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Promotions, tournaments are useful marketing tools for casinos

Getting players through the doors is the name of the game for casinos. If no one comes in, there`s no playing and without playing these businesses don`t make money. It`s all about marketing, using everything from restaurants and hotel rooms to promotions and tournaments. Cash and prize drawings, giveaway items and tournaments of all kinds play a big role in this mix. And of course, you must be present to win.

Rules and regulations for tournaments and cash and prize drawings must be carefully detailed and submitted to the Mississippi Gaming Commission for approval before the events take place.

Much of it centers on players clubs, which are free to join and track a player`s amount of play if the club card is used with all slot and table game play. Casinos are eager to sign up customers for these clubs to have more names for their databases – a source for direct mail promotions, which sometimes are not publicized to the general public. Waiving tournament entry fees for good players is another marketing tool.

The President Casino in Biloxi rewarded 30 of its most loyal players with Caribbean cruises last year, according to marketing director Joe Giardina.

“We’re always looking for the next big promotion,” he said. “It`s getting tougher and all casinos are trying to be more innovative and aggressive. We have to.”

He said the market has not grown much – only 1% to 3% – and now every U.S. household is within one hour`s drive of a gaming establishment, be it casino gambling, truck stop video poker, bingo halls or horse racing.

“It`s a dog-eat-dog business and getting more so because of the proliferation of gaming across the country,” he said. “Marketing is becoming a fine-tuned thing for all Coast casinos.”

Giardina, who`s worked in gaming 12 years, says all marketing departments have become experts in using their databases of players. These lists are used to mail free tickets for drawings, redeemable cash coupons, free rooms and meals and invitations to tournaments.

Casino marketing departments get their promotional ideas from holidays, local happenings, sporting events, t.v. programs and other pop culture icons. The trick is to generate interest among players and the public. Giardina says he sometimes gets ideas while driving home from work.

“We use a combination of things to get ideas,” said Michael Giunti, marketing manager at the Isle of Capri in Biloxi. “We look at the calendar and try to have promotions in slower months to draw in business.”

While promotions are very important, he says his goal is to create fun and excitement and exceed guests’ expectations.

“We do the extras, like a dinner party, nice reception in the ballroom or rent the Biloxi schooner for a cruise,” he said.

Giunti says the Isle of Capri has been successful tying promotional events with the Smokin’ the Sound power boat races in April and the coastwide Cruisin’ the Coast in October.

This year, however, with construction of a new hotel tower and conference center taking place adjacent to the casino, he has a theme that no other Coast casino has. “We’re tying some promotions to the construction and using a building theme,” he said. “We’re playing off it. It`s a way to keep guests informed and make it fun for them.”

At Bally`s Casino in Tunica, marketing manager Laura Shelby says vehicle giveaways are popular with their guests and bring people to the casino. It can be any vehicle from a Jeep Liberty to a Ford Mustang. This month`s prize is a Ford F-150 truck.

“In 1997, we started giving away a car or truck every month,” she said. “We have several auto businesses that we deal with and it`s always the last Friday of the month. We have fun with it and have drawings for keys five times during the day before selecting the winner.”

She says marketing in the Tunica area is also harder now with people having more gaming options. Bally`s is the only casino giving away turkeys for Easter and Thanksgiving to players who earn the required number of points on their players club cards.

Another popular promotion through the players club is the one that makes it possible for members to acquire a set of dishes by earning points.

“Each month we feature an item – bowls, plates, mugs – and then some special pieces like salt and pepper shakers,” she said. “A lot of people are coming anyway but they might have to come an extra time to get the pieces they need.”

Shelby, who`s been with Bally`s for 11 years, said the casino`s blackjack and slot tournaments are also popular with players. People from all over the country play in the three-times-a-year blackjack tournaments with prizes totaling $150,000. The entry fee is $500 that goes into the prize pool. Slot tournaments are held four times per year and have no entry fees.

Bally`s, like the other casinos surveyed, no longer gives a gift-of-the-month to players club members but does give items several times a year.

Casino Magic in Bay St. Louis is praised in this month`s edition of Global Gaming Business for its $150,000 Fountains of Cash Slot Tournament. The casino sent out over 80,000 direct mail pieces in addition to extensive print, billboard and in-house advertising, according to public relations manager Christian Reese.

The event, which took place last May through August, was themed and publicized around legendary jazz clarinetist Pete Fountain when he began his twice-weekly shows at the casino. Fountain retired from his nightclub in New Orleans and now lives in Bay St. Louis.

“It just made sense to us,” Reese said. “He was involved in promoting the tournament with photos and meeting players at cocktail parties. It worked really well.”

Reese feels players in the Coast market have become more knowledgeable after 11 years of legalized gambling and that promotional incentives must keep pace.

“We don`t focus on holiday themes because holidays are a busy time anyway for our casino,” she said. “But we do some seasonal things for players like crawfish boils, Easter buffet and football boards.”

The important thing, she says, is to strategically plan events that fit their customer base. With that, the players club is important with the use of direct mail and invitations to repeat customers.

“Everything we do is based on play,” she said “and players are rewarded

for that.”

Reese said Casino Magic Bay St. Louis has drawings for vehicles and makes the giveaways big productions. This month`s drawing for a Ford F-150 truck will have a western theme complete with music by a country and western band.

“We don`t just stand around and pull out names, ” she said. “People love to see our productions before the drawings. We’ve had executives from other casinos come to see how we do it.”

The Sheraton Casino in Tunica takes a different approach, according to general manager Steve Schutte.

“We don`t do a lot of promotions,” he said. “About a year and a half ago, we loosened our slots and pretty much directed money spent on promotions back into the slots. We’re putting value in day-to-day playing.”

Noting that a machine`s payout rate is determined by a computer chip, with all gaming devices regulated by the Gaming Commission, Schutte says the Sheraton made the decision to have very loose slots to give players more time on machines.

“People have voted with their feet and are coming in,” he said. “We’ve seen dramatic results. We did some comparisons. Hand paid jackpots are up 165%. Giving players a better chance of winning seems to work better for us.”

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at mbj@msbusiness.com.

About Lynn Lofton

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