Extracts from an article by Raving Consulting’s Dennis Conrad (President & Chief Strategist) and Toby O’Brien, (Vice President of Marketing & Client Services).


Raving Consulting has worked with scores of tribal casinos over their 10 year history. Unlike the Vegas strip models, tribal casinos are much more closely aligned with the Australian club model.  This insightful article explains why they consider the Barona Valley Ranch Resort and Casino in Southern California the BEST RUN in the business.

And the punters agree – Barona just won six out of the nine gaming gongs at the recent Readers Choice 2015 Best Casino Awards including Best Casino, Luckiest Casino, Best Slots, Best Jackpot and they took second place for Best Players Club.  (They didn’t rank in Bingo because they don’t have it).  They also won awards for Best Resort, Best Buffet, Best Golf Course & Best Service.

All that ….and yet they easily have the worst location in town and some very stiff competition nearby.

Here’s what Raving had to say:

While working with tribal casino clients, we are continually looking for the strengths upon which marketing progress can be made.  Sometimes that strength is a great facility in a great location. Sometimes the strength is a GM or a Marketing Director who “gets it,” who understands the importance of customer focus, or the integrated link between marketing and operations, or how important it is to have motivated employees who bring their discretionary effort to their jobs.  And every once in a while, that tribal casino’s strength is its whole being, its entire way of doing business. And when we see it, we can only stand back and applaud (and of course point it out, so that other tribal gaming executives can learn from these industry leaders).

And we can find no better example of such an Indian gaming “marketing giant” than Barona Valley Ranch Resort and Casino.

We’re betting that you’ve heard some of the “buzz” about Barona over the last few years and how it competes effectively with the other quality Indian gaming “mega-competitors” near San Diego, even though Barona easily has the worst location (and if you don’t believe us, try driving up Wildcat Canyon Road to Barona any weekend evening!).

You may have heard about Barona’s pioneering use of technology.  It was the beta test site for the development of the high-powered Mariposa CRM software, which now sits squarely in IGT’s bag of marketing tools.  It pioneered TITO and it’s currently pioneering server based gaming.

Barona has kiosks for its employees as well as its guests. It has mobile slot cashiers;  a touch screen service monitor on its slots;  Biometrics (being used!); a virtual promotions tumbler; a hotel key that serves as Barona’s players club card…and on and on and on.

Barona clearly is a technology leader in Indian gaming, heck it is a technology leader in worldwide gaming!  If you haven’t heard about Barona’s pioneering use of technology, you may have heard about one of its dozens of marketing innovations.  Barona has security officers waving to guests arriving by car, and greeters at front doors welcoming guests (and aren’t those nice personal touch points to counterbalance all that Barona technology?).  Barona has a players club-like program for its employees – the Ambassador Club.  It has free auto detailing and towing service for its VIP’s. 70% of Barona’s coffee shop meals are served to active players on the casino floor.  It has a new slot game “Preview” area where players can always find the latest and greatest slots (not currently in California!).

Yes, Barona knows innovation. But what we are sure you don’t know (because we haven’t shared it until now), is our take on WHY Barona is such an exquisite example of the “whole marketing enchilada” and an Indian casino operating model that you should emulate, copy, steal from (legally of course) and aim toward.

So here you have it: Dennis and Toby’s breakdown on the award winning “Brilliance of Barona”:

  1. Barona Marries Technology With “People” – most casinos use technology to REDUCE the need for people, Barona uses it to ENABLE its people to better touch its guests.
  2. Barona Knows Its Employees Are Critical To Effective Marketing – and it hires, pays, communicates to, rewards, empowers and motivates those employees as such.
  3. Barona Is Not Afraid To Try New Ideas – if it feels it will have a payoff, improve the guest (or employee) experience, or potentially give it a competitive advantage, Barona will try it. Failure is both liberating and ESSENTIAL!
  4. Barona Likes To Share Its Wisdom – not only does Barona see the value in “leading the learning” for the gaming industry, it fully knows its competitors can’t copy its “secret sauce” without the right chefs in the right restaurant with the right cooking process. You want to see how Barona does business? Just ask any of Barona’s senior (even junior!) executives and they’ll invite you down and probably comp your room!
  5. The Tribe And The Management Team Are On The Same Page – and no offense to any other tribal gaming enterprises here, but the Barona Band of Mission Indians and its consultant, VCAT, and its gaming management team are REALLY in lockstep on what the gaming business really is and how they are all going to strategically execute it TOGETHER.
  6. Barona Knows Who Its Customers (Really) Are – and if you didn’t know, they are the “Real Players,” because Barona is the place “where the real players play.” Not the casual player, not the looky lou, not the coupon hound, THE PLAYER! And that is the clarity of focus that drives the whole Barona engine. HEY, WE ARE NOT FOR EVERYBODY (just the most valuable players).

Don’t think your Indian casino could ever get to be a Barona? Well, that’s the best news of all. It wasn’t too many years ago that Barona was in its first generation sprung structure, trying to figure out “who it wanted to be when it grew up.” Well look at the beautiful Barona butterfly now, fluttering its wings in astonishing gaming marketing glory, for all of Indian country to marvel at and hopefully, fly just as high as one day.