Category Archives: Podcasts

Ronnie Jones

The Louisiana gaming industry has gone from bad to good, and much of that must by credited to Ronnie Jones, who has been chairman of the state Gaming Control Board since 2013. Before that, he was a key member of the State Police, investigating ownership and incidents involving the riverboat gaming in the state. He spoke with GGB Publisher Roger Gros at G2E in Las Vegas in October.

GGB: What was the state of gaming regulation when you took over?

Ronnie Jones: It was fairly stable. It was 180 degrees from where it was when it first began. I was a frequent critic at the time, because I was in State Police, and we had actually voiced our concerns about legalizing any forms of gaming, until the governor told us to shut up. And we did.

In 2013, I would not have taken the job had it not been a stable industry. I was able to see that it was a legitimate industry. We weren’t fighting the same battles we were in ’93. So, it’s stable, but there’s room for growth in the industry for sure.

What is the scope of your oversight? There’s a lot of different forms of gambling in the state. Are you overseeing all of them?

Yes. This board was created out of the mess that had been created in ’93. This was recreated in 1996, by Governor Mike Foster. He saw that there was some dysfunction in the regulatory structure, and so he created this board. We have oversight of all legalized gambling in the state, except for the lottery and charitable gaming.

I think it’s a good structure because it relies on the supervision of two elected officials: the governor and the attorney general.

How about tribal gaming?

There are three tribal casinos in Louisiana, and we have very limited interaction with them. They are sovereign nations; I understand all that. I get that. I’m not here to intrude. But I want to be able to call them if there is an issue, and talk. So we’ve got a good relationship with them, but we have very limited responsibility with respect to the regulation.

You are considered one of the enlightened regulators in the industry. Explain why people view you this way.

Well, one of the first things that I did after I was appointed, I reached out to the American Gaming Association. Geoff Freeman was there at the time, and I just called him one day, and got him to call me back. I said, “I’m the new chairman of Louisiana, I’m trying to learn a little bit about the industry, and I would like to come visit and meet your staff.” And that was beneficial. And those relationships, I have sustained in the last six years. I remember a meeting I had with some of my fellow regulators. A couple of them said, “Why are you meeting with those guys? That’s the industry.” Well, how do you regulate an industry without having some dialogue? I find that there are more areas of agreement that I have with the industry than disagreement. And it’s OK to disagree.

What happened with the legalization of sports betting in Louisiana last year?

My staff and I have been attending every sports betting forum that’s been conducted. We basically copied a lot of what New Jersey had in terms of the rules. In Mississippi, Alan (Godfrey, gaming commissioner) has been very gracious about helping us. So, we were ready with rule development, promulgation. We knew that it was going to be a close vote, but we did not anticipate that it was going to crash and burn the way it did.

It was really surprising. You can bet on just about everything in that state. Most people don’t realize, Louisiana—within the last five years—finally outlawed betting on cock fights. I mean, you could bet on a cock fight in Louisiana, but not on the Saints.

So sports betting didn’t pass because the legislature today is comprised of people very different than the people who were there in 1991. It’s much more conservative, there’s a lot of bias against expansion of gaming, and they saw sports betting as an expansion. And if it’s an expansion, they’re against it. But sports betting is a reality. People are going to Mississippi, they’re going online, they’ve got their barber who’ll take a bet. I think it will come up again.

I’ve shared with every CEO that I’ve talked to, “Between now and next year, you need to figure out what you’re going to get behind, and everybody needs to be on board, if you want this done.” We all know that sports betting is not a cash cow, in terms of revenue. There’s risk involved for the operators. We also know that New Jersey has done it the right way; they have a mobile application. But I counseled those who asked me, I said, “Go with brick and mortar, go conservatively until the state feels more comfortable with it, and then we’ll move to mobile.”

Are you concerned about Texas getting gaming?

Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. But Tilman Fertitta is a smart man. And I don’t think he would have invested in the Golden Nugget property in Lake Charles—which is a world-class facility—the way he did, if he reasonably expected that Texas would legalize it in the short term. I think long term, they’re going to get there. But if what I read is correct, there’s still an awful lot of church opposition to expansion of gambling there. That’s what I’ve been told, so we’ll have to wait and see.

Jim Allen

Responsible for all gaming, hospitality and entertainment operations at the Seminole Tribe of Florida since 2001, James F. Allen has guided the development of Seminole Gaming into one of the world’s most successful casino and integrated resort operators, with six casino sites located throughout Florida, and many other around the world.

Allen led the tribe’s 2007 acquisition of Hard Rock International, the first acquisition of a major international company by a North American Indian tribe. Within two weeks in late October, Allen opened four properties: Hard Rock Los Cabos, the Guitar Hotel at Hard Rock Hollywood in Florida, an $800 million expansion at Hard Rock Tampa, and Hard Rock Sacramento.

He spoke with GGB Publisher Roger Gros during the opening of the Guitar Hotel in October.

GGB: Tell us about the new Guitar Hotel and what it means to the company and your customers.

Allen: We’ve got $1.5 billion in this expansion. Our customers have been so loyal and tremendously supportive of what we do here. But they were very patient. One day a wall was here, the next day it’s over there. We moved restaurants around, we moved roads. So to put all this major construction behind us is great for the property, but more importantly, for our guests.

The original facility was beautiful and we had a lot of success with it, but we wanted to create something that was more of an integrated resort—something more than just a locals casino. That was the goal and the budget mirrored that thought process, and hopefully the guests will love it.

Very humbly, we’ve had a lot of success with this business (both Hard Rock casinos in Florida) since I joined. Our business has increased more than 1,000 percent. We truly needed more rooms, so we looked at the options of a standard hotel tower or something different. We were trying to make a major statement.

When I came up with the idea to buy Hard Rock, I explained to the tribe that this is a long-term commitment. It will take time to grow the brand. We knew we had some work to do. This building has become the iconic statement. The tribe owns Hard Rock and we’re creating something we want the whole world to see. And now the brand is coming up on its 50th anniversary.

How difficult was it to build this hotel?

I went to the legendary structural engineer DeSimone Consulting Engineers. I know Vince DeSimone back from my days with Kerzner and Trump. He called me up and asked me if I was out of my blanking mind—how we were going to design a building that has structural integrity in the shape of a guitar? But it worked out and it looks great!

How were you able to open all these projects so quickly?

We’re a glutton for punishment. We just finished an $800 million expansion of the Hard Rock in Tampa. We took over Jack Casino in Cincinnati. The same day we opened the Guitar Hotel, we’re opening our brand new Hard Rock Hotel in Cabo. And we’ll open Hard Rock Sacramento next week.

We were really able to restructure the company. We expanded the hotel and casino divisions. We never want to forget the cafes and the relationships with our franchise partners, but the restaurant business is very difficult on a global basis.

And now you’re going international with integrated resorts.

We were selected in Barcelona after a very competitive process. We’re still working with the government of Catalonia, but frankly, there’s uncertainty with that government again, so we’ll navigate through that. We’re 100 percent committed to Spain and Catalonia.

We are competing in Athens. Two have qualified to be the finalists, ourselves and Mohegan Sun. We respect Mohegan. I worked directly for Sol Kerzner when we built it, so I know what was created there back in 1995. We know their facility and respect them, but we have a lot more experience internationally. We’re in 75 countries around the world and have been doing that for almost 50 years with experience working with local culture, government and currencies. When the dollar is strong, people think that’s good for our business. The opposite is true—it’s better when the dollar is weaker. When companies haven’t experienced that, it’s a learning curve. There’s no learning curve with Hard Rock International.

How about sports betting in Florida? Is the law that says no expansion of gaming without the voters’ approval going to apply?

Yes. Disney and Seminoles are two big names in the state of Florida. The voters spoke. They overwhelmingly—by more than 70 percent— said they no longer want the legislative body to be involved in gaming. They hadn’t been able to make a decision or set a clear direction in how to use that $400 million they got from us each year. The voters spoke. We’re a little surprised that now (the legislature) is saying they’re not going to listen to the voters. We’re happy to work with the state, but their ideas seem to change on a weekly basis.

When we were discussing different options with the state last year, sports betting was 100 percent on the agenda. We weren’t sure what they wanted to do with internet gaming, but we think internet gaming is the future, and any state that hasn’t figured that out is making a mistake, in my opinion. So we do believe it will continue to be a topic of conversation between the tribe, the sports teams, the parimutuels and others.

Michael Broderick

Michael Broderick has spent much of his career in Indian Country, working his way up the ladder in the marketing side of the business. Now with his first general manager position at the small Sherwood Valley Casino in Willits, California, Broderick recalls some of his unique and sometime crazy marketing campaigns at his previous casinos. Now at the one casino owned by the Sherwood Valley Band of Pomo Indians, Broderick has new challenges that he faces with his usual positive outlook and innovative approach to marketing. He spoke with GGB Publisher Roger Gros in Las Vegas at G2E in October.

Steve Peck

It’s been open less than a month and already the Guitar Hotel at Hard Rock Hollywood is a must-see attraction in South Florida. Steve Peck was the lead architect on the project, working alongside his partners at Klai Juba Wald Architects based in Las Vegas. Peck explains how the logistics of designing and building a guitar-shaped structure worked, what were some of the hurdles they had to overcome, and how it wasn’t just a guitar shaped hotel, but a renovation of the entire property—while it remained open. He also reveals how he worked with the design partners and restaurant and retail tenants to create the stunning property. He spoke with GGB Publisher Roger Gros in November for the cover story of Casino Style magazine, just released this week. To read the full story, visit CasinoStyleMagazine.com.

Brooke Fiumara

When Brooke Fiumara was working as a casino executive for Station Casinos or Warner Gaming, she was frequently frustrated by the inability of casino operators to effectively use the data they collect for the good of their customers and the gaming enterprise. But it was that experience that caused her to create OPTX, a company that has figured out the “secret sauce” when it comes to interpreting and implementing effective plans based on that data. The OPTX systems improve player development and operational management by allowing operators to make real-time, data-driven decisions that improve profitability and player loyalty. Fiumara spoke with GGB Publisher Roger Gros at the OPTX offices in Las Vegas in November.

Mixing It Up

While the December 2020 Game Performance Report by Eilers & Krejcik Gaming shows a slight dip in the recovery that began following the pandemic lockdowns earlier in 2020, it has a few interesting tidbits. Below left, the denominations of slot games across the floor of casinos that report their activity to EKG are slanted mightily… Read more »

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Blackjack Trends

When it comes to blackjack in the casino industry, it’s clear that what happens in Vegas does not stay in Vegas. Most variations of blackjack started at a Las Vegas property, either on the Strip or Downtown, and have spread across the U.S. and around the world. That’s why John Mehaffey’s annual survey of Las… Read more »

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