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Northern California Tribal Casino Takes Raving Consulting's Top Marketing Honors

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Lucky 7 Casino proves that success is not determined by business size, budget or location, but by a hard-working team with “soul.”

There is only one award in the casino industry that recognizes the marketing efforts of Tribal casinos and acknowledges their importance in the success of a gaming enterprise. Created seven years ago, the prestigious Barona/VCAT Award for Excellence in Indian Gaming Marketing was awarded to Lucky 7 Casino, Smith River, California, at a special industry luncheon on January 29, 2014, at Morongo Casino Resort Spa, Cabazon, California, during Raving’s 16th Indian Gaming National Marketing Conference.

Lucky 7 Casino joins industry leaders Barona Resort and Casino, California (2007); Santa Ana Star Casino, New Mexico (2008); Black Oak Casino and the Tuolumne Band of Me-Wuk Indians, California (2009); Osage Million Dollar Elm Casinos, Oklahoma (2011); Seminole Casino Coconut Creek, Florida (2012); and Cache Creek Casino Resort, California (2013); in receiving the award.

Located on the California/Oregon border, the Lucky 7 Casino and Lodge is truly the largest attraction on curvy Highway 101, which runs along the Pacific Ocean for miles and miles. Arriving in the evening, the light of their new, larger, digital sign is the only illumination on an otherwise darkened road. Large compared to what? The lodge features 71 rooms and has 320 slots, compared to the likes of last year’s winner, Cache Creek, which hosts 2,000 slot machines and 200 rooms.

Courtesy Raving Consulting

Lucky 7 Casino's new hotel, Howonquet Lodge

According to their website, “Lucky 7 Casino opened its doors as a double-wide trailer in 1996, offering 60 slot machines. Later, a fuel mart and mini-market were added. Over the following years, the Casino has undergone a complete renovation, doubling the gaming area, adding a poker room, as well as a spacious non-smoking area. Recent additions include the Tolowa Event Center and the beautiful new hotel, Howonquet Lodge.”

Compared to 2012 winner Seminole Casino Coconut Creek, which is the closest casino to Palm Beach County – with a population of 1.3 million; Lucky 7 Casino is in Del Norte County, population of 28,900.

So, how does such a comparatively small and rural casino take away the most coveted prize in Tribal casino marketing? How did this lodge-style casino, filled with locally hand-carved salmon and Redwood trees, rate against the big Tribal Casino guys who have won before and also competed this year?

According to Dennis Conrad, Chief Relationship Officer, Raving Consulting, and creator of the award, “Lucky 7’s nomination was filled with ‘soul.’ The Barona/VCAT Award was created not to honor technology for technology sake’s or for the P&L, though it is important. Rather it’s a recognition of how a casino marketing department can affect people’s lives – their guests, their employees, their communities. How do they do that? By being super sharp, by maximizing their resources. By sincerely caring, as Candace and her entire team do. In Lucky 7’s case, as in most Tribal Casinos, every single cent they earn can affect the social well-being of their Tribe and their community. Sloppy and non-strategic marketing can impact health care and education for those who so need it. Excellence in marketing can mean all the difference in the world.”

Although Conrad speaks about the “soul” of this year’s winner, don’t be fooled: the competition is a tough one. Judges look for excellence in an organization’s total body of work, not a singular year of performance or marketing campaign. The competition is open to all Class II and Class III Tribal casinos in the U.S. and Canada. Participants are asked to provide a compelling essay addressing how their casino links superior marketing efforts to superior financial performance; builds marketing excellence around key constituencies of customers, employees and communities; and integrates marketing effectively throughout their entire casino operation. 2014 judges included Greg Shay, CEO of VCAT; Troy Simpson, Assistant General Manager, Barona Resort and Casino; Mike Leonard, VP of Marketing, Cache Creek Casino Resort (2013 winner), and Conrad.

The country’s finest Tribal gaming properties submitted entries this year:

Angel of the Winds Casino, Arlington, Washington
FireKeepers Casino Hotel, Battle Creek, Michigan
Harrah's Cherokee Casino Resort, Cherokee, North Carolina
Lake of the Torches Resort Casino, Lac du Flambeau, Wisconsin
Pechanga Resort & Casino, Temecula, California
River Rock Casino, Geyserville, California
Rosebud Casino, Valentine, Nebraska
Soboba Casino, San Jacinto, California
St. Croix Casinos, Turtle Lake, Wisconsin

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Lake of the Torches Resort Casino and River Rock Casino were each acknowledged with a “Contender Award” for their highly competitive submissions.

Attending from Lucky 7 Casino were Candace Penney, Director of Marketing, Shondra Hull, Marketing Specialist, and Steve Anderson, Event Coordinator. Representing the Tribe was Kara Miller, Tribal Council Chair, Smith River Rancheria.

Penney, who also announced her May retirement at the award ceremony, stated, “I am very humbled and honored to receive the prestigious Barona/VCAT Award. Never in a million years did I think we could win this, but after some encouragement from a dear friend, seeing all that we do at Lucky 7 Casino, I decided to give it a try. Upon reflection of my seventeen years with the casino, I realized that it is not just what we do for the customers, but the relationships we have built with them, our local communities and employees.”

Courtesy Raving Consulting

Lucky 7 Casino representatives celebrate their award.

Fondly known as a tireless cheerleader within her organization, Penney added, “It takes an entire team to be successful, and I am very grateful for our employees who do the work that makes Lucky 7 Casino successful. It is due to their caring and hard work that we have achieved accolades as number one in Excellence in Indian Gaming Marketing.”

A first time guest of the conference, Kara Miller said, “Thank you for honoring our marketing staff at your annual award banquet. I was very proud to share in the celebration of our marketing success on a national level. To see our staff step up and win the Award was very rewarding, as they have been part of the success of the Tribe from day one of our gaming operation … Being from a small gaming operation, it was exciting to compete against such large gaming operations and win! It proves how lucky Smith River Rancheria is to have such talented employees be part of our team.”

The winner receives three full conference passes to Raving’s long-running Indian Gaming National Marketing Conference – a staple for Tribal casinos throughout the U.S. and Canada, which encompasses two and a half days of relevant presentations, hands-on workshops, signature networking events, and a tradeshow.

History of the Competition

Why was this prestigious award created? “The industry tends to look at Las Vegas and the large commercial casinos for leadership in casino marketing. It was due time to recognize the innovative work and the commitment to learning of the Tribal gaming community, despite many Tribes being relatively new to gaming. I can’t think of a better way to acknowledge the success in Indian gaming, and to honor and encourage those hard-working Tribal casino marketing executives who are heading in the right direction, than this award,” said Conrad.

The name of the Award is explained by Conrad, “In the first year, it was abundantly clear that there could be no more deserving winner than Barona Resort and Casino, the jewel of the Barona Band of Mission Indians and its consulting partner, VCAT. So compelling was Barona/VCAT’s marketing prowess, that Raving approached the Barona team in 2007 to see if they would be willing to have the property and its consultant become the namesakes of the annual Excellence in Indian Gaming Marketing Award, putting the ‘Barona/VCAT’ name on the honor as a permanent symbol of award-winning excellence.”

The Uniqueness of the Award

Each year a Tribal artisan is selected to create a custom award, which has included a hand painted canoe paddle, feast bowl, and other wood carvings. This year’s award was created by returning artist, Raymond Bacon, Table Games Director, Cher-Ae Heights Casino, CA, who just happens to be a “neighbor” of Lucky 7 Casino, 75 miles south, on that same scarcely populated stretch of ocean highway. Bacon carved an exquisite eagle, over two feet tall. In Native American culture, the Eagle represents the highest of honors.

For more information about Raving’s 17th Indian Gaming National Marketing Conference to be held in 2015, or the Barona/VCAT Award for Excellence in Indian Gaming Marketing, please contact Christine Faria, VP of Marketing, Raving Consulting Company, 775-329-7864,