The Gaming Life: Jim Ward

It is truly interesting how people end up in the gaming industry. Some may have had parents in gaming and chose to follow in their footsteps. Others may just have had the good fortune of finding a position in this remarkable industry. Jim Ward however, was encouraged to join by none other than his grandmother. This wise woman—as grandmas tend to be—told Ward that he would really enjoy the excitement of the casino business and that he would excel in it. She was completely right. Ward loves his job and has been very successful throughout the years. Now, as the corporate vice president of casino operations at Station Casinos, he can’t imagine being in any other business.

Ward moved from the Chicago area to Las Vegas when he was 23 years old. When asked why he chose Las Vegas, his reasoning was quite simple. “My grandparents moved to Vegas while I was still in high school, followed by my parents. I couldn’t think of anywhere better to live at that age, so I followed them.”At first, Ward built a career on one of his hobbies—woodworking—and owned a custom wood shutter company in Las Vegas. Unfortunately, at that time the shutter business was quite competitive and Ward found himself having to drastically decrease prices in order to stay competitive. The profit margins were reduced to a point at which it made no sense to stay in the business. And that’s when he chose to follow grandma’s sound advice.

“I then began my career [in gaming], almost 19 years ago, at the Stardust Resort and Casino, working in their Slot Club,” he shares. Through hard work, leadership and dedication, Ward made his way up the corporate ladder. The diverse posts he’s held over the years—some at Station and others with casinos he worked at long before—include slot director, director of casino operations, vice president of Wildfire’s gaming operations and property vice president/general manager. Since joining Station Casinos 10 years ago, Ward has been promoted multiple times. When asked to speculate on his key to career success, he tells us: “I never passed up an opportunity to learn other areas of operations, which fortunately led to several promotional opportunities throughout my career.”

In Ward’s current position, he oversees the operations of the table games, bingo, keno and poker departments throughout Station Casino’s family of properties. He works to ensure that all the properties are consistently exceeding expectations, and supports the operators in their goals to achieve targeted revenue and department income goals. Ward also ensures compliance with all of Station Casinos’ policies and procedures, as well as with gaming regulations. These responsibilities are relatively new for him—Ward began this role 11 months ago—and he says there is still a lot of work to be done. And his job isn’t without a few challenges. Like most in the gaming industry, Station Casinos was impacted by the state of the economy during the recession. While business has been picking up, the economy is still the company’s biggest challenge. “Unemployment and the real estate market haven’t improved tremendously in southern Nevada, which continues to impact our operations,” Ward says.

But he also admits that the challenges he and his team face daily is what makes the job exciting and interesting. There’s no doubt this is true—it is all too evident that he fully enjoys his job. His favorite part of it all? “Working closely with the table games’ directors and senior executives in the company when collaborating on anything, from a focus on guest service to how to maximize each department’s profitability,” he shares. “The great thing about this business is that there’s always something new to learn. We have a saying in our company, ‘None of us is as smart as all of us.’”

When he’s not working, Ward can be found with his family. He loves spending time with his wife and three children, and says his biggest challenge comes in trying to balance his personal and professional lives. But to be honest, family trumps everything for him—including work. “I love my job, but my family is the most important thing in the world to me,” he tells us. “A work-life balance is the key to success. A happy wife is a happy life …” That last bit may sound like a joke, but we’re certain it isn’t! Ward certainly makes time for his loved ones. They spend time going to the movies, swimming and hiking, and particularly enjoy family vacations. Most recently, they made their way to Hawaii. A few highlights of the trip included scuba diving, snorkeling with giant sea turtles and zip lining down a mountain.

It is amazing how Ward manages to balance it all; he even finds time to engage in his hobbies. A big fan of the Chicago teams, he likes to catch the Chicago Bears, Bulls and White Sox games whenever possible. He also enjoys working on cars. This came up when asked to share one secret about himself and he informed us that he was actually a certified mechanic when he was much younger. Of course we had to find out why he stopped. “This was more of a hobby for me than a career,” he explains. “I still really enjoy working on cars, mostly older, classic cars without all of the electronic components.”

Though he enjoys a more old-school activity, Ward fully enjoys the advancements he sees in the gaming industry. Ward tells us that the constant increase in technology and innovation is the biggest and most exciting change he has seen over his time in gaming. He is pleased that his company strives to keep ahead of the curve and says: “One of the great things about working for Station Casinos is it’s always been our goal to lead the market in technology and innovation. Just this past year we partnered with SHFL entertainment to offer the first wide-area progressive on the Fortune Pai Gow games. On the sports side of the business, Station Casinos is now offering a sports wagering mobile application you can use to bet on sports right from your smartphone.”

Ward also shared that Station Casinos will be ready to engage in i-gaming if and when it is legalized. “Our owners, Frank and Lorenzo Fetitta, started Fertitta Interactive LLC to be licensed as an Internet poker operator and service provider. Fertitta Interactive has been at the forefront of pursuing regulation for online poker since the company’s inception in 2010.”

So what’s in the future for Ward? “At this point in my career I really can’t see myself doing anything out of this industry,” he admits. “I love the excitement and energy of the business and the challenges that come with my job.”

But this does not mean he’s grown complacent; he won’t ever stop striving to be better and do better. “I’m always looking to advance my career, that’s one of the things that motivates me,” he says. But we’re guessing the most important motivator of all is his family.

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