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Embracing the Market

Ken Golar, Vice President of Finance, Grand Casino Mille Lacs & Hinckley

Ken Golar’s 18-year career in gaming has included executive financial positions at some of the largest operators in the business, including MGM Resorts at the corporate level and The Mirage at the property level. Golar also spent a year on the supplier side at Light & Wonder before accepting his current role as vice president of finance at Grand Casino Mille Lacs & Hinckley.

Golar’s megaresort and supplier experience come to bear in a much different setting than in the past, in the locals-oriented market in Minnesota, where the two Grand casinos work in concert to manage operations at properties less than an hour’s drive apart. Golar is stationed at the Hinckley property, where he works with his counterpart—Ali Khaghani, the finance VP stationed at Mille Lacs—to forge a team approach to finance for the good of the larger operation.

“We’ve got two properties, two leaders, so it’s important to work with my counterpart,” Golar says. “We have different processes, different modeling, so since I’ve come here, we’ve got both properties aligned with Grand Casino standards. My counterpart is here at Hinckley once a month. It’s important to collaborate, support and communicate to get team finance on the same page.”

It helps that his counterpart, Khaghani, is also an alum of MGM Resorts International, having worked both at the corporate level and at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

“Working for MGM Resorts, in my opinion the premier company in the gaming entertainment industry, that experience brings the substantial gaming knowledge, expertise and skill set that comes from working for one of best casino operators in the industry,” Golar says.

For his part, Golar is adapting that experience to bring new ideas to the smaller Minnesota market. “You’ve got to be creative, and help the team grow through challenges,” he says. “It’s a great opportunity, coming from a big market like Las Vegas to a small market in Minnesota. Las Vegas benefits from huge visitation as a tourist destination, whereas now, we need to be more cautious when we go about planning in this market. I’m still learning the market, but I’ve got a great support team that values my input, my expertise and my perspective.”

One critical aspect of finance operations Golar has brought to Minnesota is the use of technology to mine data for more efficiency in decision-making. Last July, the casino deployed the QCI business intelligence platform to assist in host, marketing and slot data analysis. Golar says it has made his job easier, and data mining technology will be utilized on a broader basis in the near future.

“We’ve implemented QCI and we’re going through the training process, but it’s already made the process of interpreting data much quicker and easier,” Golar says, “which makes it much easier to support business performance and identify trends.

“Coming from Las Vegas and MGM Resorts, we had the best technology and applications to make utilizing data easier. Now, we don’t have a lot of capital dollars to spend, so we’re going through a process with technology that will help in making better decisions. Being in a new market with a smaller casino, it’s definitely prudent to invest a lot of capital dollars in technology.”

As far as priorities for 2023, Golar says the finance operation for Grand Casino Mille Lacs & Hinckley is a work in progress that is moving toward maturity. He says his job now is to “keep learning, keep being open-minded, and keep being a leader—motivate, inspire, work with the team, grow and be productive.

“My job is to grow my team, teach them, and be humble, and we we will be successful.”

Frank Legato is editor of Global Gaming Business magazine. He has been writing on gaming topics since 1984, when he launched and served as editor of Casino Gaming magazine. Legato, a nationally recognized expert on slot machines, has served as editor and reporter for a variety of gaming publications, including Public Gaming, IGWB, Casino Journal, Casino Player, Strictly Slots and Atlantic City Insider. He has an B.A. in journalism and an M.A. in communications from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. He is the author of the books, How To Win Millions Playing Slot Machines... Or Lose Trying, and Atlantic City: In Living Color.  

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