Faces of Gaming: Steve Browne – Casino philosopher, master gaming instructor and father of a rocket scientist

May 18, 2024 3:34 PM
  • Tom Osiecki — CDC Gaming Reports and Raving Partner
May 18, 2024 3:34 PM
  • Tom Osiecki — CDC Gaming Reports and Raving Partner

If you were in the gaming industry over the last 25 years, you may have attended a training session, a convention speech, or read an article by Steve Browne.

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Browne estimates that he has personally trained more than 100,000 gaming employees in more than 10,000 in-person sessions, all based on his core belief that “We sell an entertainment experience that enriches our players’ lives.”

Browne states that “We believe with a deep and abiding passion that what we sell is the most important thing you could every sell to someone: a feeling of belonging, of being important, of being a winner.”

A disruptive gaming philosopher
Steve Browne’s 45 years in gaming reflects his disruptive philosophy of “customer worship”.

Along with Raving Consulting founder Dennis Conrad, Browne changed the way the gaming industry looks at how we relate to players, employees, and guests.

Browne is still going strong as a master trainer for Raving Consulting, designing and training full-blown guest service programs, advanced host development sales skills training, and building compensation programs for player development programs.

Steve has been a senior resource in Raving’s Player Development and Guest Service teams since 1999. His knowledge and enthusiasm come from over four decades in the gaming industry – beginning as a “lumpy” craps dealer, to a player-engaging pit boss, and then on to casino owner for nearly 10 years.

Browne has worked with hundreds of Tribal and commercial casinos throughout the U.S, plus racinos and international casinos in all the provinces of Canada, Switzerland, England, Macau, the Philippines, Singapore, and Australia.

Browne was awarded the Casino Marketing Lifetime Achievement Award by the Casino Marketing and Technology Conference. He has published three books, “Gambling & Service,” “Math of Player Development,” and “How to Raise a Rocket Scientist for Fun and Profit”.

Culturally diverse upbringing
Browne describes his younger life as “mixed culture” in his trademark Texas storyteller style.

Browne’s “small town Texas born and bred” mother left Texas for New York at 18 to care for her World War II veteran brother, who fell ill with leukemia. Along the way she met a radiology resident who cared for her brother.

“He swept her off her feet. They got married. He finished his radiology residency, got an offer from one of his best friends to come start a practice back in Texas and said ‘we’re going back to Texas’, and she nearly had a cow. That’s the last thing she wanted to do. But we ended up in Texas,” Browne related.

Diverse experiences influenced Brown’s philosophy
Steve Browne grew up in Texas with a worldly perspective, thanks to his father’s love for travel and outdoor activities and his oil millionaire neighbors.

Browne’s father was a pilot with a small plane who took him and his friends on ski trips to Santa Fe and Taos. “We spent five weeks every summer with friends of ours who had a Boys and Girls camp in New Mexico in the Pecos River Valley, Sangre de Cristo Mountains called Brush Ranch.

“After that we would go to the east coast on the Jersey Shore and spend a month where my father built a house one block off the beach in Normandy Beach, just north of Seaside Heights. I had a very interesting experience growing up. Texas was kind of the headquarters in the center; but we went to the mountains in the West. We went to the ocean in the East at the Jersey Shore where I learned to surf,” Browne recounted.

Besides his diverse outdoor experiences, Browne credits his ability to relate  to the people he encountered growing up in Texas.

“A lot of my old Texas friends have never been farther than 30 miles from town. Others were very worldly because we grew up in Wichita County, which was the largest oil producing county in the world at the time. I grew up next to multimillion dollar oil millionaires. My philosophy in the service business comes from these kinds of well-rounded, all-around experiences,” Browne said.

From janitor to dealer
After graduating college and completing a backpacking tour of Europe, Browne led the life of a ski bum, ending up in Lake Tahoe looking for work. “I ended up at Sahara Tahoe and was hired as general building maintenance, which is basically a janitor for $27 a week and all the food you can eat in the employee cafeteria and a ski pass.

“That was 45 years ago and I’m still in casinos. It just got into my blood, the 24-hour lifestyle, the uniqueness of the casino industry. Plus, I  fell in love with the game of craps,” Browne said.

Father supported craps school
Browne decided to pursue craps school. His father told him he would pay for any educational expenses. He called up his father and asked for $500 craps school tuition. And he got it.

“Northern Nevada was my market. I dealt in Carson City, downtown Reno, Cal Neva, Eldorado, and Harold’s Club. I put on a coat and walked the floor. I was a pencil, running scheduling and staffing for all the dealers. I took the Del Web management program. I ran the high limit pit,” Browne stated.

Becoming the guy
Browne told me one of the first things he tells his Player Development classes is that he was never a host.

“Because when I broke in, we didn’t have hosts. We didn’t call them hosts, we called them ‘the guy’. Call my guy. Sometimes the guy was a woman. I once asked, ‘What does Joe do? Nice guy. What does he do?’ They said, ‘Well, he’s Vice President of Casino Strategy.’  I said, ‘He doesn’t manage anybody or run any shifts. What does he do?’ They said, ‘What do you think he does?’ I said ‘I think he gets drunk and plays golf with our best players.’ They said, ‘That’s what he does.’ I said ‘Really? How do I get that job?’ They said ‘Congratulations, you just did.’

“I became a guy. They gave me a black book. They said fill it in a year. It should be full of names of players. You’re going to fill it. If you don’t, you can’t have this job. That’s the way we ran the pits in the old days.” Browne recalled.

Partnering with a superior businessman
In his role as the guy, Browne befriended a businessman who would become a major influence in his life.

“His name was Bill Schneider, and he was a superior businessman. He began in banking and had a string of  automotive leasing companies all over Northern California,” Browne said.

Schneider told Browne that he was looking to purchase a casino and Browne advised him to investigate small casinos that were run down and needed new management.

Browne researched and analyzed two potential properties for investment, Cactus Jacks in Carson City and a casino in Topaz, and provided recommendations to his future partner Schneider.

Browne and his partners doubled Cactus Jack’s casino’s revenues without adding space or equipment in seven years. The partnership paid off the casino within three years.

The Guest Service laboratory
Anyone reading Browne’s articles over the years is familiar with Cactus Jack’s, where he experimented with unique ways to operate and  developed the ethos that was to become “customer worship”.

“When we bought Cactus Jack’s, Schneider said, ‘Okay, I’m going to bring you in as a full partner – you, me and my sister.’

“My job was to run the thing on a day-to-day basis. His job was to oversee it as the president and his sister was a commercial designer in the Bay Area. Her job was to put together what we were going to need to rebuild because Cactus Jack’s was a mess in those days. We made a pretty damn good partnership,” Browne recalled.

Early on, Browne learned the value of focusing on people as the key to running a successful casino.

“The fact is that the only thing that matters is people. People are going to solve your problems. People are going to make you successful. I don’t care if it’s your employees or your customers; it’s the people. When you put your faith in systems, technology, promotions, marketing, and all that other stuff, you’ve missed the boat because we are a people business,” Browne stated.

Browne developed a technique where he would meet with every employee who was hired a few weeks after they began working.

“I would tell them the purpose of this meeting is for me to explain to you our strategy, ‘because you are now responsible for executing our strategy.’ Our strategy is very simple. It goes like this. We will develop a one-on-one relationship with everyone who walks in the door.

“I didn’t say every customer, I said everyone: every customer, every employee, every manager, every gaming regulator, and every vendor. That is our mission. That is our goal.

“I would tell them every day we find a way to keep somebody a little bit happier than they were on the last trip. And that’s your real job.

“When I go out on the floor and I see you laughing and having a good time with your customers, as long as you are doing your job, I’m not going to come over and say quit having fun and get back to work. I’m going to come over and say good job. You’re doing the job. You’re following the strategy. You’re building relationships. That’s what we do here. That was the core, the heart of our strategy. Every business decision we made fit the strategy,” Browne declared.

Marquee to victory
Browne tells the story of repurposing the decades-old messages on Cactus Jack’s marquee to display personal messages like marriage proposals and major life events.

“Does a $500 drawing develop a one-on-one relationship with someone? Do 99 cent breakfasts develop a one-on-one relationship with someone? The answer is NO! Does ‘Marie, will you marry me, Joe’ do it? Yes, it does. ‘Congratulations, Jimmy, Employee of the Month,’ ‘Welcome back Bill and Martha from Europe.’

“Our marquee became nothing but personal messages. That’s just another example of how we executed the philosophy. It ended up on the cover of Nevada Business Journal and on the front page of the Las Vegas papers and the Reno Gazette Journal. Nobody else did this sort of stuff,” Browne recalled.

Starting Raving Consulting
“I met Dennis Conrad at an executive development program in 1993. We were kindred spirits. We hit it off just fine,” Browne said.

When Conrad decided to start Raving Consulting, he called on Browne for advice on starting a small business. Browne came from Cactus Jack’s, which was a small business and had several small businesses under his belt, including a sail loft in Lake Tahoe and his now famous cigar bar, The Carson Cigar Company. Conrad came from a corporate background.

The philosophy
I asked Browne how Ravings’ unique customer first philosophy was developed.

“When we started in the gaming business, the customer was regarded as a degenerate, a sucker, a flea. Your job is to empty their pockets. It kind of morphed from that into more of an entertainment industry.

“We were thinking we need to have a philosophy not as a gambling product, but an entertainment product with gambling as entertainment.

“Dennis was fighting the battle against all these people in boardrooms who had no idea what it was like to be a player out on their casino floor. I was coming at it from the angle of someone who lived, ate, slept, and breathed my players for 10 years. I realized that all the answers are in your people. When Dennis put together Raving Consulting, we were of the same mindset.

“Our industry is focused on how to remove money from our customers pockets as fast as we can. The question was how you get to the money when we know it’s about the player’s experience. Loosen the machines, give them a good bet. Pay attention to them. Nobody in the industry was talking about that. It was all about everything but the player. By the way, what about the poor lowly casino frontline employee who was getting paid minimum wage and getting dumped on by both the players and the managers?

“We decided that we were going to be the honest voice in the room. We were not going to try to be politically correct. We’re not going to bullshit; and we are going to be the loudest voice in the room. And if that hurts us, so be it, and sometimes it did.” Browne stated.

Math-based player development programs
With a new philosophy, Browne helped develop programs for Raving Consulting over the last 25 years that defy conventional wisdom.

“I started with customer service. Every aspect of customer service from designing and building service programs and training programs is based around the idea of behavioral service standards, not performance standards.

“Behavioral, meaning how do you treat other people in a service environment? How do you treat your guests in a service environment? How do you behave with them? That is the bulk of my work in guest service programs.

“Then I got into what I really love, which was creating player development programs. That’s my real pride and joy. I feel I received my Lifetime Marketing Award for my work in PD. Building a fully functioning math-based sales program for the gaming industry where one never existed.

“Nobody else knew how to teach selling. At Raving, we lead the charge and built a full service, fully-functioned, math-based, lead generation sales program for the gaming industry. We developed lead generation techniques, negotiation methods, mathematical analysis of the database, sales training for the hosts and motivational training.

“We built the only program that’s in existence in the gaming business today. Others will tell you they have it. Every technology platform that includes a player development function will tell you they have it; but they don’t. They have pieces of it. We have the whole thing.

“We led the charge to hosting becoming less of a service-focused function and more of a sales-focused function,” Browne stated.

Aggressive differences
With 45 years of experience in gaming and consulting, I asked Browne how hosts have changed over the years.

“Today’s hosts are more aggressive than they were in the old days, when they were more laid back, more service-oriented, more just hanging out with the best customers. Now they’re hungry. They’re looking for new business. They’re looking to grow their business. The best hosts today are the professionally trained ones.

“I like to tell people you don’t have to be in gaming 20 years to be a good host. We can teach you what you need to know. But you have to be a people person. You have to realize this is not a job. This is a career where you are self-employed. That book of business is your business. You need to take ownership of it. If I can find somebody who can do that, then I can train him to be a host without years and years of experience,” Browne said.

“How to Raise a Rocket Scientist for Fun and Profit”
Steve Browne’s daughter Katie is a NASA robotics scientist who has cerebral palsy. If you look on Amazon for the title “How to Raise a Rocket Scientist for Fun and Profit” you will find Browne’s book about his daughter.

Katie Hamilton is a software engineer for NASA’s Intelligent Robotics Group at Ames Research Center. In her sophomore year in high school, she applied for a high-level internship at NASA for people with disabilities. She got into robotics because she wanted to help people with daily life. Katie writes code for robots, like Astrobee, who are assisting astronauts with routine tasks on the International Space Station.

“Katie was born in 1988 and I started telling my classes little stories about her life and the challenges of her cerebral palsy that I found very inspiring. As her life went on, more and more incredible things kept happening. With each new incredible thing that happened to her or that she achieved it was another story for me to tell my groups. I kept telling these stories until finally one day I realized I have a book here.

“I had to sit down to author a book and I just toyed with it for a while and then I thought, I would title it “How to Raise a Rocket Scientist for Fun and Profit”. People laughed and said, ‘I would buy that book.’ Okay, I have my title.

“Then when she got her best Scholar Award as top scholar in the College of Engineering, where she was the number one student at the University of Nevada Reno for the entire College of Engineering, Mechanical, Electrical Computer, all the disciplines; that gave me an opening for how the book should start. Then I had an idea for how the book should end. I had a title, I had a beginning, and I had an ending, and now all I had to do was write from all the stories that I had been telling about her all her life,” Browne said.

Passion and courage
Browne’s courage to challenge conventional wisdom and stand up to peers with impressive credentials is admirable. For the last 25 years, while Raving Consulting has grown to add leadership programs, data analysis, security and surveillance, research, hospitality and more, Browne continues to help create programs that follow his belief that “We sell an entertainment experience that enriches our players’ lives”.

His training programs left a legacy of thousands of casino employees who absorbed a philosophy that started with a belief that success in the gaming industry is through people, players, and employees. Browne continues that mission as the most honest voice in the room.

Entries in the Faces of Gaming series:

Tom Osiecki is a casino consultant who writes an occasional column for CDC Gaming Reports called Faces of Gaming, about interesting and engaging people in the gaming industry.

Tom Osiecki is a marketing and management consultant for Raving Consulting and can be reached for consulting engagements at 775-329-7864.

If you know of a fascinating personality in the gaming industry you would like to see profiled, please send Tom Osiecki an email at tosiecki@cdcgaming.com