If there is a common theme on how some properties have carved out a leadership role in slot operations, it is the commitment from above to staying at the cutting edge.

It was a pleasure to talk with the folks at Pechanga, Coushatta, Blue Lake and FireLake Grand properties about their slot floors, which are profiled in this month’s cover story. If there was a common theme on how their properties have carved out a leadership role in slot operations, it was the commitment from above to staying at the cutting edge. You don’t wake up one day and decide you’re going to be innovative; it’s got to be deeply ingrained in the culture.

“One of the most attractive things about working here, and it’s only the slot floor, is that everything our tribal leadership does is going to be on the leading edge,” said Michael Laffey, director of marketing, Blue Lake Casino, speaking of the Blue Lake Rancheria, owners and operators of the facility. “We had the first green hotel on the north coast of California. We have server-based gaming, state-of-the-art food and beverage management; it’s a long list.”

At FireLake Grand, the property’s foray into iPad-based tablet gaming stemmed from the types of things it does all the time as an organization. “We’re pretty tech savvy,” said Steve Degraffenreid, general manager. “We give our internal staff the leverage to go find and develop cool stuff. The iSino happened because there was a conversation about hotel rooms in gaming settings, and the in-room property guides that let you know about where to eat and drink. We were talking about how to make that more technical, like giving people iPads to order room service, rooms for meetings, etc. And we asked wouldn’t it be cool if they could also play video poker or a slot machine in a room? That’s when we did a little research and hooked up with Acres. They had the same sort of vision and that’s how it all happened.”

It’s no accident that some of the most creative, forward-looking slot floors in America are on the tribal gaming side. It takes years for a truly new idea to be conceived, implemented, tested against the real-world of players, improved, refined and, dare we dream, perfected. Quarterly pressures are often hostile this process, which is not to say that investments in the future are unique to tribal gaming. Just that the business power of tribes that are fully invested in single (or a small group of) properties and committed to taking the long view has long been a vital force of progress in the American casino industry.

And progress isn’t easy. In gaming, it can sometimes even seem impossibly difficult. Take Pechanga, where slot operations VP Buddy Frank has worked in Job-like, Old Testament fashion to integrate the full range of property’s iView DM player communications network with the maximum number of machines possible. They’re up to over 1,100 out of 3,800, and the number is growing all the time. Years of effort culminated last month in the world’s largest slot tournament ever, an occasion marked by the Guinness Book of World’s Records. The 1,100-plus number was achieved by turning machines from five different manufacturers into tournament machines for the event. Prior to using DM, Pechanga's tournament area had 78 dedicated machines.

Any manager with skills and ambition still needs resources and time. Warren Davidson’s three-year tenure as director of slots at Coushatta Casino Resort started with big investments in new games and technology, including a new slot system and a high-speed Internet floor. While the rest of the industry was headed toward a 20-year replacement cycle, Coushatta replaced over 40 percent of its floor starting in 2009, and its technology investments have led to its first foray into networked gaming.

I look forward to writing about more of your slot floors next year, and to hearing from you directly why I need to include you in next year’s NIGA issue cover story.