You’ve probably never heard of David Kranes, even though he served the gaming industry for three decades. That’s not because David was short of difference-making ideas or noteworthy achievements, but mostly because the gaming industry tends to ignore or outright reject true innovators and out-of-the-box thinkers who don’t necessarily appreciate “how we’ve always done things around here.”
It’s hard to describe what David Kranes does, at least in the gambling industry. In his traditional role, you could call him an academic; he had a decades-long career as a professor of English at the University of Utah and won every major teaching award while he was there. He was also a playwright who wrote numerous plays (and was part of the Sundance Institute) and an author who penned dozens of books and short stories, several of which took place in gambling towns with authentic gambling characters. My two favorites are novels: Keno Runner is sort of like a Stephen King treatment of the gambling life and after reading Abracadabra, you’ll never view casino magic acts the same again. The National Tree, published by Las Vegas’ own Huntington Press, was sold to Hollywood and made into a Hallmark movie.
Fairly early in his career, David became intrigued with design and space and how and why it made people feel a certain way. High ceilings versus low ceilings. Maze-like pathways versus clearly defined routing. Elevated versus sunken areas in buildings. David came to understand that defined space and design principles could account for people feeling claustrophobic in one building and have their spirits soar in another.
About this time, David joined some friends on a weekend jaunt to Wendover, Nevada, and had his first encounter with a casino environment. Sure, some of the smoke and cramped space might have displeased him, but the lights, noise, and action not only intrigued him, but lightened his mood. This was where the seeds of a consulting practice were born, with David confident he could show casino bosses how to make their spaces more enjoyable and, ultimately, more profitable. Thus began a decades-long journey for the Utah academic, trying to show some stubborn and hard-nosed gaming guys that he could help them and help their players’ experience. Good luck with that, right?
I first met David more than 25 years ago at the late Bill Eadington’s Executive Development Program at Lake Tahoe. He was carrying on a debate with the “casino-design expert” at the time, Bill Friedman, who had just written a book called Designing Casinos to Dominate the Competition and who was lobbying for low ceilings, dim lighting, maze-like slot floors, and cramped space. At the time, I called that strategy “get ’em lost and confused and they’ll just be forced to sit down and play slots.” Kranes followed with a plea for high ceilings, spacious slot floors with clear pathways, and — my God! — windows in the casino. I don’t need to tell you who won the debate with these senior casino executives in attendance, though I did hear more than one comment about the “crazy professor from Utah.”
However, I was captivated by David’s perspective and fresh thinking, with principles that made the utmost sense. I approached him at the conference to tell him how impressed I was with his presentation. This began my lifelong friendship with David Kranes, who was, and still is, the most underappreciated resource to the casino industry.
Soon after our meeting, I started Raving Consulting Company, with the vision of offering best-of-breed experienced consultants to the casino industry. I wasn’t sure where David Kranes would fit, but I just had to have him on the Raving team and we settled on “Casino Space and Design Consultant” as his title. I was sure that the casino industry, and certainly casino customers, would embrace David’s magic for making casino space more enjoyable and fun and certainly less stressful and unhealthy. And not for the first or last time, I was wrong. The casino industry reacted to David Kranes with something between amused confusion and outright scorn and rejection.
David did have a few small projects for Raving. A few innovative friends even liked his message. But most found his advice unrealistic. Windows to see outside? Clear navigation paths? Less smoke? Less ear-crushing noise? “What are you, kidding me?” they huffed. “In a casino?”
I was undeterred by this response and felt it was important for our industry to hear the Bible according to Kranes. I utilized him as a featured speaker at Raving Conferences to have attendees hear truly fresh innovative ideas. I had him write essays and columns about why the “Kranes Doctrine” was better for operators, better for guests, better for the industry. I looked for every avenue I could to expose our industry to David Kranes. Why? Simply because he wanted to make it better for our customers.
Again, I was wrong. The industry snored and ignored David Kranes.
I finally put together a shopping program where David and his wife Carol could use their eagle eyes to discover service shortfalls (and, oh yeah, weave a little about design and casino-space shortfalls into their reports). I also flew to Salt Lake City to spend a weekend with David, who audiotaped 16 hours of my stories from the ’70s and ’80s crap-dealing world, which led to David’s production of the manuscript for Crap Dealer, his fictional epic saga of the rise of the gambling industry in America, as seen through the eyes of a casino worker and his wife (anyone know of a good publisher?).
David Kranes has become a dear friend of mine. You won’t find more interesting conversations than with David. Even though he’s usually the smartest person in the room, he’s always the one who wants to know what you’re thinking, so he might just hear a new or better perspective. David mentored many fledgling writers in the gaming industry (including Raving’s own Christine Faria, now the executive editor of Tribal Gaming and Hospitality magazine), just for the pleasure of seeing them tell their stories better or communicate more clearly. He donated days of his time each year to the Sawtooth Writers’ Conference to share his wisdom with young students aspiring to be professional writers. On a personal level, David Kranes always made me smarter, more inquisitive, and more interested in different perspectives and points of view. He was a great wine-drinking buddy and connoisseur and teller of great stories. He was my crap-playing sidekick (who even took my playing advice) and especially loved getting a little raucous with me when the dice were going crazy in favor of the players.
It’s time that someone apologized to David Kranes the teacher, the author, the “space guy.” So David, on behalf of the entire gaming industry, I’d like to say I’m sorry we pooh-poohed your innovative and out-of-the-box ideas and suggestions. I’m sorry we were so stuck on “how we do things around here” that we couldn’t see “how we might do things around here.” I’m sorry that your brilliant reports, chock full of customer-focused insights and recommendations, were so often ignored or dismissed out of hand.
But David, every time you see the rare casino nowadays with spacious and open floors, with clear paths that make you never feel lost, with machine sound levels that don’t break your eardrums, with overhead music that soothes and doesn’t assault, with actual views of the outside landscape, with casino air that is fit to breathe, with casino employees who try to enhance the guest experience rather than dampen it, just remember this. You were one of the first and still-few to show us how we could provide a better casino experience for those who honor us by coming through our doors. For that, David, you deserve an award, but my humble thank you will have to do.
Dennis Conrad is a long time executive consultant who works exclusively with select gaming clients who truly care about being customer and employee focused. He can be reached at Dennis@conradworks.com.
Earlier posts by Dennis: