GGB’s annual “25 People to Watch,” in the gaming industry, Part I

With 2017 upon us, the changes that impacted the gaming industry in the past several years will intensify. The effects of consolidation, the search for millennials, skill games, eSports, non-gaming revenue, political winds and possible gaming expansion are just a few of the topics that will be at the front of the minds of gaming executives around the world. And, in GGB’s annual “25 People to Watch,” these are some of the people who are going to develop solutions for many of these issues, answering the challenges and opportunities with strategic business decisions, well-thought-out positions, and amazing talent. Chosen by the Editorial Advisory Board of GGB, these important people demonstrate the long-term viability of the gaming industry as a major tool in economic development in jurisdictions around the world.


Celebrating Gamesmanship
Andy Choy, Chief Gaming Officer, Melco International Development

As chief gaming officer for Lawrence Ho’s Melco International Development, Andy Choy plays a key role in running one of Asia’s largest developers and operators of resort casinos—a glittering string of assets that includes City of Dreams, Studio City and Altira in Macau, City of Dreams Manila in the Philippines and Tigre de Cristal in Russia’s emerging Far East market—and has ambitions that extend from the Yellow Sea and the Sea of Japan to the warm blue waters of the Mediterranean.

It’s a portfolio unique for its diversity, too. Melco owns Macau’s only operator of machine gaming arcades, Mocha Clubs, and holds a majority stake in Entertainment Gaming Asia, a Nasdaq-listed company with a casino on Cambodia’s busy border with Thailand and slot operations in Cambodia and the Philippines. Melco also owns 40 percent of a Hong Kong-listed provider of services and technologies to China’s booming lottery market.

It keeps Choy plenty busy. Yet, it’s nothing like the career he envisioned when as a young Stanford MBA he first entered the business world as a turnaround specialist for Carl Icahn.

“I took a rather fortuitous route to the gaming industry,” he says. “My background is actually in manufacturing and supply-chain management.”

That fortuitousness led him to Icahn’s American Casino and Entertainment and from there to Riviera Holdings Corp., where he served as chief executive officer. He came to Macau with Las Vegas Sands as a senior vice president of operations overseeing Sands Macao and the Four Seasons Macao. When he and Stanley Ho’s son met in 2010, the latter’s own gaming empire was beginning to take shape in partnership with James Packer. Melco’s sole integrated resort at the time, City of Dreams, had just opened on the Cotai Strip the year before. But Melco had big plans, and Ho suggested there could be a place in them for Choy.

“I figured he was just being polite,” Choy says. But in 2014, with Studio City and Tigre de Cristal well under construction and City of Dreams Manila about to open, Lawrence sought him out.

“My role is to provide an operator’s point of view to decisions made at the Melco corporate level,” Choy explains. “Additionally, I assist the business development efforts by providing operational input early in the process.”

Choy is the point man for the all-important gaming side of an aggressive global growth strategy. Melco is slated to break ground this spring on a 500-room integrated resort on the island of Cyprus in partnership with Hard Rock International. The company also has the inside track on a planned IR on South Korea’s popular Jeju island as part of an agreement concluded last year with a fledgling developer called New Silkroad Culturaltainment.

The company has a foothold in Spain as part of a partnership to develop an IR with a casino in the planned Barcelona World Project, an expansive enclave of hotels, leisure and entertainment attractions and luxury residences. In Macau, a new hotel is coming to City of Dreams. A major expansion of Tigre de Cristal is in the works: two more hotels, more shops and restaurants and meetings-and-convention facilities at a total projected cost of US$500 million.

Choy also is deeply involved in helping to develop a social gaming platform for Entertainment Gaming Asia.

And look for him in Japan, too, where Melco figures to be on the A-list of prospective developers if legalization becomes a reality there. —James Rutherford

 

Jack of All Trades
Kevin Brady, Vice President of Casino Operations/Internet Gaming, Resorts Casino Hotel

You won’t be reading much about Kevin Brady in 2017, but you’ll be seeing quite a lot of his ideas and expertise. Those will be very much on display in places like the new $500 million ilani Casino Resort coming to Washington state this spring, in a newly remodeled and reimagined Paragon Casino Resort in Louisiana and in the planning of the multibillion-dollar Inspired integrated resort taking shape at South Korea’s Incheon International Airport.

Brady is part of the brain trust mapping the growth and expansion of Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority, the operating arm of Connecticut’s Mohegan Indian Tribe and one of the most dynamic development and management companies in the industry today.

His day job is vice president of casino operations/internet gaming at Atlantic City’s Resorts Casino Hotel, which was on everybody’s most-likely-to-die list amid the seaside destination’s plunging fortunes when MTGA took over management in 2012 and engineered one of the great turnarounds in gaming in the Northeastern U.S.

Brady has been in charge of the casino at Resorts since July 2014, when MTGA President and CEO Bobby Soper lured him back into the fold after seven years as vice president of operations at Pennsylvania’s table games leader, Sands Bethlehem.

Brady had been a key player in regional casino operations and player development for Harrah’s Entertainment and Boyd Gaming when Soper recruited him in 2005 to open the slot floor at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs, Pennsylvania’s first casino and MTGA’s first foray outside its native Connecticut.

The two hit it off immediately and have been friends and colleagues ever since. Brady has amply repaid Soper’s confidence at Resorts, whose revenue growth in percentage terms has been the best in Atlantic City two years running. The property turned double-digit losses into a $3 million profit in 2014, tripled that performance in 2015, and this year, Brady expects net income to surpass $18 million.

“I think the thing we’ve done right is we’re always looking for the recipe for success,” Brady says. “It starts with the people. We’ve got great team members who give great customer service. Every casino here has the same stuff. At the end of the day, when a consumer or guest makes a decision to go to a restaurant or casino, it’s the service experience they get that shifts the numbers our way.”

The success has given Resorts the flexibility to innovate with things like the iGaming Lounge, the land-based industry’s first dedicated online gaming space, which is being expanded with a bar and a virtual sports offering in support of a partnership with PokerStars that has captured a healthy 18 percent of New Jersey’s internet gaming market.

Brady also points to the “guidance, leadership and operational expertise” he’s gotten from the top. Soper and Tom Burke, MTGA’s chief operating officer, “have been omnipresent at the property here,” he says. “Mohegan Sun is one of the most, if not the most successful casino on the East Coast. Any time you can partner with a brand like that, it helps you.”

The brand, in turn, has called on him for input on the design, layout and operation of the 160,000-square-foot gaming floor at ilani, which promises to be a category-killer in the Pacific Northwest for the Cowlitz Indian Tribe when it opens in the next few months under MTGA’s development and management. At Paragon, which MTGA is remodeling under a management agreement with the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe, he is providing operational support and expertise in design and capital purchasing.

No doubt he’ll be amassing some frequent-flier miles, too, as the first phase of the $5 billion Inspired takes shape 30 miles west of Seoul and just a hop across the Yellow Sea from the massive China market.

Brady is taking it all in stride. “I specifically work for Resorts, but Tom Burke has asked me to help out with different properties across the brand. It has been a unique experience.” —James Rutherford

 

Start Spreading the News
Cynthia Kiser Murphey, President and COO, New York-New York Hotel & Casino

It’s one of the Las Vegas Strip’s most iconic—and photographed—properties. New York-New York has the faux skyline, complete with the Statue of Liberty and the Brooklyn Bridge in the foreground, where visitors can meet to watch a fireboat spray a cooling sheet of water. But when Cindy Kiser Murphey arrived as the leader of the property six years ago, she knew changes had to be made.

“Yes, people would come and snap some pictures, but then they would leave because there was nothing else there,” she says. “So we did a study of the lowest-performing real estate inside of New York-New York, and we found it was the entire Strip frontage. Behind that beautiful façade, there wasn’t activity. So we designed a master plan that would open up to the Strip. There used to be just two ways get into the building. Now there are 12 right from the front.

“We have bars, restaurants and shopping that open up to the outdoors. That’s been the biggest change since we’ve been here. We’ve really activated the pedestrian traffic. We knew there were 22 million people walking by our property, so we made it easier to get in and then gave them some fun things to do that are fresh. We gave them the ability to discover something different.”

Murphey was a corporate vice president for human resources before joining New York-New York. She says she had always wanted to be in operations.

“I started my career in food-and-beverage,” she says, “and I always wanted to operate hotels. I knew it when I was 16, and decided to go to UNLV, that I wanted to see the world. I still live in Las Vegas, but I did get to see the world.”

There are now plenty of different things to do in and around New York-New York now that the Park is open, which connects the Strip with the new T-Mobile Center, Las Vegas’ first 18,000-seat arena, the future home of the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights. New York-New York is connected to the Park via yet another entrance.

“This used to be our tour bus entrance, where our guests would get dropped off and enter the casino,” explains Murphey. “It was very much a back-of-house entrance, so we had to convert it to the front of the house. We added several restaurants and photo ops, park benches and bicycles.”

Since the Park also is adjacent to the Monte Carlo hotel (soon to be the Park hotel), Murphey says there’s lots of coordination between the properties.

“The leadership, marketing, security and food-and-beverage teams are working very closely together on a day-to-day basis,” she says. “You want the guests to have different experiences. You don’t want to duplicate each other; you want to complement each other.”

In addition to T-Mobile, the Park hotel will include a 5,000-seat theater that will serve MGM Resorts the same way the Colosseum at Caesars Palace services that parent company.

“It’s a beautiful theater and will bring a new kind of customer to the neighborhood,” she says.

And it’s those new customers who are staying in the New York-New York hotel, she says.

“We’ve always been blessed with a high occupancy rate, but now we’re able to introduce new people to the property because of the new venues surrounding us.”

Murphey says the kinds of events being offered at T-Mobile have also made a difference.

“We’ve found that country music is a little more beneficial to us at this time than rock, and the fights are amazing. (UFC superstar) Colin McGregor is our friend because his fans hang out in our Irish pub, Nine Fine Irishmen, prior to his fights. We’re very, very active whenever he fights.”

With the new hockey team slated to take the ice next September, Murphey says planning is under way.

“We know the hockey fans will hang around all day prior to the game, so we’re figuring out how to keep them occupied and provide unique experiences,” she says. “And if they don’t go to the event, they’ll come to the sports bars or sports books.” —Roger Gros

 

Born to Betting
Chad Beynon, Senior Vice President and Equity Analyst, Macquarie Securities

Should a group of scientists ever so desire to clone a Wall Street casino gaming analyst, they might want to consider using Chad Beynon as a prototype.

Coming from a family of math teachers, the number-crunching and projection side of the job comes naturally to him. But his family was also heavily involved in horse racing and wagering in upstate New York, thus instilling in him from a young age a foundational knowledge and interest in gambling, betting and oddsmaking.

He recalls his frequent childhood visits to racetracks, where his grandmother would give him small amounts of money to study the odds and bet on the races. This evolved into an interest in poker, and eventually visits to more than 50 casinos worldwide during his college travels.

His Wall Street career began in 2005 after interviewing for a position at Prudential’s now-defunct equity research arm.

“The analyst called me and said, ‘If you can move to New York in two weeks you have the job,’” Beynon recalls.

After bouncing around telecommunications and a hodgepodge of other sectors, he was hardly at a loss for words when Macquarie Securities called and asked him, “What do you know about casinos?”

In the decade since, Beynon has fused financial wizardry with his passion and personal interest in gaming to become a respected equity analyst in the space. As he has worked his way up the Macquarie ladder, he has also helped improve the firm’s branding and visibility within the gaming community.

In addition to covering the big-hitter casino companies, Beynon goes out of his way to write on newer and sometimes less-publicized verticals of the industry like regional gaming operators, social gaming and the global online gaming giant Amaya.

Beynon credits his blue-collar Pittsburgh upbringing as another key driver behind his personal interest in gaming. Having worked in small businesses and restaurants during his younger years, he relates personally to the work being performed and the intricacies involved in running such an operation. He also holds the jobs and economic contributions that casino properties bring to their communities in high esteem.

Pointing to Steve Wynn’s tendency of always deferring credit for success to his team members at the service level, Beynon says the most rewarding part of his job is the shoe-leather work. He takes pride in visiting properties and hearing from the team members on the ground—the servers, bartenders, cage managers, table game managers, etc., who are ultimately responsible for making any property a success.

“I really think that the differences are made at those levels,” he says.

This organic interest in gaming has proven to be the catalyst that keeps him getting out of bed each morning and avoiding the burnout that others in the analyst community frequently encounter.

“I still have the passion and the fire that I had on day one. A lot of people in this position after a few years no longer have interest in visiting casinos,” he explains. “If I was in another business of equity research, I don’t think I’d still be on Wall Street.” —Aaron Stanley

 

Extending the Legacy
Charlie Vig, Chairman, Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community

In Indian Country, there are few people in recent memory who have had bigger shoes to fill than Charlie Vig, who became chairman of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community in Minnesota following the passing of tribal gaming legend Stanley Crooks in 2012.

By any estimation, the SMSC under Crooks’ 20-year tenure has epitomized the notion of punching above one’s weight. A century and a half prior, the tribe’s members were being hunted down by the United States military and rounded up into concentration camps. Trapped in poverty over the ensuing decades, the remaining band of less than 500 members finally became a federally recognized tribe in 1969 and first dipped their toe in gaming in 1982 with the opening of a bingo hall.

Under Crooks’ leadership, the band in 1992 opened Mystic Lake Casino, which—due to strong leadership and optimal location just southwest of Minneapolis—soon became one of the largest and highest-grossing Indian casinos in the country. Gaming has made the tribe one of the nation’s wealthiest, with gross annual revenues estimated to top $1 billion and each tribal member reportedly receiving payouts in excess of $1 million per year.

But with Crooks’ passing in 2012, the leadership mantle was passed to Vig—a little-known personality outside the Shakopee Mdewakanton ranks who had previously served as vice chairman after a career helping to build Mystic Lake.

In 1992, Vig got his start in the casino business as a project manager at the SMSC’s newly minted Mystic Lake Casino—the closest casino to the Twin Cities. Within three years, he had worked his way up to vice president of the property and was elected to the tribe’s board of gambling directors, where he served seven terms.

In January 2012, Vig was elected vice chairman of the SMSC. But when Crooks—who had served as chairman for 20 years—passed away just eight months later, Vig found himself atop one of the nation’s wealthiest and most influential gaming tribes.

For the past four years, Vig has been making the transition from a virtually unknown figure outside of the SMSC confines to one of the most important and influential personalities in all of Indian Country.

Vig’s task has not just been enhancing the tribe’s wealth, sovereignty and self-sufficiency through casino gaming, but also through the diversification of its economic base, forging new community partnerships and continuing the SMSC’s long-standing tradition of extending financial assistance to other tribes in Minnesota and around the country.

Since 1992, the SMSC has given more than $500 million in grants and economic development loans to other tribes.

“Anytime a tribe is in need and on their last leg, it seems like the Shakopee Mdewakanton come through,” says one observer. “They’re like these guardian angels of Indian Country.”

Vig also is overseeing ongoing efforts to continue investment in both the tribe’s gaming and non-gaming businesses, as well as its community outreach and lending programs—all of which are seen as necessary ingredients to economic diversification.

Because of these efforts, observers point to SMSC as a prototype example of how a tribe can become wealthy from gaming without becoming unhealthily dependent on it—particularly as competition in the gaming space grows nationwide and local competitors like the Minnesota Lottery look to expand their offerings.

With 4,200 employees, SMSC is the largest employer in the Scott County, the fastest-growing county in Minnesota. It has also given out more than $325 million in charity donations to organizations and causes.

A partnership with the Canterbury Park horse racetrack clean energy projects, a new hotel development at the Mall of America, investments in public safety and infrastructure and a Harvard University-praised community involvement effort that has helped to assuage shaky relations with adjacent communities, form the glue that is expected to ensure the tribe’s welfare in the coming years.

While Vig isn’t as immersed in the day-to-day gaming operations today as earlier in his career, the tribe’s mantra under his watch has been the continuation of the stellar management and corporate citizenship principles that have made the Shakopee Mdewakanton the envy of gaming tribes nationwide. —Aaron Stanley

 

The Good Fight
Connie Jones, Director of Responsible Gaming, Association of Gaming Equipment Manufacturers

Connie Jones spent nearly 20 years at the major slot manufacturer IGT. Her charge was to keep the company informed and up to date about issues related to responsible gaming, and to make sure that the products produced by the company do not encourage or worsen problem gambling. She says she jumped at the opportunity to take a similar position at the Association of Gaming Equipment Manufacturers (AGEM) because it meant she was speaking for the entire industry, which includes all the major suppliers.

“This was very fortuitous for me and for AGEM,” she says. “It’s been a great opportunity for me to be able to spread the word more widely about how we need to approach responsible gaming as an industry and as individual companies.”

Jones says that her new role, however, should not be interpreted as allowing companies to abdicate their responsible gaming responsibilities to AGEM alone.

“My role at AGEM cannot give companies formal RG programs, does not provide training, does not recommend how to work with clients on RG initiatives, or build solid in-house efforts to battle problem gambling,” she says. “Those are the things that my role, through AGEM, cannot give the suppliers. I can’t interface with their marketing people to flag RG issues in ad campaigns, communications or government and public relations. You don’t get that just through an AGEM membership. They need a point person to sort through all these RG issues.”

With AGEM, Jones doesn’t only watch over gaming, she’s involved in government markets with lotteries. Particularly since the mergers of Scientific Games and Bally/WMS, as well as IGT and GTECH, Jones says companies have to be extra cautious about harm minimization.

“To get the lottery contracts,” she explains, “companies have to submit RFPs. And often, those contracts have entire sections devoted to responsible gaming and corporate social responsibility. So you have to explain in detail what you are doing in these areas. A lottery is accountable to the governor, so a company needs to have complete information on RG and CSR. In the past, companies were not asked to provide consumer protection information about their technology in their RFP. Those days have changed. Outside the United States—Canada, Australia and elsewhere—it is crucial to provide that information.”

Jones also makes a distinction between “gaming” and “gambling.” When talking about gaming, she’s referencing the play-for-fun social games that can have an equally devastating effect on problem gamblers.

“There are no protections for people who ‘buy’ those worthless chips in social casinos,” she says. “And sometimes the speed and depth of those games get quite heated, so there needs to be some kind of reaction from the industry if we are to avoid any problems there.”

Jones is also an advocate of pre-commitment, a technology that allows players to set limits on their slot or table play, with one caveat.

“It has to be totally voluntary for the players,” she says. “Pre-commitment on a machine is simply technology that allows players to set limits on time and money, and it doesn’t materially affect the revenue. But once it is mandatory, revenues plummet, players are unhappy, operators are unhappy, and the government is unhappy because tax revenues fall.”

Jones points to the GameSense program in Massachusetts as being a potentially game-changing program for casinos.

“They’re calling it the ‘gold standard’ for responsible gaming,” she says. “And the early results are pretty impressive. It’s only being offered at one casino in the state—the only one operating—but it will be expanded as more casinos open. It’s the first state in the U.S. to implement a program like this, and it’s a step in the right direction.” —Roger Gros

 

Hard Act to Follow
Catherine Cortez Masto, U.S. Senator

By virtue of being the newly elected senator from Nevada and Harry Reid’s hand-picked successor, Catherine Cortez Masto automatically earns herself a spot atop any gaming industry watch list for 2017.

The first-ever female Hispanic to be elected to the United States Senate, she inherits the office vacated by the legendary Reid, who has served as the champion of the gaming industry in Congress for the past three decades.

But because her views on casinos and gaming sparsely arose during her bitterly fought election contest against Republican Congressman Joe Heck, she remains somewhat enigmatic to industry observers who are eager to know what they should be expecting out of her.

After all, she devoted far more resources during her two-term stint as Nevada attorney general to fighting predatory lenders and foreclosure fraudsters and protecting vulnerable groups like children, minorities and seniors than to gaming issues.

For its part, the gaming industry remained officially neutral in the race between Masto and Heck, though she did earn the endorsement of Heather Murren, spouse of MGM Resorts CEO Jim Murren, in a Spanish-language op-ed in the Las Vegas-based El Mundo newspaper.

But the casino business need not fear or question her commitment to their industry, her aides emphasize. They say she will work to champion Nevada’s gaming industry and advance the national interests of the sector in the same manner and with the same zeal as Reid.

Masto, her aides say, understands as well as anyone the vital role that gaming and tourism plays in the Nevada economy. Her father, Manny Cortez, began his career parking cars at a Las Vegas hotel before working his way up to become president of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

Before passing away in 2006, Cortez had become one of the pre-eminent figures in building Vegas and southern Nevada into a worldwide tourist destination and a visionary with regards to diversifying the region’s economic base.

As a result of this upbringing and familial influence, Masto is embedded with a strong appreciation of how gaming and the tourism industry more broadly affect economic growth and middle-class job creation in southern Nevada.

But walking in the footsteps of Reid, unquestionably one of the gaming industry’s patron saints, will be no easy task. Reid had worked his way to the very top of the Democratic Party food chain over his three decades in the Senate, and thus enjoyed tremendous power and influence in crafting the party’s agenda, as well as discretion to block and advance legislation.

Masto, on the other hand, will begin her Senate career at the bottom of the ladder among the party’s rank and file. She and her fellow newcomers will be generally expected to keep silent, raise money and go along with advancing the party platform.

But new senators who do their jobs well have the opportunity to move up the party ranks quickly. Also, as a Latina, Masto will likely punch above her weight in a Democratic caucus that is keen to expand its appeal to both women and Hispanic voters. —Aaron Stanley

 

Premium Player
Dallas Orchard, Senior Vice President, Global Premium Products, International Game Technology

Leading slot manufacturer International Game Technology is on a mission to recapture its former dominance of the worldwide slot market—a dominance that once saw the company in command of more than three-quarters of all slot machine sales.

IGT still owns the market for some categories—mechanical reels and video poker are just two examples. However, over the past decade, competitors have captured a significant share of the premium market, including recurring-revenue slots in the gaming operations category.

Late in 2015, IGT named Dallas Orchard senior vice president of global premium products, and charged him with returning IGT’s dominance of the category. Few could imagine a more logical choice for the role. Orchard had been a key force in one of those competitors chipping away at IGT’s premium market share—Aristocrat Leisure Limited.

In his eight years at Aristocrat, Orchard—who was vice president of gaming operations—was central in building up that company’s North American recurring-revenue business, the main result of which was Aristocrat’s market capitalization growing from AUD1.7 billion (US$1.3 billion) to an all-time high of approximately AUD10.6 billion.

For the past year, Orchard has been busy working toward the same kind of transformation for IGT’s recurring-revenue portfolio, a category in which the company once was the undisputed champion. In fact, he says one strong draw when the IGT job was offered was the ability to work with a new toolkit that included the one game that invented the gaming operations business.

“I was competing with IGT for a long time, and of course, I was always jealous of Wheel of Fortune,” Orchard says, “and of mechanical reels in general. My world was always video, so being able to get my hands on that S3000 and that Wheel of Fortune product line—which has not been ignored, but innovated upon over the years as much as it should be—was appealing to me.

“But the mechanical reel portfolio as a whole is what I was excited to get my hands on, to really grow that strategy.”

Global Gaming Expo 2016 provided Orchard the first showcase of his premium-game strategy—and Wheel of Fortune was, as usual, center-stage. Vanna White, co-star of TV’s Wheel of Fortune, was on hand at IGT’s booth to help celebrate the game’s 20th anniversary, and to help launch Wheel of Fortune MegaTower, the first giant-format version of the iconic game.

“Last year, we displayed Wheel of Fortune 3D, which was the most highly anticipated product of that show,” Orchard says. “That’s in the market now, and being able to just expand upon the segmentation models inside of Wheel of Fortune has been important to us.”

Wheel of Fortune is only the beginning—and only one of the new kinds of slots now in Orchard’s wheelhouse. Prominent among them is the True 3D line, which came to IGT with its merger with GTECH. “Our 3D product is still blowing customers away, and there still is no competition our there for it,” he says. “It’s not really a niche product anymore; there are well above 2,000 units installed, and we’ve got seven games. We just kicked off aggressive promotion because we want to get more games out there—because we’re not seeing any type of dilution or saturation in the category.”

One new game in that category launches a new format the company calls “4D.” Sphinx 4D takes the True 3D effect, which is the most realistic 3D anywhere without the aid of glasses, and adds gesture and haptic control. “In 3D, people always reach out to grab the objects,” Orchard explains. “With the haptic feature, we’re giving them that opportunity. You literally can feel things within the game.”

The True 3D/4D category joins new cabinets such as the CrystalDual+ Stepper and the CrystalCurve Ultra in pumping new life into IGT’s premium game category.

“I’ve tried to bring strategic rationale back to IGT’s premium business,” Orchard says. “So, we’ve established ourselves again with a physical presence. We’ve got six new cabinets with dedicated game mechanics and product strategy, and a deep, 12-month rolling strategy to deliver that content and make sure there are no gaps.”

Inside that strategy, Orchard says IGT will remain dedicated to introducing at least one new premium product every quarter. The company is also doubling down on its licensed brands, launching Haley-Davidson, Betty White, The Goonies, The Voice, new versions of Ellen and more.

Orchard says his effort this year will benefit from the fact that the integration of IGT’s former companies is complete. “We went through merger last year, but it was hard work. As a product team, sales team and executive team, we owned this year’s G2E.

“The proof will be in the pudding, but I think we’ve demonstrated our progress as a company. We’ve been listening to our customers, we’ve delivered upon our commitments, and we can’t wait to get these new products into the marketplace.”

In other words, IGT is now running on all cylinders, and at the front of that journey is the new focus on premium product. “We’re already preparing for next year’s G2E,” Orchard says. “Once you show this type of progress, it’s got to get bigger and better every year.” —Frank Legato

 

Food for Thought
Steve Weitman, Chief Operating Officer, Wynn & Encore Las Vegas

From the employee dining room to the buffet to the finest gourmet restaurant in the property, Steve Weitman stands behind every meal served at Wynn and Encore Las Vegas. With almost 10 years under his belt at the property—he was recently promoted from senior vice president of food and beverage to chief operating officer—his discerning eye spots a guest favorite every time.

“When our guests walk in,” he explains, “there’s such a high expectation of seeing that Wynn name on the brand, that they arrive with the highest level of expectation, whether it’s Zoozacrackers, our deli, or the Drugstore Café, or Wing Lei, whichever restaurant or outlet they’re going into. And our job is always to exceed that expectation.”

While the food is obviously important at Wynn, Weitman strives for much more.

“At the end of the day, it has to be a memorable experience,” he says. “The focus is on three buckets: the environment, the quality of our food and beverage, the excellence of our service. And my job and responsibility is to make sure all three of those buckets are continuously full, and everybody is on board in terms of those three areas.”

Weitman measures the success of his efforts by some traditional methods and some not so traditional.

“I think the one area that I’m most proud of is the consistency that we’ve been able to maintain across all of our outlets,” he says. “All of our fine dining outlets last year were given four stars by Forbes, so it’s really the expectation of our guests coming in that their experience is consistent in terms of how we interact with them from a service standpoint, the quality of the food and beverage at the price point that’s being delivered, and their overall environment.”

But there are more immediate and urgent ways to get feedback in these days of social media.

“When a guest leaves there, there’s no question in their mind that the next time they’re back in Vegas, that they want to return to that restaurant,” he says. “And that’s really our measurement of success. Social media has been very interesting. Everybody now takes their phone out, and they want take a picture of the meal or their surroundings. I wouldn’t say that’s solely one of the definitions of our success, but I don’t think there is anything better than when you go to our website, and the guest has posted a picture there, or on their own website or app. But it’s sort of a defining factor now, in terms of wanting to take the experience with them.”

In the near future, Weitman says the property is renovating the Drugstore Café and the Parasol Bar, as well as starting to think about the experiences that will be provided at the new theme park/water park that Steve Wynn has proposed behind Wynn and Encore (although he stresses it’s not yet approved by the board of directors).

“It’s really an evolutionary process,” he says. “It doesn’t ever stop. One of the greatest things about working here is we’re always pushing ourselves to the limit—through the menus, through the physical changes, to really come back and evolve over time.” —Roger Gros

 

Developing the Rebound
Mike Salzman, Senior Vice President, Development, Caesars Entertainment Corporation

Spending the first five years of his career as a consultant living out of hotel rooms gave Mike Salzman a keen awareness of what a compelling and intriguing guest experience should look like.

It was this backdrop that propelled him toward the hospitality end of the spectrum after completing a real estate-focused MBA in 2009. He took his first job thereafter with Caesars Entertainment in Las Vegas and hasn’t looked back.

“I really enjoy the service and placemaking aspect of hospitality projects,” he explains. “There’s a real opportunity to delight the customers in a way that in certain other asset classes you certainly wouldn’t have.”

While working his way up through the Caesars development division, Salzman cut his teeth working on the company’s three projects in Ohio before spearheading its bid for the Boston casino license. While the project was ultimately unsuccessful, it proved to be just the experience he needed in shepherding the logistics involved in putting together a major casino bid.

When Caesars’ longtime head of development Greg Miller left the company in the summer of 2016, Salzman became the man to lead the company’s development efforts in the Americas.

Concurrently, Caesars’ bankruptcy proceedings and restructuring—including the spinoff of certain property assets into a real-estate investment trust—have largely been resolved and will be in the rearview mirror as of early 2017.

“As it relates to the period of time when we were going through the restructuring, we made the best of a challenging situation,” he says.

While the two-year process made potential expansion efforts tricky due to financial and reputational limitations, the company drew a bit of luck because few such opportunities actually presented themselves. This allowed Caesars to significantly reinvest in its properties in Las Vegas and elsewhere—pumping roughly $420 million into renovating 7,000 hotel rooms throughout the enterprise while continuing to deliver strong operating results.

“We were fortunate that we’ve been able to do that in spite of the restructuring process,” he says.

Looking ahead, Salzman and his team have a much healthier balance sheet as they move into 2017. He maintains that the brand remains healthy and that customer confidence in the company is sound.

“I don’t perceive that the bankruptcy damaged our brand with customers,” he says. “I still think Caesars is the best-known gaming brand in the world.”

So, what comes next? He says he is eyeing new potential markets for expansion, such as Toronto, Atlanta and Brazil, while thinking about ways to reshape the company’s business to better appeal to younger players who are more averse to slot play than older demographics.

But overall, he emphasizes the importance of taking the long view as the company looks to expand its brand.

“We’re at a bit of an inflection point as a company,” he says, adding that he sees tremendous future opportunity for his team as they navigate the ongoing convergence between the gaming, hospitality and non-gaming amenity components of the business. —Aaron Stanley

 

Cash Isn’t King
Kirk Sanford, Co-founder and CEO, Sightline

Kirk Sanford had a clear vision. Or was it a Sightline?

The 49-year-old Napa, California native has showcased a wealth of cutting-edge skills as the founder and CEO of Las Vegas-based Sightline. Stanford, along with several colleagues he brought on board from Global Cash Access, unfurled a revolutionary cash-dispersal process in recent years.

“The industry has talked about or attempted to go cashless for the past 15 years, and for a variety of reasons, it has failed,” he says. “Our team set out on a mission to solve this problem, and we think we have done that with Play+ as the first truly cashless solution that benefits both gaming operators and gaming players.

“There is $2.5 trillion in cash being used for gambling in the worldwide gaming industry. Of that, $750 billion is being used for gambling in the United States.”

Sanford says cash is disappearing in the general retail economy, with only 14 percent of transactions being conducted with it.

“However, just the opposite is happening when it comes to the gaming industry, with 95 percent of all gaming activity being done with cash (the 5 percent of non-cash in gaming is related to those that have casino credit markers). The Play+ vision is to displace green paper with cashless transactions.”

Sanford’s company prospered in another unconventional way. Rather than build up to a certain point and then be acquired by a bigger outfit, Sightline embraced larger businesses. It obtained partnerships with Discover and Vantiv (which did buy a small portion of Sightline) to fortify the operation.

“Discover is our network partner that allows the patron to spend their Play+ money for non-gaming purchases such as dining and shopping either on the casino property or off the casino property,” Sanford says.

“Vantiv is our processing partner that facilitates the credit and debit card loads (aka, top up) for a patron to put money into their Play+ prepaid account.”

Sightline fashioned a major breakthrough in Nevada with the Play+ card in 2016. An in-state patron can play from a home, a tablet, mobile device, even by phone and move funds in and out.

It’s more user-friendly than the classic method of going to the property, funding your account and then traveling there to collect money. Sanford says Play+ completed a very successful trial run at Mohegan Sun in Connecticut, and is now used for remote funding cash-out at MGM properties, Station casinos, William Hill, Wynn sometime this month, and several more to be announced early in 2017.

Sightline also figures to make a lottery entrance, underscoring Sanford’s role as an innovator.

Sanford masters small details and thinks big. His entrepreneurial leadership took Global Cash Access from a privately held startup company to a public company with more than $1.5 billion market cap, $650 million in annualized revenues and 400 employees around the world. He has completed various M&A, leverage recapitalization, high yield financings, private equity, and initial public offerings and was featured by Business Week in 2006 as one of the Top 100 CEOs Under 40. —Dave Bontempo

 

 

Author: GGB Staff

Staff writers for Global Gaming Business magazine, Las Vegas, Nevada.