With a new hotel, showroom, restaurants and expanded casino to go along with a new name— Yaamava’ Resort & Casino—a new general manager was appointed earlier this year, Kenji Hall. With an extensive gaming background, Hall came to the former San Manuel Resort Casino in 2017 as COO. The new Yaamava’ has garnered praise from all quarters, and Hall says he’s concentrating on getting the property to hit on all cylinders. He spoke with GGB Publisher Roger Gros from his office in Yaamava’ in September. To hear and view a full podcast of this interview visit GGBMagazine.com.
GGB: Congratulations on your recent appointment as general manager of Yaamava’. What does that mean to you after gathering experience at several gaming companies over the years?
Hall: When I started in this industry, being a general manager was kind of a long-term goal. So getting into this space was one of those lifetime achievement things. It feels good because I finally found the right place. And so, to get a GM job at the best place on the planet, I am over the moon over how incredible that’s been for me.
You have always stressed that the employees are the heart and soul of Yaamava’. When you were hiring for the new amenities, what did you do to staff those facilities?
We kind of got creative, because this is now post-Covid. It was really hard on the hospitality industry. So to find new people was always difficult. We opened a hiring center at Ontario Mills Mall in 2021 because we knew we had to staff not just for the extra restaurants, but the expansion of the hotel, more casino space, the theater, all of those areas. We needed thousands of employees. So we found an easy location for them to go to as opposed to fighting traffic to get to the property. We put out over 10,000 offers in the last three years, and we should be able to hire our 10,000th person officially sometime in 2024.
How did you retain the valuable team members in the face of expansion at other Southern California casinos?
When I talk to the new hires, I talk about being blessed. I get to work for a tribe that really puts people over profits. That retention really happened through Covid when, while we were closed down, the tribe continued to pay every team member—including tips that they would have earned. And so at the conclusion of the pandemic, we called everyone to come back to work. And at the end of the year, knowing that we were closed for almost three months and we missed budget, the tribe still pushed a bonus out to all team members. That just speaks to the loyalty that the tribe has towards our team and how much they feel that it’s about the people. It’s about the long term.
How have the hotel rooms been received?
They’ve been really well received. Our 432 hotel rooms recently received a Forbes four-star rating, and the guest service there is second to none. We also recently won Best Casino Outside of Las Vegas by the USA Today Readers Poll. And most importantly, our guests are also saying, ‘We really like what you guys have done to the place.’ And that’s been really gratifying.
You’ve also got a beautiful new theater. What’s your entertainment philosophy? I know you’ve had some real superstars since you opened there.
We’ve had some really great acts along the way. We’re trying to make sure that we highlight this beautiful new space, with top-of-the-line technology, with some of this incredible entertainment. We’ve had Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pink, Dave Matthews and Andre Bocelli, and Ed Sheeran’s coming. Kevin Hart’s been here a couple of times. It’s about making sure that it’s the right artist at the right time, and the right genre for our guests. So we’re always evaluating it, but we’re pretty happy with how the artists and our guests are receiving the venue.
Tell us how you interact with the Palms in Las Vegas, also owned by the San Manuel tribe. Obviously you share the same database, but how many folks visit both properties?
Quite a few. Our GM there, Cynthia Kiser
Murphey, is a great partner for us as head of a sister property. I was lucky enough to work with her back when we opened the MGM together in the ’90s, and she’s one of the best, one of the classiest humans out there. But that one-card program on the database is the spot we attack to make sure that that the Club Serrano integration is successful between both properties. We know that our guests are going to Vegas, and we know that we can help them. They can earn points here and use them at the Palms. I think that’s a huge benefit. So if they go to Vegas, we want to keep it in the family.
The San Manuel Tribe has a well-earned reputation for giving back to the community both in SoCal and in Vegas. What role do the casino and the resort employees play in this effort?
This is something that’s near and dear to my heart, and is the reason I love working here. It makes it feel like when you work hard and you are creating revenues, you’re doing it for a purpose. It’s not for shareholders, it’s for someone who truly cares about the community. I think they’ve donated over $13 million this year alone. The tribe sets the standard for everyone else, and they’ve made it part of our culture. We continue to push that culture to our teams, and our teams respond. They understand how lucky they are to work for a tribe like this, and they want leave the planet in a better place.