A 27-year veteran in the gaming industry, Wendy Reeve’s career has taken her from the Clermont Club to tribal gaming. Had things been different, she might have been a Playboy bunny or even a lawyer. But today she is director of casino operations for the Sycuan Casino & Resort in San Diego. Reeve took some time to speak with CEM about the Southern California market, networked gaming, horses, and a lifetime in the industry.
Unlike other industry veterans who come to the gaming after a healthy career in other sectors, Reeve started early—almost too early. In 1983, she saw an advertisement in a London newspaper for a club looking for croupiers. As Reeve says, “This was right after Playboy closed, so I was curious and went for the interview.” Reeve says she would have loved to have been an iconic Playboy bunny, but alas, she was not “legal” enough. “I started as a dealer at age 18 and Playboy closed when I was 17.”
The club turned out to be the Clermont Club, the epicenter of London’s gambling scene of the heady 1960s and 1970s, and a mainstay of nightlife characters such as Lord “Lucky” Lucan and Sir James Goldsmith. There she found herself amongst interesting company. “Many of my fellow croupiers at the Clermont Club were prior bunnies and they had some fabulous stories,” Reeve tells us. Her best times as a croupier was attending the annual Berkley Square Ball. She says: “The event was held inside the park in the center of the square. Huge marquees were erected and the event was themed. It was the only time that we were ever allowed to take tips, tipping of croupiers and dealers being unacceptable in U.K. private clubs. Most of our VIP elite players used to relish that one day when they could show their appreciation.” Reeve says her favorite Berkley Ball came in 1987, in part because it was her most lucrative and in part because it was sponsored by tony jewelry brand Cartier.
But nobody can croupier forever, though some of the more intrepid do try. Reeve says she made the leap from the front line to executive management while at sea on cruise ships. To this day, she lauds the environment as a training group for up-and-coming gaming professionals. “This is a fantastic environment to learn all aspects of an operation,” she comments. “Tables, slots, cage, surveillance, count, etc. Everything was done in-house back then, so as a manager you had to have knowledge of it all.”
Reeve finally lost her sea legs and found herself with a casino in all ports. She has been intimately involved with research and development, construction, legal and regulation details for numerous casinos in Panama, Guatemala, Aruba and Venezuela. She has also lent her expertise to multiple slot parlors along the Mexican border.
Reeve has now called Sycuan Casino & Resort home for the last eight years, where she brings her considerable global, full-spectrum experience to bear. At the Sycuan property, Reeve is involved in all levels of operations and points to the casino’s service as its differentiator in the competitive marketplace. “We pride ourselves on our excellent guest service. We have a major initiative at Sycuan called the ‘Sycuan Difference.’ Every team member undergoes training, and can have a bigger voice by participating on one of the four ‘Difference Design Teams,’ including communications, behavior, efficiency and reward and recognition. The team members really get into the whole ‘secret shopper’ experience.”
Yes, to the goal of making sure every guest is treated exceptionally, Sycuan runs a secret shopper program throughout the property every other month. “It allows for us to focus on areas that may need retraining or improvement,” Reeve says. “Every department and every level can be a candidate; there is no discrimination, and no-one gets a free-pass.”
Not much gets a free pass from Reeve, including networked gaming. On the subject of a universal protocol, Reeve says: “I would love to believe that we could all expect this to work in the future, but I am not confident that all the vendors can agree on a uniform technology where they would all be exposed, and operations could utilize the best product for their operation. Having a level playing field does not always mean that everyone plays nice.”
But she points to recent developments such as Apple and Microsoft finally offering cross-over products. “So there is hope!” This increase of reliance on technology is what Reeve points to as the greatest change during her time in the industry. She jokes, “I always tell my teams, if the systems go down, look for someone over 40. They know how to do everything manually.”
All work and no play would indeed make Reeve a dull girl. But that doesn’t seem to be a problem. Reeve escapes from the increasingly technology-dependent world of gaming with some decidedly analog relaxing activities.
“I really enjoy reading and theatre—anything Shakespeare. I love gardening and hiking.” Reeve says she’s done rather well with the green thumb. “I have a fantastic rose bush in my front yard, which I nurtured from a teeny-tiny stem. I live up in the mountains east of San Diego and roses like the terrain and the climate up at 4,700 feet.”
And then there are the horses. “When time permits,” she says about them. Reeve’s love of horseback riding was a direct result of her time at sea. “When I worked on cruise ships, a girlfriend of mine took me every Monday when our ship pulled into the Dominican Republic. I ended up owning two horses, and that was definitely a high spot of the week. We’d dock at 7 a.m., and not return back to the ship until 5 p.m., aching muscles but very happy.”
Her favorite casino game? “I will happily play Jacks or Better on a bar top for hours,” she says.
In the future, Reeve thinks the industry is going to have to offer more than Jacks or Better, though. She says alternative entertainment sources are going to be the big challenge, “with online gaming emerging and computer entertainment through social networking becoming a huge trend.” She believes that the next generation is going to demand a lot more from gaming properties.
“What casinos offer now is the personal attention, but today’s upcoming generation, the future gamblers, are not necessarily seeking that sort of entertainment. They’re more interested in instant gratification and entitlement, so keeping up with comps could also be a drastic confrontation.”
So if Reeve had never gotten the croupier job at the Clermont or hopped on a ship, what might she be doing? She could be handling your divorce or getting you out of that speeding ticket. “I have a degree in criminal justice and also did a paralegal course some years back. Doing research to find results is very fulfilling for me, especially putting together a brief, so probably something in the legal world. I did one year as a gaming commissioner and really enjoyed the regulatory perspective, probably because of my criminal justice degree.”
But should we expect to see her getting out of the gaming business anytime soon? “Never.”