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O'Brien: Celebrating winners

This really happened to me. It’s a very sad story. Grab your tissues.

A few years back, I was visiting a Native American casino in Southern California. It was late at night. There weren’t any nickel machines (in those days I was a dedicated nickel video poker player) so I had to play quarters. This was a big deal because it meant more risk than I was used to and I was a little uncomfortable. Well, you know the pinnacle of gambling success for a video poker player. … that’s right, I hit a Royal Flush for $1,000; $1,000! WOW! That’s amazing! How cool! That’s the biggest jackpot ever! YIPPEE!

The machine was equipped with TITO (Ticket In – Ticket Out) technology. So, the machine quietly went “tick, tick, tick, tick” and added $1,000 to the credit count. There was no waiting for a hand-pay or a visit from a slot attendant. I could just print out the ticket and collect money from the cashier. There was no cheering. There was no celebration. There was no recognition. There was nothing.

Wait, there’s more. An attendant rolling one of those change carts stopped to talk to a local player a few machines down the slot bank. The player said, “Hey, that person just hit a Royal over there, isn’t that great!” The change person nodded her head and kept on walking past. No congratulations. No recognition. No celebration. No nothing. It should have been an exciting experience, don’t you think?

That’s the day I officially became an advocate for and trainer in “creating a winning experience on your casino floor.” I’ve offered seminars at conferences. I’ve done sessions for gaming clients. I’ve written articles. I rant and rave to my co-workers and industry associates. On a good day, someone listens. On a great day, someone takes action.

Advanced technology; it can be a good thing, but it can be a bad thing, too. What is TITO doing to your casino and to your relationships with your customers? Why should you care about it? And, if you do, what can you do about it?

When you talk to players, in focus groups, through surveys, or even in casual conversation on the gaming floor, you’ll find that these are their expectations when gambling at a casino: They hope to win, they expect to lose, but above all else, they want to have a good time. If you consider the fact that in the negative expectation world of gaming only about 25 percent of players walk out of the casino with more money than they came in with, it seems that to ensure a good time, and a return visit, we’d better make darn certain that they feel extra good about winning. Otherwise, why gamble at all? (By now, the math side of your brain will have calculated that this means 75 percent of players lose, so it seems we should make sure losers have a good time, too. That, my friends, will be covered in a future article).

So, on our now-technology-driven gaming floors, what tactics are available to celebrate and recognize winners and make their experiences more fun, more exciting, and more likely to make them want to return for more?

Check out these tactics that create a winning environment, giving players the feeling that they, too, can get lucky:

  • Jackpot displays – Plasma screens, TVs, redemption kiosks, and sentinel screens embedded in slot machines, are all great places to let your players know how many winners you’ve had and how much they’ve won. Keep the numbers realistic; daily or weekly numbers are more believable than those gigantic annual payout totals.
  • Wall of Fame – Display photos of winners that include first name, date of jackpot, and amount of jackpot. Update with new winners regularly.

  • Announcements – Use your casino PA system (make sure the sound is clear and that employees are trained for the public speaking experience) for celebrating winners, not announcing phone calls and forgotten headlights on parked cars. Limiting the announcement to first names, hometown, type of machine and jackpot amount usually encourages customers to participate (assure them you’re not going to MapQuest their address so weird strangers can follow them home) and it keeps the excitement top-of-mind.

  • Jackpot cannons – Shoot off some confetti at the winning machine and everyone knows that the “mess” means a jackpot’s been hit.

  • Jackpot parties – Invite your top jackpot winners to quarterly celebration parties with entertainment, prize drawings and food. They’ll relive the best memories and you’ll drive another visit.

What can we do about personal recognition? How can we make that player who just hit a jackpot feel like there’s no better place to be a winner than at your casino? Here are techniques you could be using every day:

  • Jackpot delivery – Picture a tuxedo-adorned employee, towel draped over an arm, toting a split of champagne (or sparkling cider) in an ice bucket, and a champagne glass. He counts out the cash and adds a congratulatory toast for the winner. Or what about a “Winners Wagon” equipped with music and lights and a small employee parade delivering the prize? The CEO, CFO or general manager on a bicycle? (Don’t roll your eyes, I’ve seen it done.) And make the payout experience customer-friendly. … too many rules, paperwork and security officers mean stress, not joy.
  • Jackpot reward gift – A special shirt, jacket or pin marks the occasion (the former Aladdin in Las Vegas used to give a magic lamp pin to first-time jackpot winners). In a locals market, be sure to change the gift frequently.

  • Winner photos – Think multi-level. First, an instant photo can be taken and given to the player in a frame as a souvenir. A digital photo can be taken at the same time and a copy mailed or emailed to the player the following week with a personal, congratulatory message from a host, players club rep, or slot attendant, accompanied by a return offer (reminds the player of the win and drives an incremental visit).

  • Winner postcards – Preprinted postcards that boast, “I won a BIG jackpot at ABC Casino!” can be offered to the winner. The player writes a message and addresses the card to the recipient of his choice and the casino mails the postcard. Recognition for the winner, publicity for the casino.

  • Winner slot toppers – Post a photo of the winner on the slot machine that hit the jackpot with a sign that reads, “David’s Favorite Machine! $5,000 Jackpot on July 8!”

I’ve shared an extensive list of tactics for celebrating winners that have been proven effective in casinos. But there is one sure-fire tactic that: A) is absolutely effective every, single time, and B) costs nothing. Applying this method of celebration does not add one dime to your existing marketing budget. It does not require ordering anything, stocking anything, inventorying anything, or distributing anything. And, you already have everything you need to make it work in your casino RIGHT NOW! It’s your casino’s front-line employees. You just need to train them to watch for jackpots, teach them how to develop a rapport with players and how to recognize winners, and reward them for their great attention and service delivery. Personal recognition of your customers by your staff members means contact, relationship development, and loyalty building.

IMPORTANT NOTE: There is nothing wrong with staff members stopping by to congratulate winners, as long as it doesn’t look like they are trolling for tips. In an environment where employees regularly visit with customers as they play, acknowledgment of a jackpot will seem friendly rather than greedy! I promise.

Toby O’Brien, vice president of marketing and client services since 2001 for Raving Consulting Company, provides marketing expertise, mentoring and training to Native American, commercial and government casinos. O’Brien helps gaming organizations develop and implement customer-focused, strategic marketing plans aimed at driving revenue and creating an outstanding entertainment experience.