Marc Weiswasser

What’s in a Title?

Gaming Commission Executive Director

Many people do not realize that all of the casinos located in California are owned by Native American Tribes. Not the large Card Clubs that have only table games, but the full-fledged casinos that have table games and slot machines, as well as other amenities such as bingo, hotels, entertainment, retail, etc. Many of these casinos rival similar sized casinos in Las Vegas pertaining to gaming product and entertainment, however, Las Vegas has only three casinos with at least 2,500 slot machines, while California has six.

According to Casino City’s Gaming Business Directory, California’s 73 casinos encompass a total of 73,915 slot machines, 1,712 table games, 350 poker tables, 8,337 hotel rooms, and 54,370 employees. All of these casinos have a Gaming Commission that oversees regulatory compliance.

To understand the duties of this department, I reached out to Tim McLaughlin, Executive Director of the Graton Gaming Commission, who has enjoyed a career spanning more than 30 years in the gaming industry. He worked in Las Vegas for 18 years at many of the major gaming facilities, including The Desert Inn, Golden Nugget, Four Queens and Stratosphere. He was also on the opening management team of Bellagio Resort. For the last 15 years he served in the capacity of Executive Director of the Tribal Gaming Regulatory Authority for two major gaming enterprises located in northern California: Thunder Valley Resort & Casino, and in his current role with Graton Resort & Casino. He was also a seated member of the National Indian Gaming Commission Minimum Internal Control Standards Tribal Advisory Committee from 2008-2010.

G&L: Tell us about the Graton Resort & Casino.

TM: The $800 million Graton Resort & Casino is owned by the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, a federally recognized Native American Tribe whose heritage is Southern Pomo and Coast Miwok Indians of Northern California.

Tim McLaughlin,
Executive Director of the
Graton Gaming Commission

Tim McLaughlin, Executive Director of the Graton Gaming Commission

Graton Resort & Casino is operated under a management agreement with Station Casinos, a leader in the gaming industry, under a Compact with the State of California. Graton Resort & Casino is a premier resort destination located in Rohnert Park, just under an hour drive from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, in the heart of Northern California’s Sonoma County wine country. The Casino Resort, which opened in 2013 and expanded again in 2016, offers exceptional amenities, including:

  • 200 luxury hotel rooms and suites
  • A world class Spa experience offering extravagant amenities to inspire wellness, luxe beauty and core fitness
  • 11 eating establishments offering a wide selection of cuisines from premier award-winning dining experiences, to a range of casual and convenient eateries
  • Three beautiful bars & lounges, each with unique luxurious settings offering specialty drink menus for every taste
  • Live entertainment
  • Over 20,000 square feet of meeting, event, and banquet space fully configurable to host events for 20 to up to 2,000 guests, offering a wide array of event services such as catering, audio-visual, planning, design and coordination for any event or special occasion
  • A spectacular casino offering the latest technologies and player favorites in gaming, including a wide variety of over 3,000 Class II and Class III gaming machines and 131 table games featuring a world class Poker room, Baccarat, Blackjack, Pai Gow Poker, and a variety of other progressive and bonus feature variations on traditional games
  • A soon-to-debut 9,000 square-foot dedicated non-smoking venue

Additionally, Graton Resort & Casino employs nearly 2,000 team members and provides incredible wages and benefits to its valued workforce. Graton Resort & Casino is the Tribe’s primary business, however, for decades the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria has been actively involved as a giving partner in the community offering social services and community outreach such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (“TANF”) and Environmental and Cultural Preservation services.

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

TM: The Graton Gaming Commission is the primary gaming regulatory authority for the tribal government of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria. Our Commission is charged with the regulatory oversight of the entire footprint of Graton Resort and Casino with regard to compliance with the myriad of tribal, federal, state, and local laws, regulations, statutes and ordinances governing gaming and the health, safety and well-being of all employees and guests of the facility. A large degree of our time is in the performance of extensive background checks and licensing of all employees and vendors. We also conduct numerous investigations and proactive audit reviews on a wide-ranging scale from bus safety inspections to anti-money laundering.

As the Executive Director of the Gaming Commission, it’s hard to describe a “typical” day at the office. Our dedicated team of professionals enjoy an exciting and dynamic atmosphere, dealing with a host of issues and challenges ranging from gaming regulatory compliance to food and beverage safety to gaming patron dispute resolution. We take a facilitative approach to carrying out our oversight responsibilities, as the Station Casinos management operating team is one of the best in the gaming industry. They understand the importance of regulatory compliance and are truly committed to a safe, as well as enjoyable, experience for all guests and team members.

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

TM: I report directly to the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria Tribal Council and three Gaming Commissioners. Sixteen professionals report directly to me at the Gaming Commission, comprising three individual dynamic teams: licensing, investigations and technical compliance. The facility surveillance and internal audit departments also report to me on a functional basis. We find that this reporting structure works quite well and is very effective given the size and structure of Graton Resort & Casino and the scope of our Commission’s oversight responsibilities.

G&L: What are some of the biggest challenges in your department?

TM: Broadly, tribal gaming regulatory authorities must strive to consistently meet the challenges of staying current with industry best practices, regulatory changes, threat assessments (both virtual and real) and technological advancements having an impact on the tribal gaming industry. In order to effectively meet these challenges, it is imperative to recruit, train and retain quality teams of professionals having diverse skillsets and effective people skills ranging from information technologies, financial forensics, statistical analysis, interviewing techniques and investigations, to an effectual degree of electronic technical skills.

It is also strategically important to maintain open networking channels with law enforcement and regulatory entities in other jurisdictions to stay ahead of threats posed by criminal enterprises. Contemporaneously, our biggest challenge it seems, as in all industries, is the ongoing threat to electronically stored data. We need to remain diligent in making every effort and expend every resource in mitigating the growing threat to electronic data and patron privacy.

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

TM: We are in exciting times here in the gaming and resort industry, for both tribal and commercial gaming enterprises. Advancements in gaming technologies, eclectic food and beverage offerings and exotic resort experiences are occurring every day offering the patron many new and exciting gaming platforms and leisure and entertainment options. Advancements also abound for gaming and resort operators and regulators in many areas, such as player and game tracking, rewards programs, security (both physical and technological) and surveillance, which ultimately facilitate the objective of providing an enjoyable, safe and secure experience for the patron. I would say the biggest topics on the horizon in the gaming industry at the moment is the exploration of online gaming potentially coming to fruition in various forms in many jurisdictions.

I hope you have enjoyed the above information as much as I have and would appreciate hearing from you with any comments or questions. Thank you again, Tim!

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.