Some overdue recognition

January 31, 2023 2:28 PM
  • Dennis Conrad
January 31, 2023 2:28 PM
  • Dennis Conrad

I’ve always been a fan of awards in the gambling industry. In my mind, any recognition beyond a paycheck and a pat on the back has value.

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Our industry has never lacked awards. The biggest enchilada is certainly induction into the American Gaming Association’s Hall of Fame. Like all Halls of Fame, only the most successful movers and shakers get inducted into the AGA’s Hall, no posers or wannabes.

Many gaming-media companies issue awards, including regional gambling publications and newspapers that serve casino cities, although most newspapers are just trying to sell advertising to the honored casinos and companies. There are also awards for slot companies and their products, honoring up-and-coming executives (40 Under 40), and innovations of various kinds, plus international and humanitarian awards, honors bestowed by various charities, and numerous others.

I too contributed to the awards game in my day. My most-read column annually was “The Best (and Worst) Casino Promotions of the Year.” I created the Barona/VCAT Award for Excellence in Indian Gaming Marketing (though it was tough to get that name on a trophy nameplate). There were the Romero Awards, the Best New Table Game Awards, the Tribal Spirit of Giving Awards, and the Casino Marketing Lifetime Achievement Awards. Yes, I liked giving well-earned awards and individuals and companies liked receiving them.

It occurred to me that many individuals in our industry are deserving of an award, but are unlikely to get one. In fact, unfortunately, in their lifetimes, they may never get an award, trophy, or certificate that has their name on it. And if two million employees serve our industry worldwide, and let’s say we want to honor the top 1% of them, well that’s 20,000 unhonored, but worthy, award winners. What a shame!

So in this column, I’m doing my small part to address this by creating The Dennis Awards for Long Overdue Recognition to Those Who Really Deserve Them. Let’s just call them The Dennys. I know I’m leaving out about 19,980 deserving folks, but hey, it’s a start.

The Dennys: Recognizing the unrecognized in gaming

And here they are, in no particular order:

• Jeffrey Compton (CDC Gaming Reports) — You wouldn’t be reading this column if Jeffrey Compton hadn’t started CDC Gaming Reports. And many casinos wouldn’t have received valuable competitive research if he hadn’t started CDC Consulting. And many new slot players wouldn’t have gotten great information on slot clubs if he hadn’t written The Las Vegas Advisor Guide to Slot Clubs. I believe Jeffrey is even deserving of being in the AGA Hall of Fame and would already be there if he wasn’t such a non-conformist.

• Alan Meister (CEO and Principal Economist, Meister Economic Consulting) — If you want to know any statistics about Indian gaming, you just need to go to Alan, who has been providing us with this honest and comprehensive information now for decades.

• Tino Magnatta (GT Advertising) — We wouldn’t have gotten through COVID nearly as well or as quickly if Tino hadn’t been doing his very frequent “Casino Updates,” in which he posted online video interviews with countless industry leaders. The information was honest, the interviewees were important, and they hailed from all parts of North America, helping us answer the critical question, “What in the hell should we be doing?” It was video assurance during the COVID chaos, helping to calm us and feel like this too shall pass. And Tino continues “Casino Update” to this day.

• Joe Billhimer (SVP, Live! Casino & Hotel) — Joe has probably received a few industry awards in his career, which spanned opening the Hard Rock Biloxi (twice, in fact, after Katrina), being CEO of MTR Gaming and engineering its sale to Eldorado Resorts, and holding numerous other senior positions in gaming. But you’ve never heard of Joe, right? Well, I think that’s because Joe always puts his people in the limelight and service above self. He’s my choice for the Most Universally Liked Executive in the Casino Industry. An unsung hero.

• Cyanne Lujan (Director of Advancement, Notah Begay III Foundation) — While technically not a part of the gaming industry, Cyanne and NB3F serve tribes (especially their youth) who are. She works tirelessly and effectively to improve the lives of Native American kids. She stays in the background, but makes everything happen. Give her a raise!

• Wes Ehrecke (President, Iowa Gaming Association) — I don’t know much about casino-industry trade or lobbying organizations. But I do know that every time I’ve read or heard anything about Wes, the mouthpiece for the industry in Iowa, his comments or statements have always been well thought out, reasonable, kind, and consensus-building. He comes across as a nice human being who I would want leading my gaming association.

• Jean Scott (The Frugal Gambler) — Gamblers are well aware of Jean, but gaming executives? Not so much. A retired Indianapolis school teacher, she’s shown tens of thousands of gamblers how to get more value from casinos through her “Frugal Gambler” books and posts. Casinos mostly revile Jean (OK, some tolerate her), because she wises up casino players. Well, the industry should honor Jean, because she creates more confident, more active, and more valuable casino customers over the long term.

• Tj Tejeda & Robin Powell (Principals, Talisman Group) — Casino players and executives are both familiar with the table game EZ BACCARAT. Well, TJ and Robin invented this very popular game by making a slight variation in the traditional baccarat rules that improved the game for both baccarat player and operators. EZ BACCARAT’s success couldn’t have happened to two nicer, smarter guys than TJ and Robin.

• Joyce Serrian (VP of Casino Operations, Valley Forge Casino Resort) — Not many women, particularly women of color, have cracked the executive glass ceiling in the gaming industry by coming up through the ranks in the male-dominated Table Games Department. Joyce did it through persistence, patience, and always appreciating the perspective of table-game players and dealers. She’s also the only person I know of who made a difference in the crap experience (and revenues!) by taking an innovative marketing approach to craps in creating an elite player-focused cadre of crap dealers and combining it with fun and value-adding player promotions. Worthy of a Denny!

• Chad Germann (CEO, Red Circle Agency) -— In my gaming-industry roles, I’ve come across numerous executives of advertising agencies that serve casinos. Some have been very good, some mediocre. But Chad has stood out over the 20 years that I’ve known him, because of his deep love of Indian gaming, his persistence against all odds, his creative ability to tell a tribal casino’s unique story, and above all, the revenue results he helps achieve. Enough said!

• Mary Loftness (Owner, Profitable Customers) — Mary was one of the early (and few) talented casino executives to start her own casino-consulting business, and a one-woman show at that. She’s been successful, not only because she’s “Minnesota nice,” but because she talks straight to clients and backs up opinions with hard data. She has supported gaming education and shared her knowledge honestly, widely, and generously. An unsung heroine!

• Carol O’Hare (Executive Director, Nevada Council on Problem Gambling) —Numerous individuals are doing valuable essential work in mitigating problem gambling and its harmful effects, but none are as knowledgeable, well-reasoned, and effective as Carol O’Hare. Carol has used her experience as a recovering problem gambler and combined it with a sensible and non-judgmental approach to building consensus among well-meaning people with different perspectives and objectives. She almost single-handedly built the Nevada Council, from dormancy and insolvency into a financed and well-respected leader among state problem gambling organizations.

• Linda Jordan (SVP, Casino Operations, Barona Resort and Casino) — Barona has always stood tall, thanks to its true customer worship, the power of its formula, and the uncommon wisdom of its tribe and long relationship with its management. But it’s hard to honor any of the many unsung individuals at Barona because they always give the credit to someone else. But I’m giving Linda a Denny for her marketing brilliance, her long and effective Barona career, and her lessons taught in how to really blend marketing with operations. Knowing Linda, she’ll probably deflect my praise and give the Denny to “more important” others.

• David McKee (Editor, Casino Life, and Creator, “Stiffs and Georges” Blog) — No one in the casino-industry press knows more about more aspects of the casino world (and will talk more candidly about them) than David. Whether its politics, finance, development, breaking news, even gossip, David gives you the straight scoop. Since some consider him a too-harsh critic and others view him a little like an industry apologist, I’m thinking he speaks the truth just about right. Put Stiffs & Georges (Las Vegas Advisor) on your daily must-read list!

• Janessa Bumgarner (CEO, Lucky Eagle Casino and Hotel) —I’ve never met Janessa. But she gets an award because in everything I’ve read or heard about her on LinkedIn, or in news releases, or in videos, she is always doing or saying the right thing. She values education both for herself and her team. She puts herself in her team members’ shoes (sometimes, literally!). She gets that a casino needs to be an important part of the broader community. She speaks from her heart as well as her head. You go, girl!

• Ken Adams (The Adams Daily Report) ¬— Although he may have the role of a consultant, or industry observer, or author of The Adams Daily Report, Ken is, in truth, a wisdom-sharer. I’ve read his thoughts for decades and they’ve always made me smarter or given me a perspective I may not have seen. He’s the true sensei of the gaming industry. And in truth, my Dennys should more appropriately be called the “Kennys.” His awards would certainly be more prestigious andinsightful than mine.

• Deana & Brady Scott (Owners, Raving Consulting Company) — OK, I’ll admit to being really biased about this one, as Deana and Brady purchased Raving Consulting from me five years ago, allowing my wife, Becky, and me to retire. But the award isn’t because I can now play more golf and Becky can volunteer more at the Wilbur D. May Arboretum. It’s because they took my legacy gift to the gaming industry and not only didn’t let it die (even during a pandemic!), but grew, improved, and made it much more effective and powerful. I’m proud that they have the reins of my former company and continue to serve the industry so well. A Denny for the duo!

• Deke Castleman (CDC Gaming Reports and the Las Vegas Advisor) —Last but not least, there is certainly a “Denny for Deke,” even though it will make him uncomfortable and he’ll say he doesn’t deserve it. Deke Castleman has authored, co-authored, and edited countless books and articles serving the gaming customer and industry. Books on the life of a Las Vegas superhost, the Vegas Golden Knights, what to do when visiting Nevada. Deke is the editor for a number of writers and columnists (including those in CDC Gaming Reports). His gift is using his wisdom and experience to make us all sound smarter than we are. And that truly deserves an award!

While it may sound pretentious for me to hand out some “gaming-industry awards” and have the gall to name them after myself, I do want to use the Dennys to make one final point. The unsung and unrecognized are around us every day in our business and personal lives. What can you do to sing their praises and make them feel like the performing superstars that they all are? God knows they deserve it.

Earlier posts by Dennis: