Wendi Long has faced many challenges during her 14-year career in gaming, including rising to the top of the male-dominated world of poker management. Imagine being at a convention and realizing you are only one of two women in a room filled with over 100 poker managers.
But her uncompromising work ethic and commitment to succeed have propelled Long past all obstacles, and she was recently promoted to marketing director of the Eastern Shawnee Tribe’s three casinos in the highly competitive Northeast Oklahoma market. She takes pride also in how she achieved success: through hard work. Says Long, “There are people who want to move up by bringing other people down, but that’s the easy way out.”
Long’s journey has been mirrored by Eastern Shawnee’s gaming business, which has grown from a single 500-slot facility with a handful of table games to a three-casino portfolio totaling more than 1,800 total slot games, two hotel towers, a pool and a convention center.
Dealing blackjack and poker, working as a cocktail waitress and in the casino bank, or being supervisor of poker and off-track betting—nothing directly prepared Long for a career in marketing. But five-plus years ago, Long’s dedication to excellence caught the eye of the previous marketing director, Melanie Heskett.
Long’s decision to make the move to marketing was the pivotal—and risky—decision of her career. She was taken out of her “comfort zone” and had to learn a new discipline. But she asked questions, and more questions, and never gave up.
“There were some tough times where you step back and ask, is this right for me and my family?” says Long. “The drive to the top isn’t easy. Lots of sacrificing of time, work coming home with you, nights and weekends and holidays.”
But having been tempered by the process, Long takes comfort in knowing, when faced with a new challenge, “I got this.”
Long credits Heskett, now general manager, with providing invaluable career mentoring. It
wasn’t just that she taught Long everything she knew about marketing, but how she did it.
“Melanie is one to lead side-by-side with you, not demanding from the front,” Long says. “What she showed me then and what I continue to believe today is that a great team is not made up of the most impressive resumes or the longest collective tenure. A great team is made up of great people. People who listen and understand each other, who have the same vision and who just fit together.”
Now Long is the leader of the team, and she is carrying on Heskett’s tradition while imparting her own vision to the team on how to work together to reach their customers most effectively.
In her mentoring, she encourages team members to distinguish between a job and a career.
“If you see this as a job, you will never give 100 percent,” she says. “It’s knowing that not just the big things but all the little things you do above and beyond your job will get you far. Someone is watching and there will be an opportunity to grow. Maybe not today, but it will be there, and this is where viewing it as a career will keep you focused and not deterred.”
Additionally, she advises young professionals looking to advance to “be the problem solver. There are always going to be disagreements and the unknowns that come up, but be the one who starts with possible resolutions. The casino world is always changing and we need fixers, not derailers.”
Most of all, Long leads by example, and she hopes the “passion and energy she pours into her career inspires others” to work their way up, as well.