TribalNet: Microsoft executive touts benefits of TribalNet conference

September 15, 2022 2:05 PM
  • Buck Wargo, CDC Gaming Reports
September 15, 2022 2:05 PM
  • Buck Wargo, CDC Gaming Reports

When it comes to tribes and tribal casinos, a lot of companies do business with them that come to mind, especially in this era of expanded sports betting and the need for the technology to implement it.

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One that has taken a central role for the past 16 years at the TribalNet Conference & Tradeshow is software giant Microsoft.

Over those 16 years is the presence of Don Lionetti, an account manager whose team helps tribes with their needs in government, health care, education, and gaming.

Tribes spend more than $100 million a year with Microsoft. More than 400 tribes have agreements with Microsoft for licenses and the others are smaller tribes serviced by partners.

Lionetti points out that the combined revenues of tribal casinos across the country far outweigh those of Las Vegas casinos. Of the 574 federally recognized tribes, 231 have gaming operations, with some having multiple casinos.

“If you take two footprints of Vegas and disperse them around the country, that’s tribal gaming,” Lionetti said. “What we do for tribal governments and gaming is bring unique solutions that use Microsoft software to help them with their mission.”

For gaming, Microsoft’s Players 360 uses artificial intelligence to analyze player data and give management better information on how to market to their customers.

“It’s about how to get repeat customers back and stay longer and what offers would be best for certain groups of people,” Lionetti said. “We categorize their players in different buckets, based on their spend and frequency in visiting the properties.”

Microsoft IoT (internet of things) technology puts sensors on buildings, in heating and ventilation systems, and in hotel rooms. Data from those internet-connected devices send feedback to a central repository for analysis.

“We know that HVAC is going to fail and we can get that part ordered early and fix it before it becomes a problem,” Lionetti said.

In addition, tribes have traditional uses for Microsoft software such as Word, PowerPoint, and Outlook (email), and it’s all cloud-based now with several functions, including virtual meetings, Lionetti said.

Cyber solutions for tribes have become a big thrust for Microsoft with its Defender family of products, built around security for computer systems and cloud apps. “We cover from the identity of the user and where they’re going in the cloud to the end point they’re using and email coming and going to protect them from zero to 100,” Lionetti said. “We have another (program) called Azure Sentinel, a dashboard to give them a view into the security of their entire environment.”

The best tribes keep up with technology, but some tribes still use 10-year-old software, which makes them vulnerable to cyber attacks. “That’s not helping their people if they’re not using the latest and greatest,” Lionetti said. “Using old technology is not building their skill set either.”

The biggest problem he sees is how understaffed tribes are when it comes to information technology. “They can’t find quality people,” Lionetti said. “Part of that is that many properties are remote, so you don’t have a big population to draw from.”

Lionetti said Microsoft takes pride in giving tribes tools to get the younger generation involved in technology that lets them consider tech careers. Microsoft hosted an event on its Seattle campus for kids, in which indigenous employees from the U.S. and Canada spoke to them about their experiences.

Microsoft has hosted a booth at TribalNet for the last 16 years and Lionetti said the conference and its sponsor, TribalHub, bring tribes and technology together, providing the best use of their marketing dollars across any of the numerous tribal trade shows.

“TribalNet and TribalHub are 100% IT focused,” Lionetti said. “Attendees are exposed to four different tracks of information with sessions over three days. The icing on the cake is the trade show, where all the attendees can walk around and visit vendors to find solutions to help them do their work better.”

Members of TribalHub get year-round webinars on various topics on a regular basis. There are also buying programs where they can get discounts on Microsoft software and other products. “It’s a community they can belong to, where they bounce ideas off of their peers and what is working with their tribe and how we should try that,” Lionetti said.

Dealing with the tribes over 17 of his 20 years at Microsoft, Lionetti said he’s seen change for the better. Tribes have been smart about expanding and growing casinos to make them more like a Vegas-like experience, with greater amenities like hotels, restaurants, and spas.

Lionetti cited Salt River Fields at the Talking Stick stadium complex that serves as the spring training site for the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies. It’s located in the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian community where the tribe operates a casino.

“For a month during spring training, they’re packed, thanks to all the baseball fans coming down, then they going to the casino,” Lionetti said.

Tribes across the country have built large gaming operations that Lionetti said are impressive and they’re now expanding to commercial properties, including tribal acquisitions in Las Vegas at the Palms and Mirage.

“I see a trend of tribes that are successfully moving into Vegas and Reno,” Lionetti said. “The trend is expansion. They’re growing and improving their properties.”