Marc Weiswasser

What’s in a Title?

The Casino General Manager

The Casino General Manager (GM) not only runs the physical operations of the facility while increasing profits, but is the leader of Human Resources and ultimately responsible for company-wide customer service and team member satisfaction. Depending on the type of operation, the GM will typically report to the Owner(s), Board, or Tribal Council who give direction. From that point on, the GM will carry out the directives, while imparting the GM’s own personalities and idiosyncrasies.

Casino GMs typically get their training by working their way up the ladder – the school of hard knocks, if you will. From my perspective, during the last 40 years or so most of the GMs came up through casino operations, finance or marketing. However, in the last decade or so many more were promoted by way of human resources or hospitality (hotel and food & beverage).

I reached out to John Cirrincione, GM of the Santa Ana Star Casino, a Native American-owned property about 17 miles north of Albuquerque, NM, where he has been in this role for more than seven years. Prior to Santa Ana Star, he worked for River Rock Casino in Geyserville, CA, as well as Gila River Gaming Enterprises, Inc, in Chandler, AZ and the Sands Casino Hotel in Reno, NV. John worked his way up through the casino operations side of the business, and agreed to share some insights.

G&L: Tell us about your property.

JC: Santa Ana Star Casino has 1,550 slot machines, 22 table games and five restaurants. We are expected to open a premium service 204-room hotel with 28 suites in the summer of this year, which will include an indoor/outdoor pool, meeting space, warehouse, retail and steakhouse.

G&L: How many people do you have under you, and who do you report to?

John Cirrincione, GM of the Santa Ana Star Casino

JC: I report to the Tamaya Enterprises Inc. (TEI) Board of Directors. The TEI Board is a Section 17 Corporation owned by the Pueblo of Santa Ana. I have 12 directors reporting to me directly and 700 team members on staff currently, soon to be around 900 as the expansion nears completion.

G&L: Describe a typical day in your work schedule.

JC: My typical day includes a morning review of all security and life safety concerns from the previous day’s reports, then moving on to emails, followed by a full day schedule of departmental meetings which also includes a weekly executive committee meeting. Santa Ana Star is unusual in the fact that we have a very small, but talented senior management team with depth of knowledge in each area.

G&L: What are some of your biggest challenges as general manager?

JC: There are three major challenges I face on a daily basis. First, is recruiting and retaining talented team members at all levels. Santa Ana Star has won the Top Places to Work award in the state of New Mexico for the last six years, making it a preferred employer in the state. Given these awards, and robust incentive programs to support our corporate culture, recruiting talented service-oriented people to the property still remains a big challenge.

Figure 1: Salary Ranges for a General Manager

My second largest challenge is determining the appropriate level of investment of time and money toward technological advancements. We live in a world that shows us the next IT concept or cool software. Casino executives often get tempted to jump at the newest technology for competitive advantage, only to later be humbled by implementation failure. Often the company lacks the human resources to fully leverage the software. And this issue also relates to the first challenge – staffing. Once a team of people become well-versed in a particular software suite, casino executives often find themselves scrambling to backfill these positions when those super-users leave the company, rendering the data and software useless until such time competent users are put in place.

The third challenge is stability. Creating a stable non-political work environment is essential to moving the company forward. Instability creates an atmosphere of anxiety and fear which can breed a multitude of issues that will stand in the way of the business mission.

G&L: Tell us about some of your successful promotions.

JC: We have had multiple successes on the promotional side of the business ranging from gift give-a-ways to instant win kiosk awards. We focus on creating high-energy, high-touch promotions for our guests that make it difficult for our competitors to duplicate. We have won Best of City in the key areas of gaming, rewards and entertainment.

G&L: Where do you see the future of the industry going?

JC: I was asked this same question nearly 15 years ago and my answer remains the same. The future of the casino business will continue its transition into emphasizing non-gaming amenities as an attraction vehicle for those prospective Gen X and younger customers. It is safe to assume that spending habits of this group will vastly differ from those generations before. It is also safe to assume that brand loyalty becomes a bigger challenge as the buying power of the Baby Boomer generation reduces over time.

Casinos, especially those in highly competitive markets, will benefit most from creating entertainment experiences complimented by advanced technologies addressing brand loyalty concerns. Casinos shall inevitably find themselves competing with more convenient online gaming opportunities. But just as brick and mortar retailers learned techniques to symbiotically coexist with online markets, it is best that gaming companies pay close attention to the means and methods used in a more dynamic marketplace.

Looking forward, I see the opportunity for casino operators to strategically partner with tech companies such as Apple, Google and a variety of other tech giants, or entertainment companies such as Sony or Disney, which may serve to be the new direction of casino gaming in the coming decades. As gross gaming revenues continue on the path of growth now that gaming is widely accepted, I believe it is inevitable to see non-gaming companies enter the gaming industry through strategic partnerships.

A big thank you to John for taking time out of his busy schedule to share some insights. During his career, he has seen tremendous growth in the gaming industry, and from his comments believes that this trend will continue. I hope you have enjoyed this column, and would appreciate hearing from you with any comments or questions!

Marc Weiswasser is a Managing Member of CasinoRecruiter.com, an Executive Recruiting firm for the gaming & hospitality industry. He can be reached at 702-947-8897, Marc@CasinoRecruiter.com or www.CasinoRecruiter.com.