The Muckleshoot Casino in Auburn, Washington, recently celebrated turning 21 in style – by throwing the largest slot tournament the world has ever seen. In wake of the event, Chris Webster caught up with the casino’s director of player services Michael Ka’ahanui, to discuss the past, present and future of the Pacific Northwest’s largest gaming venue.
Chris Webster: Muckleshoot Casino turned 21 this year. In what ways has the property evolved in this time?
Michael Ka’ahanui: I’ve been at the casino for just over a year – but even in that time we’ve been able to implement some small changes that we would like to think impacted the business. But with my knowledge of Muckleshoot Casino’s 21-year career to date, I know that it has had a long and eventful journey. Back in 1995 the casino was opened in a tent with 31 tables. Now our gaming floor is over 140,000 square feet, with 75 tables and 3,100 slot machines. Over the years, we’ve been very good at being the first to market in the region for a lot of things. We were the first casino in the state of Washington to offer Class III video gaming devices – and we were the first to have the largest nonsmoking gaming casino in the northwest (a full separate casino, as opposed to a section or walled-in area). It covers 40,000 square-feet and includes food and beverage outlets as well as our players’ club. It’s a fantastic venue for guests looking for a non-smoking environment. Also, we were the first to launch in-game bonuses and the first to take up TITO technology. The casino really has done so much to show that it’s at the cutting edge in Washington. Just this month, we reintroduced off-track betting. Now that Muckleshoot Tribe owns the Emerald Downs racetrack we brought in that service for the Kentucky Derby with some great early success. Still, when you’re 21 years old it’s good to refresh – and we’re doing some things to make the guest experience a little bit better. For instance, players will see some new carpet in the future, a fresh coat of paint on all of our interiors, as well as the expansion of our cage area.
CW: Muckleshoot Casino now holds a Guinness World Record, as the host of the world’s largest slot tournament. What was the genesis of the idea? How popular did it prove to be?
MK: For us, celebrating our birthday is always of importance, because that’s a chance for us to give back to our community. Specifically for this year, as turning 21 in the US resonates on so many different levels – we wanted to make a big splash and create something that was going to be memorable for everybody. We thought, what better way than to go for the world record? We’re a locales market casino, and we wanted to instil a sense of pride, not just within our casino, but for all the people here in our area: because we’re truly their entertainment hub and destination. It then blossomed into this idea that incorporated the entire property – and became a project which took many months of planning and co-ordination with both our events partner, Everi, and Guinness World Records themselves. But everyone came together, and it was a tremendous success for us. On that day alone, we saw around a 25 per cent increase in people on the floor – and that’s in comparison to a regular Saturday. So it was our busiest day by far, and a great experience for everybody.
CW: Muckleshoot is the largest gaming establishment in America’s Pacific Northwest region. Are there any region-specific distinctions to operating in that part of the country?
MK: I’m originally from Atlantic City – and have moved steadily westwards: with experience of the market in New Jersey as well as in Las Vegas, California, and a number of other places in between. I can tell you that Washington is a very unique market – unlike anywhere else I’ve ever worked in the US. The people here are probably some of the best guests – from an operator’s perspective – that I’ve ever seen. They’re very kind and very happy. But what really makes it unique is the fact that in the northwest, it’s very rainy. Therefore, when the sun comes out – it really does affect your business, as everyone wants to go outside! So that’s a factor that can slow your business down. On the other hand, it seldom gets very hot – so on those days the inverse is true: people start wanting to head back indoors. We try and plan for the seasonality of it – but broadly, the summers tend to be a little slower because so many people are enjoying what is – in my opinion – one of the most phenomenal, clement summers in the country. Overall, I think the health of the market here is tremendous – and our traffic has been very strong this year. But I think you see that across the country generally now. People seem to be enjoying themselves a little bit more.
CW: Finally, an established aim of the Muckleshoot Casino is to aid in the cultural, economic and social well-being of the Muckleshoot Tribe. What kind of impact do you think the property makes in the tribal community?
MK: The Muckleshoot Tribe does a phenomenal job at taking gaming revenues and reinvesting them back into their community – and the wider surrounding community. Numerous times I’ll be stopped on the floor from people who just want to thank me for all the things that have been done towards youth sports, community events and different sponsorships throughout the region. I just recently took an in-depth tour of tribal facilities – and what they’ve done to give back to their own tribe is just amazing. There is a youth development centre, a senior centre, a health and welfare area – and these buildings are all top-notch and provide incredible service to the tribal members. That’s what casino gaming is supposed to do – give tribes an opportunity to elevate and progress. And they really have done a great job at that.