A former executive with MGM Resorts International who served as president of the New York-New York Hotel & Casino has been named the new general manager for the Palms Casino Resort, which will become the first tribal casino in Las Vegas when the $650 million deal closes with Red Rock Resorts by the end of the year.
The San Manuel Gaming and Hospitality Authority named Cynthia Kiser Murphey to the new position in a statement issued Wednesday.
The Palms, just west of the Las Vegas Strip, has been closed since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to the casino, the property includes approximately 700 hotel rooms and suites, multiple casual and upscale eateries, meeting and convention space, a 2,500-seat theater, pool and spa, and the Palms Place condominiums. Red Rock Resorts wrapped up a $690 million renovation in 2019.
In making the announcement, SMGHA Chairperson Latisha Casas said the Southern California-based tribe is well known for being a successful casino operator and recognized as a community leader and an employer of choice.
“We live by values passed down by our ancestors; our values define us,” Casas said. “It was important to our board that we find a leader for the Palms who shares our values, personifies our commitment to diversity, and exhibits a leadership style that puts people first. Upon meeting Cynthia, it was clear that she has all three and more. With decades of experience in the gaming industry, she has excelled both in operations and human resources, creating dynamic teams that deliver memorable guest experiences, something that will be important to Las Vegas locals and our loyal guests from San Manuel Casino.”
In 2008, Kiser Murphey was named president and COO of New York-New York. In this role, she oversaw operational activities for the 2,024-room Strip property. Prior to her role at New York-New York, Kiser Murphey held multiple leadership positions at MGM Resorts International from 1992-2008, including serving as Senior Vice President of MGM MIRAGE Human Resources. Since 2020, Kiser Murphey has served as CEO for a large benefits fund.
“I am humbled to be chosen to lead this exciting endeavor, as the SMGHA becomes the first Native American owner and operator of a Las Vegas casino,” Kiser Murphey said in a statement issued by the tribe. “The Palms is an iconic property with a rich connection to the community. I look forward to strengthening those ties while working with the team to create a wholly unique experience for team members and customers that reflects the SMGHA’s values and culture.”
Kiser Murphey has a bachelor’s degree in Hotel & Restaurant Management and a master’s degree in Hotel Administration, both from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where she was also part-time faculty and adjunct professor. She is involved in a number of charitable and professional organizations and was previously named one of 25 “People to Watch” by Global Gaming Business magazine.
Josh Swissman, founder of The Strategy Organization and casino consultant, praised the hiring of Murphey, with whom he worked at MGM.
“I think she’ll do great there. I think quite highly of her,” Swissman said. “She has some good well-rounded experience. She came up in the HR world, but has managed New York-New York for years. She took New York-New York through a pretty big transformation and the Palms is going to go through a bit of transformation itself with the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians coming in to operate it.”
Swissman said Murphey will face challenges with an operation that’s regionalized in Southern California. While Las Vegas is different, they’ll have their existing database of customers to bring people to their Las Vegas property, he said.
“Properties in Vegas, particularly on and around the Strip that are destination properties, need a bigger footprint than Southern California to draw people from,” Swissman said. “That’s the biggest challenge that Cindy and San Manuel will face. They are great gaming operators and operate some of the biggest and highest-revenue-generating casinos in the country so there’s no question they’ll operate the casino effectively. They’re great marketers as well, but I think that initial database and brand awareness outside of the Southwest is going to be their biggest challenge. I have faith. I think they’ll do the right things and build the brand up over time.”
Swissman said San Manuel has more time to do that than a publicly held company that takes a quarterly view. The tribe will take a longer view of what growth, perspective, and success look like, he said.
“I think you’re going to need that in that spot, because you’re just off the Strip,” Swissman said. “There’s going to be a bit of brand awareness that they’re going to have to create outside the Southwest, and a database of customers they’re going to need to create. That longer-term view is going to benefit them and is necessary for their success.”