by Dennis Conrad
A Case Study
One of my first challenges in my last "real" casino marketing job was
to establish an effective "Party Pit". A party pit is a table game area
in the casino (usually blackjack games) where the emphasis is on having
fun. Dealers in the party pit might wear T-shirts and have props like
bells or inflatable baseball bats at the table. Balloons, music, prize
giveaways and other assorted elements would also be a part of this non-traditional
atmosphere where gambling becomes almost secondary to fun and socialization.
Party pits are not for everyone. Serious gamblers find them annoying,
if not offensive. Traditional casino operators tend to scoff at the
concept and have a hard time understanding how a party pit, even a good
one, can help their table game business.
Having had experience establishing one of the first party pits in the
casino industry and having watched several versions come and go at various
casinos over the years, I felt enthused about the chance to design the
Cadillac (or is it now Lexus?) of casino party pits. Again understand
my bias going into the task - I BELIEVE THAT EFFECTIVE PARTY PITS ARE
TERRIFIC CASINO MARKETING PROMOTIONS.
The strategy in this case was simple - devise a game plan for implementation
of a dynamic party pit for our casino property, focus on the people
and the elements that would make it successful and avoid the bland concepts
and operational pitfalls that would torpedo the party project. What
follows is my formula for creating the Ultimate party pit, using our
experiment as the current "state of the art" example.
HOW TO DEVISE
(plus implement, use, change, tweak, re-invigorate,
defend, promote, inflate and measure)
THE ULTIMATE PARTY PIT
I.) ASK YOURSELF - HAVE A GOOD ANSWER
The first step in creating an effective fun pit is to ask yourself "Why
do I want a party pit?" and "Do I need one?" At our property our casino
floor seemed flat and our dealers weren't having much fun. In addition,
we had just opened a new escalator that would lead to a major new property,
creating a dramatically altered traffic flow pattern and a new table
game dynamic at this new gateway. For us, a party pit spelled opportunity.
If you are the High Limit Pit at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas, I doubt
the dynamics call for "fun".
II.) INVOLVE YOUR PEOPLE - ESTABLISH OWNERSHIP
In my opinion, the biggest reason for party pit start up failures is
the lack of involving the people who will make or break the concept
and the failure to allow them significant ownership of the endeavor.
At our property we met many times with our potential dealers and floorpeople
to get their input and feedback, we requested VOLUNTEERS rather than
DRAFTEES to work in the party pit, we asked them to choose the name
for the area and didn't blink when they came back with "Zany Zone",
we kicked off the area with an Employee Blackjack Tournament, we took
pictures of all the dealers and floorpeople to post at their tables
and had them write a caption under it telling the customers (in their
own words) what they were all about, we encouraged continuing involvement,
creativity and feedback and finally, we tried to listen to both our
Zany Zone dealers and customers (the real owners). I have seen many
a party pit fail because management dictated the vision and wouldn't
III.) MAKE IT FUN - DO IT RIGHT
A boom box and a bunch of balloons does not make a "party" pit. At our
property, we knew we wanted music, so we installed a special overhead
sound system with 30 channels in our Zany Zone. We wanted casual, so
we created our own logo for the dealer uniforms, which were high quality
T-shirts and golf shirts. We wanted lights so we emblazoned high impact,
colorful, pulsating overhead lights in our heretofore low hanging, dark
ceiling. We wanted giveaways, so we found a way to provide logoed glasses,
T-shirts, lapel pins and caps - THE STUFF THAT PEOPLE WANT, NOT WHAT
YOU DON'T WANT. We wanted unique so we bought inflatable bats, put a
clown on the Big 6 wheel and made it a part of the Zany Zone, and created
the Dealing Temperature Gauge, which tells customers if the dealer is
Red Hot, Luke Warm or Ice Cold. You get the picture - do it right or
don't do it.
IV.) FIND A CO-SPONSOR
Party pits can become expensive - those 10c, 20c and $1 giveaway items
can add up to real money! In our casino we partnered with a local beer
distributor in our Zany Zone. They provided all of the promotional giveaways
and co-oped half of the advertising and we featured their new red beer
in our party pit and casino bars. That's a win-win.
V.) PUSH THE ENVELOPE, BUT DRAW THE LINE
Even party pits are still gambling areas and as such, have requirements
of game security, procedures and other "mundane" issues. At our casino
we encountered the inevitable conflict of FUN vs. DUTY. While I can
tell you there is no easy answer here, you must acknowledge the twin,
often opposing goals and make sure the new standards are clear to the
employees. It leads to interesting and unique codes of conduct like
reaching down for an inflatable bat at the game is O.K. but doing a
360-degree watusi at the table is not.
VI.) ANTICIPATE THE PROBLEMS
Even an effective party pit will have problems and challenges that
must be identified and managed. At our casino, we watched for dealer
burnout in the Zany Zone and tried to deploy those afflicted back to
the "regular" pit for R&R. We tried to identify the dealers who "don't
fit" in the party pit but might merely be seeking a desirable time slot.
We tried to mollify the old school employees who hated the concept of
the party pit and thought we were crazy and that the table game business
had gone to hell. We dealt with the occasional customer complaint in
the Zany Zone about loud music (but why didn't they gamble in the traditional
pit?!!) or the wrong kind of music (half the folks want 60's rock, half
country western). Graveyard shift had issues about closing games and
managing their personnel at a time when Zany Zone patrons didn't want
to leave (What a great problem!). Enthusiasm wanes. What was exciting
last month is stale today. Stuff happens - expect it.
Date Posted: 28-Mar-1999
DENNIS CONRAD is the president of Raving Consulting Co. which specializes in Common Sense, Customer Focused, Marketing Consulting for the gaming industry.
He can be reached at: 475 Hill Street, Suite G, Reno, NV 89501
· (702) 329-7864
· fax (702) 329-4947
· email: TheRadcon@aol.com.