A few months ago, I posted “The Most Provocative Thought on Gaming” (sent to me by a long-time industry colleague and friend) on the Raving blog. I meant for it to stir discussion.

This is what it said:

Casino owners, operators and managers no longer have the ability to understand players and staff so they retreat into research, reports and meetings. They hire MBAs who went to school with folks that graduated to market for Fortune 500 companies. It’s hard to tell their buddies who are creating complicated algorithms and sophisticated online campaigns that the way to create revenue for their [casino] employer is to talk to little old ladies sitting in front of slot machines, so the rest of the staff can see what really matters. Money comes from the pockets of players. Nothing more needs to be analyzed.

This one quote generated more responses than anything Raving has ever written or posted, anywhere. So we did a follow-up post, “The Most Provocative Thought on Gaming—Part II,” where we shared the best and most passionate responses from casino industry executives.

Many agreed with the statement, but a very vocal group disagreed loudly, citing the advance of big data and sophisticated analytics in most industries and arguing that the gaming industry was no exception in its need to develop and utilize 21st Century technology tools. But the majority of responses fell into the “need both” category when it comes to “new school” and “old school” approaches to the casino business.

I was going to leave it at that, satisfied that we had hit an industry nerve, stimulated a good discussion and shared some interesting and valuable perspectives from some smart casino industry folks.  But then I received an e-mail from a close friend/industry associate that so summed up the dilemma and pointed the way toward a solution, that I saved it, ruminated at length on it, and now for the first time, am sharing it with you. Here is what this very smart, very senior casino executive of a very major casino company wrote to me:

Hi Dennis:

So I read your recent posts on “The Most Provocative Thought on Gaming Part I and II” with a sense of OMG here we go again… analysts versus operations LinkedIn-style debate for guys looking for a job because one on the other group pushed them out and life isn’t fair. It’s just a bitch session.

But you made me think. 

The world has changed. 

Casinos in 2016 are businesses in a competitive landscape just like every other industry.  No longer can we just open the doors and watch the money roll in.  Words like yield, margin, optimization, reinvestment ratios, compound growth rates and EBITDA are now all part of management’s basic language.  Why? Because they are important, and because boards and investors and the market judge us on these things.  We can’t pretend they don’t exist.

But hey, there’s an upside.  No longer should graveyard shift get fired because hold is bad. Today being a great casino manager is not about being a great dealer or supervisor anymore, but about being a great business person. 

However, we are still in the people business.  So apart from business “greatness,” we need to be great at the people piece.  Customers expect and buy great experiences from us, and our staff sells it—and if we get either wrong we fail. And all of the performance metrics in the world count for crap then.  Numbers do not foster great service—they measure it. Numbers do not build teams—they assess them.  People create and grow these things called service and engagement and leadership and culture—not computers and spreadsheets.

So, at the end of the day, neither group is going away and neither group is wrong. Both need to succeed and thrive and evolve in order for us as an industry to evolve.

It’s easy to throw the hand grenade into the pond, watch the fish float up, and pose some interesting questions. But help bring us together. Bring us together for a robust conversation… not just a 30 minute debate, but a real conversation amongst like minds. Put on a course to teach “old dogs new tricks” and “new dogs old tricks.” From what I’ve seen in my time in this industry, both sides want to learn but just are scared of looking dumb. Help us look smart.

I’ll stand beside you. But we just need that spark to ignite us.