Coincidence and a healthy dose of curiosity attracted Linda McGhee to the gaming industry nine years ago. In fact, every occupation of McGhee’s has been the result of good timing and an inquisitive outlook.
The director of compliance for the Poarch Creek Indians Tribal Gaming Commission and a former tribal police officer, McGhee has been employed by the Atmore, Ala., tribe for 15 years.
Before and during her time with the tribe, she explored diverse fields of work but has had only four full-time paid jobs her entire life. The jobs include nine years as a bookkeeper and office manager at a law firm, 12 years as a bookkeeper and office manager for a cattle rancher where she also earned her real estate license, and her two positions with the tribe.
“You could say I’ve been a jack of all trades,” she said.
Beyond her professional positions, McGhee has a solid history of volunteering. She represented suspected abused and neglected children in court through her service as a guardian ad litem. Volunteer firefighting and acting as a sheriff search and rescue team and EMT member round out her list of honorable accomplishments.
While McGhee says there’s no common thread to the menagerie of jobs and volunteer positions she’s had, she says that every position, whether volunteer or paid, always requires a certain level of responsibility.
“When I take on that responsibility and handle it in a way that proves satisfactory to all concerned, it gives me an immense level of pride,” she said.
To McGhee, the most surprising of her career ventures are her past role as a tribal police officer and current role as director of compliance.
She did not expect to become a tribal police officer. Applying for the opening at the tribal police office, she assumed the position was for dispatch or office work. She interviewed for the position and three days later, received a call. She landed the job—and found out that she’d be starting the police academy the next Monday to become a tribal police officer.
“I was so surprised! I called my son because I didn’t know what to do,” McGhee said. “He told me, ‘Mom, you can do anything you set your mind to, just go for it.’ So, I went for it.”
She completed, with high marks, the Alabama Police Academy at age 46 to become a patrol officer for the tribe.
Her role as director of compliance happened in much the same way. While originally applying for the investigator’s job with the newly formed commission, the tribal gaming commission administrator asked if she’d be interested in compliance since she had an accounting background, and expressed that he felt she’d excel in the position. McGhee agreed to give it a shot and, as she says, “it’s been a success ever since.”
The Poarch Band of Creek Indians didn’t originally have a gaming commission. The tribal council formed the tribal gaming commission in 2002 when they wanted to expand on the tribe’s bingo hall. Since 2002, the commission has increased from just three employees to 55. McGhee has been present since the inception of the commission.
“We’ve been told by other tribes that we’re a mentor to them. We have a lot of networking out there,” she said. “Our commission staff works well together, and my biggest goal is to try to stay in communication with all departments on our continuously changing regulations and technology.”
The Poarch Band of Creek Indians is the only federally recognized tribe in Alabama and has its own investigations, accounting/finance, IT, revenue audit, and compliance departments. Currently, the tribal gaming commission regulates the tribe’s three tribal gaming facilities—two casinos and one casino resort—and is planning to expand. The tribe also operates commercial gaming properties—a greyhound racetrack in Alabama and two other racing/gaming properties in northern Florida.
“I work to try to keep everything legit so that our tribe can move forward. I always want to do a good job,” McGhee said. “I want to help our tribe stay on the forefront of the gaming industry.”
Overseeing a very thorough audit and not having any findings to impose on the gaming side is the best part of being a compliance director, according to McGhee. The most difficult part, she says, is to levy fines for findings remaining in non-compliance after time has been given for corrections. Another difficulty McGhee encounters is explaining the difference between Class II and Class III operation regulations to someone from a Class III background, but she doesn’t let the thorny aspects of her job get her down.
“People always ask me, ‘what’s wrong with you?’ because I’m always happy,” she said. “I tell them I just love life—be happy. ‘Don’t worry, be happy.’”
Besides possessing a positive outlook, McGhee considers herself independent and outspoken.
“Phases in my life have made me independent,” she said. “Nobody can take my independence away from me.”
McGhee is a self-taught professional. Although she attended several different colleges and received an associate’s degree in accounting in 1970, she did not complete a bachelor’s degree. Instead, she challenges herself to get so good at each of her jobs that they become second nature.
“I face every job by not giving up,” she said.
She encourages people starting out in the gaming industry to start at the bottom and learn as much as possible while also expanding their knowledge.
“In this industry, all areas work together to form the one whole, so it’s good to always diversify your knowledge,” she said.
McGhee counts her boss and nephew Daniel McGhee, the tribal gaming commission administrator, as one of her most inspirational mentors. Although related, the two cut family ties during work to ensure a fair work environment.
“He apologized to me my first day for not calling me Aunt Linda during work,” McGhee said. “He’s very respectful so he wanted to make sure I understood it was not out of disrespect.”
She credits him for teaching her the benefit of analyzing situations before acting, how to better understand others’ viewpoints and how to maintain professional poise when dealing with any issue.
“He is one of the smartest people I know, and he tries to guide rather than push,” she said. “He is just an awesome boss.”
McGhee patrolling on Halloween 1998.
McGhee patrolling on Halloween 1998.
To further benefit her tribe, McGhee attends workshops, shares her knowledge with those in need and has been involved with various tribal committees.
“Each day, I’m working toward a goal to advance my tribe and help it to be self-sufficient one day. The responsibility I feel is not really greater so much as it is more personal,” she said.
Proud moments for McGhee include being selected by the tribe to represent them on different committees throughout Indian country, acting as domestic violence officer and drug court officer, and representing the tribal gaming working group and National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) MTAC. Her proudest personal accomplishment is her son, Barney McCoy Mattox III, who is a technical manager for Amazon. She calls him “absolutely wonderful.”
Looking to the future for the industry, McGhee hopes that all state and government entities can become cognizant of tribes and what they want to accomplish so there is more collaboration. She also thinks improved communication among these groups would benefit the industry.
A challenge for the industry, in McGhee’s opinion, is the much-debated legalization of Internet gaming. She is concerned about the compliance issues related to i-gaming and technology keeping up with the changes.
“If our tribe ever gets into that, I think it’s going to be a nightmare for us and a lot of other gaming commissions to regulate,” she said. “I-gaming is already out there, but we don’t have all of the security technology that we need to help govern the Internet.”
McGhee keeps up with technology and industry trends by reading trade journals, networking with other tribes and attending seminars and trainings.
When she’s not working, McGhee enjoys reading and painting. And, much like the jobs she’s held, her interest in painting was the result of coincidence. The cattle rancher McGhee worked for also had a large flea market. McGhee formed a friendship with a painter who rented a stall at the market and she and her son took painting lessons, learning a hobby that they both still share. She paints mostly landscapes and water scenes.
“It’s a great stress reliever and a good feeling,” she said. “Spiritual is a good description since I get the same feeling when I hear a good sermon or a really moving Christian song.”
While McGhee doesn’t intend to retire any time soon, she says she would love to devote time to painting when that day comes. The self-described homebody also looks forward to a time when she doesn’t have to travel as much.
The humble McGhee intends be in the industry for years to come and says her main career goal is to “try and make a difference.” With her career experience and admirable volunteerism, we have no doubt that McGhee has already made a difference and spread her “don’t worry, be happy” optimism far beyond her tribe.