John Romero: The Man Who Invented Table Game Tournaments

The casino industry has some stars and big names; people who helped shape and drive the industry. John Romero might not be on that list for most people. He was not in the public eye in the same way as Steve Wynn, Bill Pennington, Bill Harrah or Sam Boyd. He did not build casinos or even manage them, but he helped build and manage the casino industry.

John Romero (1929 – 2015). John was born in Los Angeles, CA, a child of the depression. To earn a living, his parents were entertainers in vaudeville and traveled the US and Europe with a family act. During that difficult time John was raised by his grandparents in Fort Worth, TX…In 1960 John was offered an executive position at Del Webb’s Sahara on the famous Las Vegas Strip, and he made his leap into the casino business…In 1975 John invented table game gambling in tournament format…In 1979 he became co-founder and principal owner in International Gaming Promotions, Inc. John’s concept drew 14,000 players to the Sahara, and within a few years these new tournaments had spread to hundreds of US casinos…In 1984 John wrote his first book, Casino Marketing. He followed with Secrets of Casino Marketing in 1998. Reno Gazette-Journal, 5-10-15

I first met John when he was hired as a marketing consultant for the Riverboat casino in Reno. The Riverboat had a full schedule of special events, but over time customer response dropped and the events became less profitable. It happened to all of us; we worked those special events and our “good” player list to death. It was hoped that John could wave a magic marketing wand and fill those events with eager, free spending customers once again. John did exactly that and he did it simply; John rewrote the marketing letters, making them interesting, chatty and personal. He was adamant about the signature; the general manager had to sign each letter. Those letters were not mass marketing tools to John. The letters were personal invitations to a private party hosted by the GM and the customers responded enthusiastically.

Of course, John knew more about putting on events than anyone at the Riverboat or the Comstock. John invented table game tournaments in 1975 and learned early how to fill those tournaments. His tournaments became national events. Playing in one of those tournaments was a badge of honor, much like the World Series of Poker is today. And hosting the tournaments was a financial boost to a casino. The entire industry learned from John about tournaments. Like the Riverboat, the Comstock held slot, keno and table game tournaments. The slot tournaments in particular made a significant contribution to our profitability – in the days of profitability. Thus we learned two lessons from John Romero. We learned how to conduct a gaming tournament and we learned how to treat our customers as friends. Everyone I have talked to since John died has their own stories of John’s contributions to their careers. But everyone had a story. John Romero made very large contributions to the casino industry. And possibly more importantly he contributed to the careers and lives of many people who work in it. John Romero was smart and innovative and he was a good man.


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June 2015
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