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Cynthia Kiser Murphey

General Manager, The Palms

Cynthia Kiser Murphey

When the San Manuel Tribe of California decided to buy the Palms in Las Vegas, the first tribally owned casino in town, tribal leaders turned to a woman who knows Las Vegas like the back of her hand, Cynthia Kiser Murphey. Murphey spent two decades with MGM Resorts, running the human resources and later becoming general manager of New York-New York. With a small database of California gamblers, the Palms has built a loyal following by focusing on service and culture. Murphey spoke with GGB Publisher Roger Gros in a suite in the Palms in January.

GGB: What was the most difficult part of getting the Palms up and running after it had been closed for two years following the pandemic?

Murphey: That time was very much a challenge. We were extremely blessed that over 50 percent of the Palms employees agreed to return. That was what was so extraordinary and a very positive surprise for our team. Palms has a very, very special place in people’s hearts and in the community. We’ve continued to maintain an impressive number of day-one team members. And that was really the biggest challenge—getting the people back was very important.

How much of an advantage was it that this was a newly renovated property when you came in? Station Casinos had invested half a billion dollars into this property.

Well, the beauty of this property is a gift to the guests, to our team members and to the community. It’s really a beautiful property. Our tribe, our company, is very committed to the people. And the first investment the tribe made was to elevate the back of the house, the employee entrance, the lockers, the employee dining room and such. But like anything, a property that sits for two years has to be restarted. So we are very proud of this property and with the service we’re able to provide, because the property is the stage.

You didn’t have a great database when you started. You had the database from the San Manuel casino, the Yaamava’ casino, but still you didn’t have a large Vegas database. How did you build that?

The key difference with the Palms is that we are owned by the San Manuel. And the Yaamava’ database is extremely loyal, and it’s been growing for 35 years. So to bring in new customers, we engage them with Club Serrano. And that’s really what our team’s been working on. Just because we open our doors doesn’t mean the customers immediately come. You have to speak to them, you have to reach them. There’s a lot of messaging about Las Vegas out there so we have to find our pathway to reach not only new customers, but to really activate that Yaamava’ database, and we’ve done that.

Tell us about the demographics of the Palms customer. When the Maloofs opened this property it had the great reputation for locals during the day, and the night and the weekends were visitors from out of town.

We’re about 60 percent local. And clearly the lion’s share of the non-locals come through Club Serrano and California. We find that if we give them a good reason, whether it’s come down for a concert or mini-gaming promotions as well as great food, they will come. We also run a really fine gifting program, which is aimed at locals. So in the end, we get really high-quality people.

It seems that the most important thing is most casino resorts is the culture. How did you put this culture together with the great culture San Manuel developed in California?

I think it’s one culture. Our tribe, our owners are people first—very focused on people, whether it be the team members, the community, or the stakeholders. That’s refreshing for a lot of people. To work for a company that is all about the people, the humanity, the give-back philosophy. It sounds easy, but it takes some work to really build a culture where you engage your management team and your frontline team members and everybody to serve.

Roger Gros is publisher of Global Gaming Business, the industry's leading gaming trade publication, and all its related publications. Prior to joining Global Gaming Business, Gros was president of Inlet Communications, an independent consulting firm. He was vice president of Casino Journal Publishing Group from 1984-2000, and held virtually every editorial title during his tenure. Gros was editor of Casino Journal, the National Gaming Summary and the Atlantic City Insider, and was the founding editor of Casino Player magazine. He was a co-founder of the American Gaming Summit and the Southern Gaming Summit conferences and trade shows. He is the author of the best-selling book, How to Win at Casino Gambling (Carlton Books, 1995), now in its fourth edition. Gros was named "Businessman of the Year" for 1998 by the Greater Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce, and received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Gaming Association in 2012.

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