GGW Voices: Tribal Gaming shifting – How does technology play a role?

April 16, 2024 9:36 PM
  • Robin Villareal
April 16, 2024 9:36 PM
  • Robin Villareal

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

Innovation has been my community’s way of life. Our ancestors the Hu-Hu-Kam were known for building irrigation canals to bring water to their crops. Tools that were used daily are now considered beautiful art. Our leaders have been known to fight for Native voting rights, were War Heroes, and had the first female Tribal Governor.

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I started my gaming journey nearly thirty years ago, in 1995. We had on-premises solutions because we did not have internet. Work orders were paper forms that were manually submitted. The business was lucky if we addressed their request within two weeks. This slow-paced system was the norm.

Despite the initial slow progression of technology, IT has been a wonderful department to work in and our systems have advanced tremendously. I have been fortunate to see the evolution of technology in our gaming industry. When TITO tickets were implemented, that was a pivotal moment in operational efficiencies that changed how our business viewed technology (cashless is the new TITO). When systems became available via “the cloud”, it was challenging to get acceptance from our regulatory bodies to trust technology. Bridging the gap was an opportunity to create a culture of innovative mindset.

With the “digital twins” being at the forefront of technology, AI and ChatGPT bring data to us faster than a team gathering information by pulling from multiple data sources at our fingertips. This is a major way gaming operations are shifting their resources to drive business, which translates to custom guest experience strategy.

Our organization strives to be first to market for just about every aspect of our business. When I was hired as the CIO, I asked our CEO, Kenneth Manuel, “What are your expectations of me in this role?” He replied, “Be innovative.” Leadership support and encouragement allow big dreamers to dream and provide IT with a challenge to sharpen their skillset and knowledge.

We created this culture at Gila River Resorts and Casinos – we are known for our vision, to be “first choice in casino entertainment for both work and play.” In actuality we are a tech company. From the lighting to the windows that transition, auto-leveling for audio, media content that allows guests on the floor to have an experience of their senses – you name it and I bet you it connects through our network.

Technology has also brought talent to our gaming operations. We have seen an influx of tech companies’ pop-up in our local market, which allows for more experienced labor talent that did not exist in the beginning of gaming. IT teams have become subject matter experts in gaming systems throughout Native Country. Not to mention Native Women in CIO roles!

With the advantages of operational technology come security vulnerabilities. IT teams have to be specialized in cybersecurity to ensure the assets are protected. This is where tribes are on different regions of the spectrum, due to the lack of financial resources or skilled subject matter expertise. Cybersecurity is where tribes should invest in their infrastructure.  Cybersecurity strategy should be aligned to allow our business to continue to grow to be innovative.

Robin Villareal, the first Native American female CIO for Gila River Resorts & Casinos, has opened 7 casinos and 3 hotel resort expansions since 1995. Robin is a proud community member from the Gila River Indian Community and is Hopi from the Village of Shungopovi.