With more than 41 million visitors to Las Vegas in 2014, the need for quick incident response and problem management professionals within the gaming industry has become increasingly high. As the director of incident response and problem management for MGM Resorts International, Craig Jacobs and his team are essentially the “FEMA” for casino technology.
“When something is going wrong, we step in to make sure resources are being allocated and we strive to make sure that all services are restored, especially when it comes to those affecting our guests,” Jacobs says.
Jacobs’ team ensures that all IT-related issues that may arise are handled effectively and efficiently. As a professional in the field of information technology, Jacobs has also published Breaching America, which strives to educate readers on the basic techniques used to siphon billions of American dollars each year.
The book provides simple steps to improve security and prevent issues like the data breaches experienced by companies such as TJ Maxx, Target, Home Depot and Las Vegas Sands. Much of the insight provided within this publication is from Jacobs’ personal experiences, gathered from a data breach that occurred during his time with Affinity Gaming.
Upon graduating from Murray State with his MBA in 2006, Jacobs happened upon the gaming industry when he was offered a position with Sands Regency in Reno. Shortly thereafter he was introduced to Las Vegas through Herbst Gaming (now Affinity Gaming), which acquired the Sands Regent casinos in 2007. New to the industry, the seasoned hospitality and gaming veterans around him compelled him to stay. “They taught me a lot and just made it an amazing learning experience,” he says. “The industry is a complex environment that requires a lot of attention, so it fits with the way I like to operate.”
Of Jacobs’ many mentors, Ferenc Szony, the CEO of Truckee Gaming, has been the most important as it relates to the gaming and hospitality industry.
“I was fortunate to work with Ferenc and many other industry leaders during the economic downturn, which led to a bankruptcy and reorganization of Herbst Gaming,” he says. “I have always appreciated the trust Ferenc had in me, which gave me invaluable learning opportunities at a young age.”
The economic downturn and subsequent bankruptcy of Herbst Gaming represent Jacobs’ largest challenge in his career to date. The entire gaming industry was on the verge of bankruptcy, with stock prices falling 50-70 percent for many companies. This led to adjustments in volumes and workforce, creating stressful situations for many industry employees.
As a regional IT manager for Herbst Gaming at the time, many looked to Craig to find operational efficiencies to “do more with less,” improving the bottom line and cutting costs.
“Around this time there was a turn towards data from a lot of regional operators,” he explains. “Free play had been a largely unchecked marketing tool prior to the downturn. Free play went from a ‘marketing tool’ to increase frequency to a true ‘cost’ of doing business.”
It was during the downturn that a major shift in hotel room pricing affected the industry. This shift became the inspiration behind RateShepherd.com, a reporting tool to help hotels track the rates of their competition.
“Before the downturn hotel room rates were largely based on historical performance and occupancy,” Jacobs says. “In the downturn, room pricing was all over the place, and without software it was impossible for hotels to keep track of their position in the market. Today, many hotels use the software to maximize revenue in their forecast.”
As a successful industry professional, Jacobs has advice for anyone looking to advance their career in the gaming industry.
“Generalize and specialize. It is important, especially early in any career, to focus on what you do well. By developing an expertise that has value, your personal brand can be established, recognized and leveraged.”
This mantra was borrowed from Jacobs’ father, Dr. Marty Jacobs, who is an expert in learning and curriculum development. The advice has served him well.