Kevin Brown can mix military terms like “duty, honor and country” with expressions like finding the “target environment.”
But don’t expect to hear “at ease.” That’s not the colonel’s style.
Welcome to the blended worlds of tribal government gaming and the military, a nice leadership scenario for the Mohegan Sun casinos.
Brown, the colorful new chairman of the Mohegan Tribe, preceded his gaming career with a 25-year stint in the United States Army. Besides attaining the colonel rank, he earned three Bronze Stars and two combat infantry badges. Brown also served 40 months in the Middle East. He knows that gaming pressures pale next to enemy fire, yet the industries have similarities.
In his case, that meant handling multimillion-dollar budgets and the concerns of more than 4,000 people while in the Army. And like many corporate CEOs, Brown believes employees should be treated like family.
Other comparisons between gaming and the military feature strategy.
“The answer to how an Army guy ends up in the gaming industry is not something that would show on a World War II movie on a Sunday afternoon,” he indicates. “In a general sense, leading large and complex organizations makes you quickly wrap your mind around ambiguous situations. That’s been especially true for the United States Army, because we have been in conflict for more than 10 years. The level of complexity is violent and uncertain.
“In gaming, the ‘combat’ means there are assets you have to protect and there are opportunities to expand.
“In the specific sense, what’s interesting to me are the parallels between the two industries regarding internal controls. Instead of targeting the enemy, you are targeting your customer population. In the military, as in gaming, you are also marketing to a certain degree. You ask how something you wish to do affects three different groups: the internal audience (military personnel), the external ones (Iraqis, in this example) and the U.S. population (whose opinions affect military budgets and operations). Do they understand what you are doing?”
In gaming, the internal audience might be tribal members and casino executives. The external sector could be the patrons and administrative bodies.
One of those groups, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, affects a major target for Brown. Mohegan Sun wants to construct a billion-dollar casino and hotel at Suffolk Downs in Boston. Suffolk Downs partnered with Caesars Entertainment for the initial casino proposal, but Caesars backed out of the plan before it went to voters in November at the request of its partners, due to an upcoming unfavorable report by the commission.
Boston gaming earned a split decision with the voters. East Boston residents denied gaming, but Revere voters passed it. Mohegan subsequently unveiled a plan to build on the Revere side of the racetrack’s property.
At issue is whether another voter referendum is needed for the Suffolk-Mohegan partnership. Massachusetts law mandates that the applicant must reach a working agreement with the host site and the surrounding area before it can operate. Brown was ready to accept either being vaulted into the final round of consideration for a license, expected to be announced in the first half of 2014, or to “move to the next target.”
Regardless of that verdict, Brown makes a triumphant homecoming. The Kentucky native conducts business in the same town in which he spent high-school years. Brown went on to West Point, where he gained a degree in aerospace engineering. He has also served as an analyst at the Pentagon.
He’s more than ready for this particular fight.