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Education vs. Experience

Education vs. Experience

Education vs. Experience

The gaming industry is a very young business. While people have been gambling since time immemorial, it’s only been a few decades since it has been run as a serious business. And it’s even been less time since educational programs have been established relating specifically to the gaming industry and the situations that occur within it. And even so, very few of today’s executives have had the opportunity to partake in those courses during their education.

Experience, therefore, remains the crucial element to success in today’s casino business. Recently, there has been an infusion of highly educated people into the gaming industry, and that’s a good thing. They bring “professional” business practices that we may have ignored or de-emphasized for too long. But as someone who has been working in and covering the industry for 30 years, it seems to me that many of these folks have a tremendous amount of “book smarts” but precious little “street smarts.”

Don’t get me wrong. An education is a wonderful thing. Casino executives with MBAs have undoubtedly learned the basics and intricacies of running businesses of all sorts. They’re skilled in reading balance sheets, evaluating market conditions and responding to business crises. They are, in short, quite prepared to run a casino, in most cases.

But there is much more to the gaming business than education. The gaming business is unlike any other. While you can draw parallels to retail, restaurants or other service industries, there are few examples that are exactly like the gaming business. That’s why experience is so important.

There’s one company in the casino industry that won’t promote anyone who doesn’t have an MBA to a position higher than vice president. In my view, that is short-sighted and devalues an individual who may have more experience than his superiors. Ironically, this same company expects the experienced subordinates to impart the information they’ve gathered from their years on the job to the more educated superiors. With no path toward promotion, what inspires the less-educated subordinates to fully participate in this process?

Again, education is important. With the technological advances rushing at the industry every day, an executive must possess deep analytical skills, the ability to understand computers and how they work, and the critical thought process found most frequently in the classroom. I recognize that education is essential to develop this ability.

At the same time, however, this process must be balanced by the experience learned during the day-to-day operations of a casino. The gaming industry is a people business. And the wants and needs of people cannot always be discerned by a computer, impersonal data and reactions mapped out in a classroom. Every situation is different. Yes, you can be guided by your education and your analysis, but when it comes to making decisions that impact people-whether they be customers, employees or investors-you need to have more than just an MBA. You need to have deep empathy, sincere understanding and a desire to do what’s right for the people involved.

Remember, learning doesn’t end when they hand you that sheepskin. Learning is a process that should continue throughout your career, no matter what job you hold or position you attain. Listening is a very underrated skill. You can learn very important things from everyone in your organization: from the lowly front-desk clerk or dealer to the regional vice president or chairman of the board. And don’t forget those outside your organization. I find that I learn some of my most important lessons from my customers and even people who have no relation to my business. That’s where critical “listening” is crucial.

Experience is a great teacher. Don’t discount what these people have to say. Yes, encourage them to return to school to obtain the degrees necessary to advance within your organization, but don’t just shuttle them off until they return with the requisite learning. Hold them close. Value their advice. And, best of all, profit from their experience.

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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