Among the highlights of the inaugural BITAC® Casino Resort was a panel session featuring top C-level executives who weighed in on a number of topics impacting the gaming industry, including current conditions and legislative issues.
Felix Rappaport, President and CEO of Foxwoods Resort Casino, weighed in on the current economic cycle and what it could mean to his company. “I’m one of those people that believe that all businesses have up and down cycles, Foxwoods has had very glorious days that were perhaps easy because we didn’t have competition and we’ve also had our well documented challenges. But I’m eternally optimistic and I think that companies that thrive and survive and evolve are those companies that are willing to look at the market conditions and change.”
Saverio Scheri, President and CEO, WhiteSand Gaming, noted, “Even though we have a much more robust economy today than we did just a few years ago people that are coming are still buying the 100 dollar bottle of wine instead of the 400 dollar bottle of wine, which is forcing us to find other ways to create profit and revenue… It’s the diversification of the industry now,” he said.
Jeff Pepples, CFO, Grand Sierra Resort & Casino, offered a regional viewpoint. “In our market we’re actually on a nice rebound. For many years Reno was trending down and didn’t look optimistic,” he said, before noting the area has seen a “nice resurgence.”
The popularity of casinos has resulted in a surge in development in recent years throughout the U.S., and continues to impact the industry. According to Pepples, “I think there’s been tremendous growth and expansion of gaming throughout the country that we’ve seen over the last couple of decades. There are less and less areas that are the ‘new frontier’ so to speak and as the competition increases I think you’re going to get more challenges,” he said.
Scheri underscored the point. “It’s important to note that after the expansion of gaming in the early ‘90’s, a lot of jurisdictions realized this is something that can be very helpful to my state, my towns, my cities and my regions. You started to see an opening up of gaming—not just the expansion of Indian gaming throughout the U.S.—but commercial gaming as well. Most folks live now within an hour or two of a casino, at least in major population areas, so it’s made gaming almost a regular easy thing, where at one point it had to be a big trip,” he noted.
Rappaport noted that within the Indian gaming community alone there are now some 240 tribes with more than 460 casinos, representing a $31 billion industry. He provided a comparison to more traditional destinations. “What I can tell you about Foxwoods is we have a very strict gaming commission. It is stricter than anything I experienced in Las Vegas for sure, and probably reminiscent in many ways of how strict Atlantic City was back in the late 70’s early 80’s when it first opened,” he said.
Furthermore, Rappaport underscored the importance of Foxwoods becoming a member of the AGA (American Gaming Association). “We are now members of the AGA and I’m a big proponent of that. For many years the AGA was perceived as not being pro Indian gaming and the current administration and AGA has changed that and we’re really proud members. My whole point in wanting us to join was I’d rather be inside the room making decisions about legalized sports gaming and online gaming and topics like that that are addressed and possibly sharing information from gaming commission to gaming commission for licensing purposes so it’s not this bureaucratic nightmare every time you start in a new jurisdiction. I’m a big advocate of the AGA, at least for us, we find that to have all of the major gaming companies, or most of them, including many of the largest Indian gaming companies, working with AGA together is a powerful tool when it comes to government, legislation and regulation,” he maintained.
Scheri also talked about the evolution of gaming and some areas where legislative issues are top of mind. “Because there is so much gaming in so many places they recognize ‘we can’t just keep popping up casinos, how are we going to continue to grow this industry’? That’s why you’re starting to see things like Internet gaming, daily fantasy sports, things like that. People are struggling to understand how to legislate and where to make it legal…Just like we saw with regular casino gaming we’re going to see the same thing with Internet gaming where there’s more of an acceptance—especially if there’s testing and approvals by state commissions—and I think that’s where we’re going to see a lot of the focus of legislative activity in the next few years,” he said.
The executives were asked what drives purchasing decisions from the perspective of a CEO or CFO. “There’s price, quality and service and you can’t make a decision solely on any one of those. But there’s another facet to it and it’s the partnership and relationship aspect of who you do business with…Relationships are very important,” said Pepples.
Rappaport noted, “To me it’s all about service, it’s all about quality. we’re doing a lot of new projects. I want procurement to be innovative. I don’t want any of my people to do things the same way they did them 20 or 10 years ago if there’s a better way for us to compete,” he maintained.