Playing Santa

Last weekend I achieved a magical first – I got to play Father Christmas at a kid’s Christmas party.

A dozen infants were told to go out in the garden and shout for Santa. A miscommunication meant I was still sat happily in my warm car listening to the radio as the poor things roared themselves hoarse for ten minutes, but eventually I received the signal and ho ho hoed my way through the back gate.

It was a good costume and a semi convincing performance, because every last one of the little suckers were happy to sit on my knee and pose for a picture without inquisitively snatching the beard. Two of the mums were even hoodwinked when I returned to the party later and they didn’t clock that I’d been the pillow-bellied main event.

At least I thought it was my first time as Father Christmas, until I remembered that I’d played the role for at least five years at PokerStars. I don’t mean the guy at the kid’s company Christmas party, that’s Doug. He’s the Santiest Santa of all the Santas, and I could never compete with him.

For it was said of Mr Doug that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if anyone alive possessed the knowledge. Hopefully I haven’t mangled Dickens too badly from memory.

No, I played the role on the PokerStars client. Back when the company put player experience before all else, it was tradition for someone in the company to login over Christmas and just give money away. It’s not a promotion I came up with, but when I took the job of Online Promotions Manager in the mid-noughties, it was a responsibility I gleefully grabbed.

I call it a promotion but it wasn’t really. There were no terms and conditions, no ROI calculations, no marketing push. It was literally wouldn’t-it-be-fun-if-we-gave-away-a-load-of-money-as-Santa.

And so, while many of my colleagues had shut down for the festivities, I would login in for a few hours a day from the 24th to the 26th and just indiscriminately dish out some dollars. I’d spread my visits out to cover multiple time zones and usually give $20-50 at a time.

In truth, the process was a bit of a ballache. I could have mass-credited players with the money, but that would have just shown up as an unfestive admin transaction. We wanted players to see the name ‘SantaClaus’ appear in their transfer history, so all of the gifts were processed manually.

All the while, I’d attempt to maintain a stream of complete rubbish in the chat window (which is where the above quote is pulled from), so it got a bit hectic and confusing.

As tasks go, it was mostly fun. The majority of players appreciated it for the fun, silly, generous activity that it was. Inevitably some people were greedy and would follow Santa around begging for more money, or would occupy a seat on a table preventing others from getting a gift. It’s in the poker player’s nature to be selfish, so perhaps I shouldn’t have let it bother me.

Over the course of my Santa tenure I gave away close to $20K. That’s not a huge amount as far as PokerStars’ promotional budget went, but they didn’t have to spend any money at all, and I didn’t have to give up my time to give it away. If I’d asked for more I have no doubt Isai would have okayed it. It’s exactly the sort of extra-mile special treatment he encouraged.

I really wish more gambling companies did stuff like that now. Instead we’re subjected to targeted cross-sell crap like Free Daily Jingle Spins. I think I just made that up, but I’ll be surprised if it’s not out there somewhere.

Thankfully it’s No-betsember so I can focus on stuffing down chocolate and Jelly Tots instead. If you know of any remotely similar examples, please get in touch. I love to hear about people doing it right.

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