GGW Voices: Family business, family legacy

June 11, 2024 4:00 PM
  • Anamarie Ellis
June 11, 2024 4:00 PM
  • Anamarie Ellis

GGW Voices is an ongoing collaboration between CDC Gaming Reports and Global Gaming Women featuring commentary and insight from women in the gaming industry.

Family-owned businesses are rare today; family-owned casinos are almost extinct. Working in a multi-generational family business at Ellis Island Casino and Hotel is a unique privilege that I am grateful for and humbled by every day.

Story continues below

One undeniable benefit of working in a longstanding family business with history is learning from the stories of those who have been here since the beginning. These stories of humble beginnings and entrepreneurial grit teach invaluable lessons, valuable in any environment, whether it’s a family business or a large corporate setting.

They emphasize the importance of building a legacy. Building a legacy goes beyond pursuing your own personal and professional goals – every decision is made with the overall property, the brand and the people it touches in mind. A legacy is what will continue to flourish even after we’re gone, for generations to come, and it’s up to us to decide what we want to leave behind.

Family businesses often consist of what we can politely call diverse opinions. This makes for a collaborative environment that is occasionally argumentative, sometimes lively, usually fun, and always productive. Just like family conversations over Sunday dinner where some of the best life memories are made, some of the best business decisions stem from an environment just like this.

Embracing change: Where tradition meets innovation
“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” – Henry Ford

Close, tight-knit families typically have strong traditions, and family businesses are no different. Treating customers like old friends you’re excited to see, and not just as profit points, and treating team members like your own family — which in many cases they actually are — are foundational lessons we learn in a family-run business. Yet, without consistent, deliberate care, these core components can be lost from one generation to the next.

Finding team members who align with the culture you’ve built and share parallel values is key to maintaining that core and purpose, while also welcoming team members with diverse work experience and who bring innovative ideas to the table.

At the same time, especially in the ultra-competitive Las Vegas gaming landscape, maintaining a steadfast commitment to innovation is just as important as building your legacy because, in many ways, that innovation is an essential component of ensuring that legacy.

Whether it is adding new restaurants, focusing on exciting new cuisine that appeals to a new demographic, revamping the layout of the slot gaming floor to feature new games, or being the first in the industry to roll out cashless casino credit technology — we know that if we are not moving forward, we are effectively moving backward.

The way players and guests want to be entertained and experience hospitality will always change, but the way they want to be treated never will. Staying true to who we are and not losing sight of the “why” is why we have such loyal guests and team members.

Making your mark
It’s undeniable: working with family can be challenging at times. Even the closest families have disagreements. But the best advice I ever received on how to successfully work with family? Always communicate. In fact, over-communicate.

Every generation gets the chance to leave its mark. The important thing is what kind of mark you leave. And no matter what we think of ourselves and our strengths, we are always stronger together, so communication is paramount. Not just communicating about things you agree on, but also through disagreements, standing up for your own opinions, and giving each other grace when we fall short.

My sisters and I are the third generation to work at our family’s small casino property, each of us with our own distinct areas of interest. The juxtaposition of our separate leadership areas and our closeness as a family provides a space for creativity and collaboration we wouldn’t have in a larger, corporate-managed environment.

Community, gratitude, opportunity
A strong collective work ethic and the importance of sharing family stories were not the only values instilled in us. Supporting our community has always been a fundamental value, both of our company and our family. The constant has been a steadfast dedication to making a positive impact on our industry, our city, and the communities we not only live in but call home.

I didn’t build a business from scratch like my father or grandfather did. But with the lessons they’ve taught me and continue to teach, I strive to leave my own mark. Continuing their legacy and leaving an indent of my own is something I work towards, and it is an extremely rewarding work in progress.

I don’t take for granted the fortunate circumstances of being born into my family, in my generation, and being positioned to take advantage of the opportunities before me. But where I am intent on leaving my mark is using that opportunity, those lessons, that wisdom, to grow something even greater for the generations to come.

Anamarie Ellis is the Vice President of Operations for Ellis Island Casino and Hotel and works with her family’s cashless casino credit technology company, Marker Trax, in a marketing role. She is co-chair for the Global Gaming Women Membership committee and was recognized as one of CDC Gaming Report’s 10 Women Rising in Gaming Under 40.