Changing the Worst Promotion Ever – Part II

Janet Hawk

Into the best thing that ever happened

Years ago, I was involved in a promotion that appeared to meet all the necessary criteria. To this day, however, it is one of the worst experiences I ever had in a casino, and one that I will never forget, because it helped me transition from operations to marketing, and taught me several important lessons.

Quite literally, this promotion was a real game-changer for the casino. Because it was such a big learning experience across the board, not only did it change the way we did every promotion moving forward, but it also caused a huge redirect of our overall guest service.

The premise …

The promotion SEEMED simple: the promotion would be run at two properties (sister properties located approximately 30 miles apart), a system of “funny money” would be created (“Casino Cash” for the purpose of this article) that guests could earn in numerous ways over a 90-day period. The finale would be held at the larger property. A huge tent was erected in the parking lot, where there would be an auction that included a real auctioneer to add to the excitement. Guests would bring all the Casino Cash they were able to collect during those 90 days and use it to bid on a variety of items, from small tchotchkes to a brand-new car. Awesome!

Now for a few details …

The Casino Cash was broken down into several denominations, from $20 bills all the way to $25,000 bills, and everything in between. There was no requirement to have a players club card. Guests could earn their Casino Cash in a variety of ways within the casino. A few examples:

  • Any transaction at casino restaurants, hotel, spa, gift shop, or any other on-site venues
  • Hopper fills, hand-paid jackpots, buy-ins on tables, cage transactions, etc.
  • Valet parking their car
  • Hourly, actively playing on slots or tables

Each activity or transaction was “assigned” a specific dollar amount for the guest to receive. For instance, a hopper fill would earn the guest $50 in Casino Cash. We were instructed to be extremely conservative with larger denominations, such as $5,000 and above. In other words, only management could approve those larger denominations in order to try to “control” distribution.

There were considerable issues that occurred with this promotion, which you will likely see. For both parts of this article, I have focused on four specific problems that caused the most grief, but taught the biggest lessons (for problems one and two, read Part I).

Problem #3

The finale was held at the larger property due to space constraints. This was a bit of an issue for the guests who only went to the smaller sister property. The properties were at least a 45-minute drive apart, so we rarely had any crossover play. So not only did these guests have to drive farther to participate, but they were going to a place where they didn’t know anyone. Not their usual, comfortable place where everyone knew their name. No accommodations were made to have key employees (casino hosts, operations management, etc.) from the smaller property have a presence.


If you are holding a multi-site event such as this (or any event, really!), always involve the PD department and other frontline management. Your guests have developed relationships with these people, and having a friendly face that they know is a great thing! Especially if something goes wrong or there are questions … more on that later.

The more difficult a promotion is for the guest, the less likely it is to be successful. Don’t make your guests drive farther or make it more complicated to participate. Keep it simple!

A huge tent was erected in the parking lot for the event. The items up for auction were out on display so that participants could determine what they would bid on. Guests arrived with the Casino Cash they had been collecting over the 90 days and were ready to see what was offered. There was no advance description of the items that would be up for auction, so no one knew if there would be anything of value offered. A totally missed opportunity to increase excitement for the finale and the promotion as a whole!

Problem #4

This was the part that really exploded. Remember, there were only guidelines for distribution of the Casino Cash and this promotion was running at two properties. One property attempted to follow the rules as closely as possible, and most discretionary issuance of cash was done in smaller denominations, with the exception of some of the bigger players. Even then, it was somewhat restrained. The larger property went all-out with the distribution of their Casino Cash, especially with their biggest player. Unbeknownst to the smaller property, it had been predetermined from the beginning that the car would go to him because of his existing level of play, and he was even asked what type of car he wanted.

When all the participants started arriving, it was noticed that some had several suitcases and garbage bags FILLED with Casino Cash. A very notable difference in distribution to everyone involved. The discontent escalated dramatically once the actual auction began and small items were going for exorbitant prices. For instance, a pair of sunglasses that could be bought in the gift shop for $5 went for $2,500 in Casino Cash. So not only did they receive less Casino Cash throughout the promotion, but now even lower priced items were going at hugely overpriced amounts. That was when my phone blew up!

This is where I got the best dispute resolution experience of my entire career! I was inundated with angry, disgruntled guests, both in person and on the phone. My listening skills were truly tested! We immediately went into dispute resolution mode property-wide and began to invite our guests back “home” for some TLC. There were a lot of comps written, apologies and hugs given that night, I can tell you!


This might seem obvious, but your promotions/ events MUST be fair! The only way to do that is everything must be based on play. Any perception of “special treatment” can be disastrous and cause you to lose players and business.

When something goes wrong (and it will!), correct it and/or make it right as soon as possible! Below are some valuable guidelines to keep in mind:

  • Evaluate each situation independently, and do the appropriate research to determine the applicable solution.
  • Involve the guest in the resolution to ensure satisfaction (“what can I do to make this right?”).
  • LISTEN!! Not to respond, but to understand.
  • Conflict resolution is not about arguing or the arbitrary enforcement of THE RULES. It is, however, about negotiating in good faith.
  • In most cases, it won’t be quick and easy … nor should it be! Take your time and make the right decision for all parties involved. This might be as simple as listening and offering a comp or free play, to as big as awarding a jackpot in a machine malfunction situation.

Problems WILL happen, so use them as growth and learning opportunities. Even with the most well-run promotions, there will be areas to improve the experience for not only your guests, but for the property as a whole. Don’t miss out on a chance to keep improving!

Janet Hawk