For nearly three decades, I’ve been a big fan of Richard Schuetz. Young gaming executives may not know of Richard, but we old-timers have benefitted from his generous and widely shared wisdom most of our careers.
It’s hard to categorize Richard Schuetz. With most gaming-industry movers and shakers you can say, “He’s a finance guy,” or “She’s an HR pro,” or “They’re GM types,” or “She’s a marketing maven.”
But Richard is hard to peg. He was a marketing guru for Grand Casinos when it was the original big player in the early days of Indian gaming-management companies. He was the president of the original Stratosphere in Las Vegas and tried to save it from bankruptcy with an aggressive Benny Binion-type “gambler’s strategy.” He’s consulted with governments and businesses. He took a career turn some years ago that no one in our industry takes, becoming a senior gaming regulator after years on the operations side. The whole time he has maintained roles as an educator and journalist, trying to bring some much-needed knowledge, candor, and perspective to our often-maligned industry.
I first met Richard some 30 years ago while attending the excellent UNR (now UNLV) Executive Development Program at Lake Tahoe. We fledgling executives had a strenuous week of senior-level classes and presentations, including one “master” presentation that individual groups of four or five international executives were required to work on for long hours during the entire week.
Richard was a presenter at EDP, as well as a judge for the groups’ individual major case-study presentations, for which points were given and executive bragging rights determined.
I remember our case-study group (myself and executives from Atlantic City, Reno, and Kenya) was assigned to put together a business and marketing plan for a proposed (hypothetical) casino in Cleveland, Ohio. A site had to be selected, the games and amenities determined, community-impact reviews conducted, etc. Suffice it to say that none of us in our group had ever done such extensive and intensive senior-level gaming-industry work.
Knowing our deficiencies, our group (of which the Atlantic City executive was called back to New Jersey in midstream and the Kenyan regulators spoke little English) decided on a “smoke-and-mirrors” strategy to make our Cleveland casino project sound so exciting that the judges would be forced to select ours as the winning presentation. We proposed NFL great, Jim Brown, as a Cleveland-area project partner and had a significant commitment to minority hiring in the local area. We had a “sexy” marketing plan that included every fancy marketing activity we could think of, with very little economic justification for them. And I’m not sure if I’m proud or embarrassed by it, but we closed our 30-minute presentation to the judges (all of whom were some of the smartest gaming-industry executives of that time) by having me spray a “scent of Cleveland” in front of the judges, so they could get a “whiff of what this great Cleveland casino project was all about.” It may have been the best use ever of my men’s cologne.
Well, of course, we didn’t win the case-study competition at the Executive Development Program. Every judge but one didn’t even mention our case study in their evaluation scoring. But then one judge stunned us by issuing a minority opinion on why our case study should have won. He mentioned creativity, excitement, out-of-the-box thinking, and a few other descriptors for our humble efforts. That judge was Richard Schuetz and to this day it remains my proudest losing moment.
Some years later, I had the dubious distinction of following Richard Schuetz as the marketing columnist for Casino Executive magazine. My first column, “Thank You Richard Schuetz,” spoke to the intimidation, overwhelm, and yes, pride that I felt in following a gaming-industry legend. In that column, I wrote of Richard, “Your observations have helped us remember the wants of the gaming customer, have pushed us to challenge the status quo, have forced us to be honest with ourselves and our business.” True then, true now.
Richard is still around, doing some writing, speaking, and consulting around the globe. He himself says, “Sometimes Pennsylvania and sometimes Florida. Always busy.” He should have been inducted into the Gaming Hall of Fame, but something tells me he may never get in. Too honest. Too cranky. Too different. And that’s too bad for us.
More than his achievements, what I’ve admired about Richard Schuetz is his character. He has openly shared his journey of overcoming his addictions. He can laugh about himself. He confronts sacred cows in our industry with brutal honesty, but also by encouraging us to be better. And he goes out of his way to pay it forward to the impressionable, budding, young, casino executives who so need someone to see them, to be impressed with them, and leave a lasting impression on them.
Someone like me those 30 years ago. So thank you, Richard Schuetz. Again. You saw a kernel of value in a lousy case-study presentation on a casino for Cleveland. You chose to praise rather than criticize and because of that, at least one casino executive was able to believe a little more in himself.
Keep being the unique and important character that you are.