Raving Next: Tribes need to do a better job of coordination

February 2, 2023 1:55 PM
Photo: Photo Buck Wargo, CDC Gaming Reports
  • Buck Wargo, CDC Gaming Reports
February 2, 2023 1:55 PM
  • Buck Wargo, CDC Gaming Reports

Tribal organizations with departments ranging from casino gaming to health care need to do a better job of understanding everyone’s needs, thinking strategically, and working toward common goals that benefit tribes for the long term.

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That was the prevailing sentiment that emerged from the panel discussion, “The Top Five Things Tribal Councils Should Expect and Evaluate from Their Executive Leaders,” held at the Raving Next gaming conference in Albuquerque.

Raving CEO Deana Scott noted how much is at stake with tribal governments and their undertakings that is being met in large part by casino-gaming revenues. Unfortunately, the misperception is that a lot of money is lying around. Everyone in the organization needs to understand that’s not the case.

“If you bring in a new executive, you can’t assume they understand why the funds they’re producing are important,” Scott said. “It’s usually us versus them. Well, they say, the Council isn’t giving me money for x, y, or z. It’s not your money. It’s the tribe’s money and it’s for the greater good.”

Scott said tribal councils need to ask themselves if they’ve done a good job of onboarding executives to ensure they understand their financial responsibility to the tribe. They need to recognize that their role is funding health care, elder benefits, and education and communication can help that happen.

“Let’s get our executive directors and teams in the room and just hear the struggles of each other and brainstorm,” Scott said. “Once we’ve heard everybody’s problems and know the ultimate goal, we can all contribute to that goal. That doesn’t happen and it should. Sometimes we’re stepping on each other or ignoring important things that five years later we could have seen.”

Scott warned that if the tribal council and others aren’t on the same page, it’s the equivalent of “throwing darts at the wall.” Some tribes have done quite well in building strategic organizations and have great expectations, but others need to do so and Scott believes “that’s where we can gain the most going forward.”

Laura Penney, CEO of the Coeur d’ Alene Casino Resort and Hotel in Idaho, said their CFOs in health care, casino, and the tribe get together with the executive director so that they can all look at the tribal organization in its entirety.

Chris Archunde, a hospitality and gaming professional, said what helps tribes is a strong business model, not only for the departments, but the nation as a whole.

“As casino executives, we’re at the top of the mountain of gaming revenue and our responsibility is to help the tribe and community with the business model we operate from,” Archunde said.

Scott said some casino executives need to be more strategic in their thinking, rather than bringing something to the tribal council that seems to come from out of nowhere. It’s unfair to expect answers quickly from proposals that haven’t fully vetted.

“Where does this big idea you came up with last week fit into the five-year plan?” Scott said. “How is it going to strategically enhance the rest of our organization for the future? Let’s talk about sports betting and any new technology. We’re spending a lot of money on technical solutions. Where does this fit in? Why do we need it now; why can’t it wait until the budget cycle? Those are the kinds of things that, if I’m on a tribal council, I’d be annoyed at. They’re being put them on the spot to come up with a decision for something they’ve never heard about and they feel obligated to say yes, because they don’t know the business. But in their hearts, they feel it doesn’t make sense.”

It’s one thing to replace a generator that has blown up, but the industry “can’t afford shoot-from-the-hip leadership anymore,” Scott said.

“When we were starting up, there was a lot of cash, but not a lot of expectations,” Scott said. “It was easier to throw things out there. Now, we have to think more strategically about the overall organization. I believe that’s on the back of the executive leader.”