Travis Wolfe, founder of the Tribal Gaming Student Association and food and beverage supervisor for Marriott International, finds the gaming industry to be an alluring career for a number of reasons. However, the complexities, intricacies and constant changes of the industry are what attracted him to the field.
Wolfe believes tribal government gaming encompasses all of these qualities, as well as providing a sustainable model to help drive Native American communities out of poverty.
“This concept of providing a business service, while also contributing to the rebuilding and revitalizing of an entire endangered culture, allows for free thought and encourages innovation,” says Wolfe.
Wolfe realized his potential within the gaming industry as a tribal gaming operations student at the L. Robert Payne School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at San Diego State University. “I felt the need to get involved by creating the world’s first Tribal Gaming Student Association,” says Wolfe.
The student-led group is focused on educating students and the community about Indian gaming and its many benefits for the purpose of cultural revitalization, native self-sufficiency and the protection of sovereignty. Says Wolfe, “It is the ability to marry many worlds and find opportunities that include the protection of humanity, culture, business and gaming that has attracted me to the industry.”
Over the course of the last five years, Wolfe has met a number of inspirational people, such as Knute Knudson of International Game Technology and Ernest L. Stevens, chairman of the National Indian Gaming Association. However, one person in particular, Dr. Kate Spilde, has been there for Wolfe every step of the way.
“All my credit is due to her,” Wolfe says. Spilde, a cultural anthropologist and researcher in the gaming industry, has devoted her life to the Native American people and to the education of others. Wolfe states, “Over the course of a full semester, Dr. Spilde showed myself and others how such a lucrative industry contributes to the greater good of humanity. And after that first semester, I was sold for life; I knew my future was in this industry.”
Since then, Spilde has opened countless doors of opportunity for Wolfe and has encouraged his development on many fronts, including public speaking, analytical skills, argument articulation, networking and other facets of gaming that have helped him reach where he is today.
Wolfe finds the most challenging aspect of his career to also be his most enjoyable. “The gaming industry tends to drum up negative connotations from the outside perspective, and I have learned that it requires a great deal of understanding and patience to see the true story and debunk those faulty perspectives,” Wolfe says. “As a young professional who has chosen gaming as a career, persuading others to perceive the industry as a positive economic driver that rebuilds communities and establishes cohesive governments is the most challenging part of this industry.
“That being said, there is nothing more empowering than seeing a paradigm shift where someone who once believed the gaming industry to be unethical and cruel sees what it has actually evolved into.”
His advice to other young professionals in the gaming industry is to increase your personal value by being an informed wealth of knowledge. Wolfe says, “Whether you have spent numerous years on the casino floor, in legal offices, developing your own business, or you have just graduated and are ready to hit the job market, knowledge and understanding are the keys to success.”