It is a fluid process—sometimes I feel more fully retired, but at other times, not so retired at all. Through it all, I know I am very fortunate, not “having to” work and being able to take work that stimulates me, is important or innovative and is done on behalf of a very small group of clients that I feel really appreciate my candor and perspective.

Knowing my golf background, many friends and associates assume I am mainly spending my days on the golf course now. While I may squeeze in an extra round of golf a month and maybe an extra golf vacation a year, golf remains much more a pastime than a passion for me. Been there, done that.

I have become prisoner to two Pomeranian puppies, Maizie and Grace, who just recently experienced their first snowfall (now that was funny!)  I have also maintained my involvement in raising money for the Notah Begay III Foundation and its critically important work improving the health of Native American youth (if you are at NIGA in San Diego in April, please consider attending the Native Strong Comedy Slam to benefit NB3F).

Professionally, I would categorize my “semi-retirement” need as the need to “stay relevant.” After writing, speaking, teaching, mentoring (and being mentored) for so many years, I still feel a strong desire to be in the “industry discussions;” not all of them, but the ones I find to be the most interesting and important. It’s why I continue to write for Casino Journal and speak at a select number of industry gatherings that allow me the freedom to create and frame a gaming industry topic that I find to be very important, or especiallyperplexing. It’s part of what I believe is this old guy’s duty to “give back.”

With that in mind, I have decided to take my next two Casino Journal columns to share what I think I have learned about the gaming industry in my nearly 45-year career as a front-line employee and supervisor, a department head, a corporate muckety muck, a consultant, an industry observer and, most importantly, a casino customer. While some of my loyal readers might suggest I could share what I’ve learned in a couple of sentences, please humor this old guy.

A LIFETIME OF LEARNING

• Gambling is inherently fun, but the best casino operators make it really fun.How do these “funmeisters” do this?  Well, in dozens of ways, but let me highlight a few of the most important ones.  They let their players play longer and don’t squeeze their “time on device.” Their casino promotions have “meat on the bone” and are easy and fun to be a part of.  Their employees smile and have a real generosity of spirit.  The overhead music gets you tapping your toes. The damn place just feels like fun!

• There is nothing more valuable than listening to team members and guests. I don’t even care how you do it—formal focus groups, surveys, “dinner with the GM,” heck, just talking to guests and employees informally or any combination thereof.  What matters is that you do it, consistently and meaningfully, and then act onwhat you hear… and not just “lip service” acting on it.

• The best casino leaders manage by (mostly) wandering around. I’ve seen numerous types of skilled casino executives from technology geeks to finance wizards to HR organizational gurus to planning and analysis experts.  It doesn’t matter what these leaders’ core skills are, those that are the most effectivespend meaningful time “wandering around” the operation, touching guests and team members “where they live” and experiencing first-hand what is really going on where the rubber meets the road.

• The best gaming organizations provide careers, not just jobs. Most casinos are blessed with having numerous diverse and interesting work categories.  What is usually lacking for them however is a process by which talented casino employees can experience and learn these many roles along a well-defined “career path.”  And that makes good people feel “stuck,” and “survivors” the main ones who earn their 20 Year Pins.

• Player development needs to focus on relationships over “quick sells.” Everyone in gaming knows that 20 percent of casino players typically drive 80 percent of gaming revenues.  But what few realize is that the most effective way to manage this group of valuable VIPs is not by hounding them on the phone to come to the next concert or slot promotion, but by building long-term relationships of trust that treat them as unique individuals with unique needs, not “theoretical win” numbers on a spreadsheet.

• Technology needs to improve the customer experience, otherwise what is it really good for? I have seen first-hand the avalanche of technology to hit the gaming industry over the past four decades. Pretty impressive stuff… but what is really impressiveis seeing the rare organizations that actually use all this technology to benefit their customers.

Stay tuned for Part II of this column, where I’ll take 800 more words to share my lifetime of learning in the gaming industry.