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Press of Atlantic City - July 25, 2010
HOT DAYS, COOL DISTRACTIONS: CASINOS USE QUIRKY GAMES TO DRAW TOURISTS
By DONALD WITTKOWSKI, Staff Writer | Posted: Sunday, July 25, 2010
ATLANTIC CITY - These days, it seems as though the casinos are taking their marketing ideas straight out of P.T. Barnum's playbook.
While the bearded lady and the two-headed cow won't be appearing at the casinos anytime soon, some other zany promotions that a circus showman like Barnum would truly love are drawing the masses to town.
These promotions cost relatively little, but generate tons of excitement, publicity and business for the casinos in a weak economy, executives say.
"For the direct revenue and public relations that you get, it's a tremendous bang for the buck," said Rick Casagrande, executive director of marketing for Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort.
At the Trump casinos, there's Money Machine Madness, a phone booth-like enclosure that allows customers to make a frantic grab for swirling cash.
At Resorts Atlantic City, Elvis wannabes have crooned on the Boardwalk during Hula-hoop contests. Resorts also throws disco-themed "Boogie on the Boardwalk" parties every Friday and Saturday evening that feature tourists dancing on a big stage while Michael Jackson and Madonna impersonators perform.
If that's not quirky enough, there is a rare summertime appearance by Santa Claus at Tropicana Casino and Resort for a "Christmas in July" promotion last week. Last summer, Santa paraded around Tropicana in a bathing suit while he enjoyed his resort "vacation."
"I think all of the wacky promotions are a way that we want customers to have a fun experience coming here," said Mary Tindall, vice president of marketing at Tropicana. "It's all about an escape, so you always have to offer something new and exciting ... even if it's something as simple as having Santa in a bathing suit."
Kathleen McSweeney, senior vice president of marketing at Resorts, said the Boogie on the Boardwalk events proved so popular on Friday nights that Saturdays were added.
"We were really surprised by the crowds on the Boardwalk," she said. "We were gridlocking the Boardwalk, and the rolling chair operators couldn't get by."
Boardwalk oddities have been a staple of Atlantic City's entertainment scene for decades - from the diving horses that plunged into water at the Steel Pier to the diving bell that took tourists beneath the ocean. The modern-day trend seems to be fueling a demand for even more over-the-top promotions, especially ones that encourage audience participation.
"What we learned is that with all of the reality TV shows, everybody wants to be a star these days, even for a few minutes," McSweeney said.
Tropicana pioneered zany casino promotions under its former president, Dennis Gomes. His wildly popular publicity stunts included giving gamblers a chance to win a $10,000 prize if they could beat some tic-tac-toe playing chickens. The chickens almost always won.
"It was an absolutely great promotion at that time," Tindall said. "Not that we're not searching for a new chicken-like promotion, but I don't think we're looking to bring them back. But I don't want to say never."
Another bizarre Tropicana attraction has been resurrected - although in a scaled-down form - by another casino. Tropicana once had a big, whirling money machine called Fortune Dome. The Trump Entertainment Resorts Inc. casinos have introduced what they have dubbed Money Machine Madness and the Money Mania Machine.
Resembling an oversized phone booth, Money Machine Madness features $5,000 in cash that flies around inside the structure while a customer tries to grab as much money as possible in just 60 seconds. Money Machine Madness ended its run at Trump Taj Mahal after Memorial Day, but will make a return at Trump Marina Hotel Casino in August and then move to Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino in October.
Casagrande, the Taj Mahal's executive director of marketing, said one customer grabbed more than $2,000 in the largest Money Machine Madness haul so far.
The biggest winner, though, in the Money Machine Madness giveaways may have been the casino itself.
"We're sure of one thing: They generate a ton of excitement for the property while they are going on," Casagrande said.
Donald Wittkowski | Press of Atlantic City
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