Casino Enterprise Management’s Top in Ops Awards

Casino Enterprise Management is pleased to announce the winners of our brand-new award series, the 2012 Top in Ops Awards. Debuting for the first time, these awards are meant to honor and recognize leaders in gaming floor operations throughout the industry. Our winners are among the best—truly the “top”— in the operations field, and we value their continued commitments to providing the best for their employees and customers.

To qualify for the awards, an individual must have been nominated by someone who worked with him/her in a casino operator setting, had to have been in the gaming industry for a minimum of three years and he/she must have worked in his/her current position for at least one year. The nominee must also hold a management position in the gaming operations area and have demonstrated exceptional achievement in at least three of the following areas: 1) ability to go above and beyond job responsibilities; 2) commitment to company and co-workers; 3) contributions to the industry as a whole; 4) commitment to mentoring; and 5) strong overall life balance.

The judging panel was comprised of executives from some of the biggest and best gaming suppliers. They included: Rob Bone, senior VP of sales and marketing, WMS Gaming; Roger Hawkins, CEO – Americas, TCSJOHNHUXLEY; Gavin Isaacs, CEO, Shuffle Master Inc.; Bruce Rowe, senior VP of strategy and customer consulting, Bally Technologies; and Steve Walther, VP of marketing, Aruze Gaming.

Of all the nominees, four winners were selected as our Top in Ops award winners. They are: Buddy Frank, vice president of slot operations, Pechanga Resort & Casino; Rosemarie Cook, vice president of gaming, SugarHouse Casino; Frank Neborsky, vice president of slot operations, Mohegan Sun; and Wendy Reeve, director of casino operations, Sycuan Casino.

We are thrilled to have four amazing gaming operators honored in our first year of hosting these awards. We know it must have been hard to choose from the pool of many talented and respected individuals, but we believe that our panel of judges picked a great crew of operators. We are very excited for each of them and hope we helped to give them the recognition they all deserve.

On the following pages, you can read about each winner, understand why they were selected and learn about the incredible things they’ve done for the industry. Their hard work and dedication inspires us all, and we’re proud to share their stories with you.

Buddy Frank
Vice President of Slot Operations
Pechanga Resort & Casino

Buddy Frank’s enthusiasm is contagious. The vice president of slot operations at Pechanga Resort & Casino is known for his leadership skills, forward thinking and infectious energy that spreads to Pechanga employees and customers.

“Buddy is a leader who commands the respect of his employees, colleagues and superiors,” said Randy Boutell, slot operations manager at Pechanga, who nominated Frank for this award.

In February, Frank’s attributes shone especially bright when he headed a team of more than 250 Pechanga employees to organize an event that set two Guinness World Records—one for the “World’s Largest Slot Machine Tournament” and the other for the “Most Slot Machines Running the Same Game Simultaneously.” More than 1,100 machines on the casino’s floor used Bally Technology’s iVIEW Display Manager™ with Elite Bonusing Suite™ to power the enormous tournament.

“Buddy has, for the past few years, spearheaded the effort to make the Pechanga slot floor the most technologically advanced on the planet,” Boutell said. “He is one of the primary driving forces behind the technological push of the entire slot industry toward networked game play.”

Before joining Pechanga in June 2007, Frank had a similar position with Viejas Casino. In total, he has more than 30 years of experience as a casino executive in slot operations and marketing, mostly in the Reno and Tahoe, Nev., area.

Before entering the industry, Frank was a news broadcaster in Reno for 10 years. One of his assignments was to cover the Nevada legislature, which included gaming. After that, he spent a few years in the computer industry. Gaming was a natural transition for Reno-raised Frank.

“I didn’t know it was unusual to have video poker machines at the grocery store and to draw on keno tickets at every restaurant,” he said.

Frank’s journalism background served him well when he was hired as a public relations staffer at Fitzgeralds Casino Hotel—his first job in the gaming industry. He eventually became the director of marketing and then the director of slot operations, even though he had no background on slot operations. “Dozens of folks were critical in helping me along,” he said.

His laundry list of mentors includes more than a dozen industry executives. Frank also includes his wife Dianna for “being understanding of the long hours and missed holidays.” He said without her, he would not have achieved much.

Now that he’s an industry veteran, Frank makes it a point to help Pechanga employees’ careers blossom. “My proudest personal accomplishments are that many of the men and women I’ve worked with have gone on to have very successful careers in this industry,” he said. “It’s no surprise that my current career goal is to make sure that I repay the debt to those who helped me by sharing what knowledge I have with those just beginning their journey in gaming.”

Frank’s advice for people who want a casino career is to get a college degree, start at the bottom and have fun. “It sounds cliché, but it works,” he said.

Frank is still enjoying his journey in the industry. He said the best part of his job is the support the casino gets from the tribe. “Today, they have one of the best teams working in a beautiful casino with all the latest equipment,” he said. “However, they started with a few dozen workers in ‘tents and trailers.’”

That background, Frank said, makes them appreciate hard work, what it takes to succeed and the importance of being thankful for what you have.

“That spirit filters down through the rank and file every day,” he said.

Besides the grateful spirit that envelops Pechanga, Frank relishes in the dynamism of the industry. “One day you’re configuring servers for a network, the next time you’re helping select colors for uniforms, watching a crook on video or talking with a guest about the cookies in the buffet,” he said. “It never gets boring.”

With constant innovation, the casino industry is facing a big challenge making sure games remain relevant, Frank said. “Entertainment is coming in smaller and smaller bites these days,” he said. “Our games, and how we promote them, will need to mimic these trends to remain successful.”

Frank appears to be up for the challenge with the help of his team at Pechanga. When he learned he won this award, he said he was honored because the primary focus was on team development accomplishments and contributions to the industry.

“It’s virtually impossible to succeed in our industry without a great support system,” he said. “I’ve been blessed to have one during most of my career.” AL

Rosemarie Cook
SugarHouse Casino
Vice President of Gaming

When her feet hit the ground each morning, Rosemarie Cook aspires to be the kind of woman who makes the devil say, “Oh no—she’s up!”

Cook, who is SugarHouse Casino’s vice president of gaming, is described by one of her nominators as a positive, high-energy person who always has a smile on her face.

“Her attitude in the workplace and among co-workers is extremely uplifting,” said Wendy Hamilton, the general manager of SugarHouse Casino. “It’s evident that Rose has a way of making those on her team feel comfortable. She treats everyone like a friend.”
Cook’s enthusiasm for gaming is obvious when she describes what attracted her to the industry.

“Take a walk around a casino, and you can’t miss the energy and excitement,” she said. “Every day is different, and I love the diversity. It is truly a microcosm of America.”

In the two years that SugarHouse has been open, Cook has been powerfully impacting that microcosm. Table games at the casino have been wildly successful—success that Hamilton said can be directly attributed to Cook’s hard work and commitment. By SugarHouse’s first anniversary, it had earned the highest win-per-unit table game ranking among Pennsylvania’s 10 casinos.

Greg Carlin, CEO of SugarHouse, said Cook is known for going the extra mile. “Rose stands apart from the pack,” he said.

Cook has been in the industry for 30 years, first starting as a dealer at Resorts Casino in 1978 when gaming was legalized in Atlantic City. Her full-time job was teaching, but her neighbor was going for an interview for Resorts International’s dealing school and she tagged along since she had the day off. While waiting for her neighbor to finish interviewing, someone with the company approached her and said she should have an interview too. Cook thought it would be just a summer job. “I never looked back,” she said.

Throughout her career, Cook worked at Resorts International as a table games dealer, Bally’s Atlantic City as a supervisor and pit manager, Hollywood Casino as a shift manger, assistant casino manager and director of casino operations, director of training and development for casino operations at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa and most recently as vice president of table games at SugarHouse.

Cook said she was interested in coming to SugarHouse to get back on the operations side of the business. “I felt that opening SugarHouse was going to be that once-in-a-lifetime chance to put together a dream team of people in the industry that know how to treat each other with respect and have a little fun along the way,” she said.

The dream team at SugarHouse is female-dominated, where the general manager, five of the six vice presidents and several directors are women. Cook said women haven’t always comprised so many leadership positions—in the beginning, she said, women had to overcome the gender gap.

“The man who interviewed me for my first supervisor position told me I would be getting the job because they had to hire a certain number of ‘broads,’” she said. “I took that challenge as an opportunity to prove that customers didn’t really care about gender, they just wanted to have fun and to be treated right.”

Cook has succeeded in that challenge. Carlin said she’s known for orchestrating an exceptional player experience. “She has the golden touch, backed by her in-depth experience and leadership ability,” he said.

Her leadership abilities can be attributed to her observation of industry executives. “Observation is the most powerful form of learning,” she said.

Two leaders who Cook has learned from are Bob Boughner, CEO of Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, and Jim Rigot, general manger of Hollywood Casino Baton Rouge. “I am attracted to those in this business who look at things differently,” she said.

The honest, open communication of the teams at SugarHouse and the casino’s parent company, Rush Street Gaming, have also been a source of mentorship for Cook.

As a professionally educated teacher, Cook said mentoring others is a natural part of herself. “I love this business and will cheerfully engage anyone who is interested,” she said.

While Cook may not have started out to build a career in the industry, it seems to suit her well. She said a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon sums up her gaming career: “I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I need to be.” AL

Frank Neborsky
Vice President of Slot Operations
Mohegan Sun

“Sometimes the biggest challenge of the day is getting on the highway,” joked Frank Neborsky, VP of slot operations at Mohegan Sun. “People just don’t want to let you in!” While there are obviously other, more serious challenges that come with his position, it’s Neborsky’s light-hearted attitude and dedicated work ethic that make him a deserving winner of this Top in Ops award.

He’s been in gaming for more than 32 years, having begun his career in Atlantic City at the Golden Nugget as a slot mechanic. He then went on to open several properties—Tropicana Atlantic City, Trump Castle Atlantic City and later becoming director of slot operations at Trump Plaza. He then left Atlantic City to open two riverboat casinos in New Orleans and eventually became part of Mohegan Sun’s initial management team as the vice president of slot operations in 1995.

Mohegan Sun’s Director of Slot Operations Lorraine Nevins has worked with Neborsky since their time together at Trump Plaza in 1990, and considers him a great leader. “Each different property has brought with it new challenges and opportunities,” Nevins said. “Each property had the distinct mark of professionalism and pride that is the hallmark of Frank Neborsky.”

Opening each of those properties brought on their own set of challenges, surely more difficult than fighting highway traffic each day. Neborsky recalls one of his first experiences at Mohegan Sun, creating a slot floor from scratch. “I remember the first time I walked out on the casino deck and nothing was there,” he said. “It was just a flat floor and it went on for maybe a quarter of a mile. I remember standing at one end of the building and looking across the other end and thinking about the floor plan in my mind and everything that I had been working on. Where the bases go, the machine mix, the chairs and where the pits were laid out and saying to myself, ‘Oh my God what have I gotten myself into?!’”

It’s obvious that the puzzle of Mohegan Sun’s slot floor turned out well for Neborsky and his team, as the property is now one of the biggest in the country. One of his top career goals is to continue to work at Mohegan Sun, growing personally and helping to better the company and property. “I want to make the property to be everything it can be, to grow and continue to be a leader in the industry with all that we do with gaming, entertainment and the guest experience,” he added.

Neborsky also realizes the many challenges that come along with growing a property. “Everyone wants to expand, everyone wants to grow to take advantage of any foreseeable business opportunities,” he said, “but often what most people don’t see is everything else that goes along with it; increased expenses, additional staff, equipment maintenance, capital replacements, etc. The bigger you are, the more difficult it can be to adjust to economic changes, any fluctuations in business or even just seasonality. This is sometimes the most difficult part of the job, preparing for the unknown, but if you have a good understanding of your business and the support of your team the unknown isn’t that forbidding after all.”

One thing that he Neborsky pointed out was the parallel in his past work environments to today’s leadership role. When he was working directly with the slot machines, every day was different, changing based on the day’s activities. What games need to be repaired, guests to help and new equipment to be installed. “Now it has expanded 100-fold because you have changes in business dynamics, policy issues, personnel issues, regulatory issues, you have different stages of projects to manage and initiatives that take place at the executive level. No two days are the same.”

Neborsky credits his team at Mohegan Sun for the success of the property, and humbly gives them credit for this award. “I’m extremely fortunate to have the team I work with. They are as much a part of this award as I am,” he said. “What I’m able to do here at Mohegan Sun is a tribute to the team that we have. Although I’m being honored, it’s through the support and actions of the people I work with every day that make it possible.”

Stephanie Maddocks, president of Power Strategies and a friend and colleague of Neborsky’s, points out his supportive qualities, and his commitment to both his work life and his family. “I have found him to be dedicated to his job and his team members; highly knowledgeable about the gaming industry; and always willing to mentor and advise a peer or colleague,” Maddocks said. “Recognizing the contribution that Frank makes to his job and to the industry is only one part of his success. He is also committed to his sons, Nick and Matt, and continues to mentor and guide them through their young adulthood.”

Neborsky says that his sons, ages 21 and 19, are the highest priority in his life. “As important as other aspects of your life may be, after you have children it changes everything,” he said. “It doesn’t matter whether they are 2 or 20, you never forget how important that they are.”

It’s because of Neborsky’s attitude toward life and his devotedness to both Mohegan Sun and his family that he was nominated and selected as a Top in Ops winner. And though his achievements thus far in the industry have been great, we’re sure he’ll continue to be a great leader and top operator … that is, if he can get onto the highway in the morning. JM

Wendy Reeve
Director of Casino Operations
Sycuan Casino

Wendy Reeve wasn’t always the outgoing social butterfly she is today. As the director of casino operations at Sycuan Casino, those who now know her would be surprised to find out about her interesting upbringing in London, but more on that later.

Like many people in the gaming industry, Reeve was attracted to the glamour surrounding it. However, what sets her apart is that she entered it when she was only 18 years old, and hasn’t left in more than 30 years.

She began as a multi-game dealer at the elite Clermont Club in the heart of Mayfair, London—a job she saw posted in a newspaper ad. “It said, ‘Come and be a croupier,’ and I thought wow, that sounds glamorous and really cool!” She also thought it might be an industry that held great potential. “I like to reach for the stars.”

After seven years, she was intrigued by the opportunity to visit exotic places on cruise ships, where she spent four years learning the other casino functions—slots, surveillance, cash ops, drop/count and the marketing side of gaming. She then had her daughter, and opted to move back to California. She held several positions in tribal casinos, including gaming commissioner and table games director, each for one year. Then, she took a unique career move and joined Thunderbird Gaming, who used her skills and knowledge to identify potential markets and set up locations for gaming venues in Central and South America.

John Roberts, deputy commissioner of the San Manuel Gaming Commission, is someone who has experienced Reeve’s leadership and kindness firsthand. Roberts worked with Reeve when the company they were both employed by opened casinos in Aruba, Guatemala and Panama. “We were taking over a property in Aruba and doing a complete inventory of the casino, specifically the slots,” Roberts said. “In the beginning of the process, Wendy noticed a bit of confusion on my part and said, ‘Don’t tell me this is the first time you’ve done this?’ When I admitted it was, she instantly became my mentor and gave me an education in gaming that continues to this day.”

Roberts continued: “Wendy has an encyclopedic knowledge of gaming and the details that are so important, the regulations, the math and the human factor. She is a constantly positive and cheerful person, one who will always show you the bright side of life. Rare is the person who is the smartest in the room and the friendliest. She is both.”

As mentioned, Reeve didn’t always have this outgoing and social personality. “I was a complete bookworm,” she confessed. “I never went out; I just read a lot of books!” She grew up in the outskirts of London, in what she described as the projects. At age 11, she scored in the top 5 percent in a country-wide exam, and got to select what high school she attended. “Even though I lived in the projects, I was allowed to go to this super smart school, which was two bus rides away from me at the time—two hours,” she explained. “Life was tough because I lived in the projects, and everybody there thought I was a snob because I went to the posh school, and when I went to school I got it rough because everyone knew I lived in the projects. It was a constant battle on a daily basis; the only place you were really safe was on the bus going to and from wherever you were going.”

It was then that Reeve thinks she learned to better understand people who are diverse and different, which perhaps lead her to becoming the outstanding leader she is today. She just had her 11-year anniversary with Sycuan, a company Reeve is delighted to continue working for. “I’ve never looked back once, because once you get to Sycuan, nobody ever leaves! It’s such an awesome place to work!”

Over the last six years, she has been part of the senior management team responsible for overseeing the revenue generation, the budgeting process and most recently a full renovation of the entire property, while always maintaining 85 percent of active games on the floor. In 2004, she earned her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, graduating with honors, and in 2010 she completed her master’s degree in business management.

Reeve lists her daughter as her greatest personal accomplishment. “It’s probably a cliché answer, but it’s hard to raise a teenager in today’s society! She just graduated from high school, and I couldn’t be more proud of her.”

This award came as a shock to Reeve, who said she was humbled and very excited to hear the news. “I was super proud to be named in a category with Buddy Frank, because he has always been so highly regarded, especially in California,” she said. Like many, she attributes part of her success to her team. “I have some awesome teams here at Sycuan that do such a good job that it reflects back up and makes it look like it’s all me, but really it’s them. By them being so great at what they do it allows me to get recognized for an accolade like this.”

While Reeve gives credit to her team for helping her win this award, those who work with her surely know that she has earned it. With a great attitude, dedication to Sycuan, and a smile on her face, Reeve is surely deserving of this Top in Ops award. JM

*To listen to the winners of CEM’s Top in Ops Awards on CEM Audio Edge, click here.*

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