most casinos take months (even years) to move their players from Silver to Gold to Diamond, for instance. They want to be sure that these up-tiered customers aren’t flashes in the pan who go back to playing at a Gold level once they’ve achieved Diamond status, with all of its attendant perks. But … a few savvy casinos are discovering real value in moving a player right from Gold level to Diamond, even in their first day of play as a new players club member, if their play is truly at a Diamond level. It makes a huge impression on these immediately recognized VIPs. Plus, few casinos are willing to do it, which is why YOU should. You can always lower the new tier status if play levels fall on the next few gambling trips.
# 2. Casino Host Events. These events are much like the aforementioned Executive Invitationals, except the casino executives involved are all hosts of various levels at the casino. Hosts already “own” most of the relationships with top VIPs. Have them use it to create a Signature Promotion and invite their best VIPs to it. Whether it’s a host/player team slot tournament, a one-of-a-kind dinner party, even a trip away from the casino for some amazing group activity, your players will show up in droves if they like their host and your casino and if they feel that the Signature Event is cool, fun, and exclusive.
# 1. Comps/Free Play. Comps and free play are the bedrocks of casino loyalty programs. They’re not typically used as Signature Promotions, but they can be. Half-Off Comps Tuesdays or Double Free Play Thursday mornings can make sense. A great comp or free-play offer when a player earns their first 5,000 points, for example, has motivating power. For players who have more comp dollars than they could ever use, having a Signature Promotion Day where these players can exchange comps for free play will drive business and make most players happy.
Signature Promotions have great opportunities for casinos, more so than for just about any other business. Make these promotions yours, make them something that gets your players excited. Preferably in a way that no other casino is able to do.