My last newsletter, “Where are our heroes?” received a lot of response. I could almost hear the ‘uh-oh” when I discussed how disappointed I was in our leaders and heroes.

So you can imagine my surprise when I found myself waiting for a flight from San Diego to Chicago as a dozen uniformed Navy officers arrived in the waiting area.

I wondered where they were all headed. Their uniforms were pressed and their shoes were shined. They were clean-shaven, had no visible tattoos, and all were very polite to others. It was an impressive collection of officers, both men and women, gathered around talking to each other without earphones, cell phones or Blackberries distracting them.

Then we heard that a flight had arrived. The group quickly assembled in front of the jetway that lead from the plane as passengers disembarked. As one uniformed Marine after another arrived, they were greeted with applause and warm handshakes. To the visible astonishment of those returning Marines, they found a phalanx of officers welcoming them back to the US from their tours in the Middle East.

Wow…I had found my heroes. It warmed my heart and those around me to see the genuine good will and happiness of the officers for those returning to the US. There was no trick to what they did for their returning heroes. They simply welcomed them home. They took the time to show that someone cared. What a treat for not only those that returned but those that offered the recognition.

And then I thought why don’t we greet our returning players the same way? What are we doing to welcome our players “home”? For the most part, nothing. In fact, I am amazed at how poorly some of the casinos treat their returning guests. They post rules. They scold the guests. They limit access to restaurants to those guests who belong to their players club, but have no way to look up membership in the system for players who forget their cards.

My trip to San Diego was followed by a trip to the east coast where I stopped by Twin Rivers Casino outside Providence, RI. This is a large box. Yes, box. A cavernous square box with over 5,000 slot machines. No table games, just lots and lots of slots. I was met at the door by a security guard who informed me that I had parked on the wrong side of the building and I would have to go around, outside, because there was construction blocking my path to the gaming floor. There were no signs with directions, no offer for assistance. Just an admonition that I had somehow done something wrong.

Rather than move the car, I asked directions to navigate my way to the floor. The guard clearly was unhappy that he had to explain how to get from one side of the building to the other.

As I walked up stairs, down stairs and across blocked areas, I found the “food court.” Since it was 12:30, I was interested in what they might have for my lunch. The food court had eight choices of menus. They were all fast food types, nothing that we would consider “healthy eating” or even non-fried. Nevertheless, what was more interesting was that I was the only potential customer in the food court.

When I asked, I was informed that the traffic to the food court was, and had been, minimal. Why? Because there were no signs in the slots area directing players to the food court. Further, most of the players did not want to leave their slots. Now for those of you that have read my articles before you know I am going to ask, “What If?” Yes, what if they offered to deliver the foods to the players? You know, the way Barona does with their white linen service.

I was told that since the food court was an individual licensee they had no leverage to make the request. Further, the fancy restaurants on the upper floor would object. So I went to visit those restaurants, to see how they fared during lunch hour. Not one was open. More importantly, they were never open for lunch.

This took me back to thinking about how the Navy knew when their returning Marines would be at the airport and found the time and resources to welcome them home, while a large casino could not accommodate their players for the lunch hour. What are we thinking?

Moreover, let us not be critical of just a casino’s myopic thinking. What about Apple, which messed up this summer by cutting prices of the iPhone by $200 after thousands of customers stood on line for days, sometime in the rain, to be the first to buy it for $599?

In instances like these, loyalists, as they are known in the marketing field, are not just early adopters, and trendsetters, they are influencers. They are valuable not just because they try a product or play at a casino, but also because they often persuade friends to do the same. I have reminded my readers that one of the most powerful relationships you can develop is with players who act as advocates for your property.

Just as important, those same people will turn their backs on any company that disses them. Sure, Apple offered a $100 store credit and CEO Steve Jobs apologized, sort of, but that may not be enough to regain lost trust. In addition to turning off its own loyal customers, Apple also opened up the door for its competitors.

I often ask myself, Why don’t casinos have greeters like Wal-Mart? Why don’t they offer free donuts like Krispy Kreme? Why don’t they deliver like Dominos? And why don’t they welcome home those players that return?

A recent survey by Carlson Marketing found that a store’s reputation plays a large role in shopping choices. Don’t you agree that the same holds true for gaming organizations? In that survey, over 2.5 million consumers rated reputation at 70% or higher as an intangible benefit. If we apply that same premise to gaming, then what we all need to understand is that our players have influence on other players. How we treat them is not a trick.

Most of us understand that gaming organizations make a profit and we are willing to play with that understanding. So why choose one location over another? After interviewing hundreds of players at dozens of casinos, I have come to a simple conclusion: Players like bragging rights. They love to say, “Look what I got free from MY casino?” “Can you believe it, valet parking is free!” “And they delivered a sandwich to my table or slot so I could continue to play!”

Look at your players and try to understand who they are and what makes them happy. Do not try to trick them with gimmicks, long lines, or grumpy security guards. Try reaching them on their own level, as adults who like to be treated well. Become the welcoming committee, like those Naval officers, that show appreciation for our returning guests.

In a marketplace where the player has choices, you can make book on the fact that they will go where they are not tricked, but treated well. It’s not so much about winning or losing as it’s about, as they reminded us in the theme from Cheers, going to “a place where everyone knows your name.”

Four Sure Bets