Talking Shop with Isle of Capri CEO James B. Perry
Monday, January 31, 2011
(Laura Simon) [Order this photo]
Q: How did Isle of Capri become interested in Cape Girardeau as a future casino site?
A: I used to live in St. Louis and have a very good friend who used to live across the street who is a member of Dalhousie. He comes down here at least once a month to play golf, and he had met Jim Riley. When the 13th license became available in the state of Missouri, Jim contacted him because he'd said he had a friend in the casino business. We're always looking for opportunities, but the 13th license is what cleared the opportunity. Jim Riley talked to Paul Keller, our development director, last February or March, and from there we proceeded to move quickly.
Q: Describe the environment inside an Isle of Capri casino development.
A: You have to understand we are dealing in the entertainment business. People are buying an experience. Your goal is to make them enjoy the experience. People gamble for a group of reasons. Sometimes it's the thrill of the game, whether it's slot machines, poker, blackjack or bingo. They also enjoy a chance to win. I'm a golfer. I tell everybody that every day I think I'm going to go out and break the course record and by the third hole, I realize it isn't going to happen today. But it's the enjoyment, the experience of being with my friends, the challenge. That's what the vast majority of people enjoy about gaming. They have a chance to win big, but it's really the experience that people are looking for. You'll see in a casino grandmothers exchanging pictures of their grandchildren and talking about what's going on in their lives. You'll see a guys talking about the latest Rams or Cardinals games. It's really a social environment where people build activities around the casino experience. The vast majority of people spend between $60 and $80, and it's generally a two- to three-hour experience. Not much different from a baseball game.
Q: What do you think people want when they walk into one of your casinos?
A: There are five things I've found across my 30 years in gaming that are most important to the customer. First is cleanliness, the second is attentiveness of staff, the third is do you have the product I want, the fourth is can I park, the fifth is am I safe. We measure our performance against those, and that is what makes our company successful.
Q: How is the casino industry different from other types of businesses?
A: One of the basic differences is that we don't record every transaction. Almost every business is based on recording transactions. Our inventory is cash. What we're selling is cash. We have the inventory at the beginning of the day. A whole series of transactions take place in a 24-hour period, and at the end of the day you count the cash. If you have more cash, you won; if you have less cash, you lost. So there's a whole series of security features to maintain and protect our assets.
Q: The casino industry is one of the most regulated types of businesses. How are these addressed at Isle of Capri?
A: The most important asset we have is our license, and we have to do everything we can to protect that. That means complying with all the rules and regulations. There is a lot of training that goes on. There is an attitude that gets built in a company whether you are a company that wants to stay in compliance or skirt around the edge. Our reputation is that we are one that wants to be compliant because we do value our license, and I think that's one of the things the chairman of the [gaming] commission mentioned, that we have been good corporate citizens. When I first got into the business it was Nevada and New Jersey; now it's in probably 20 states. Regulations were very different when we started, but most of the regulators have come to a standard regulatory environment now. That makes us a better industry. The worst thing that happens to us in our industry is when people get into our industry that have a bad reputation.
Q: What do you want people in Cape Girardeau to know about your company?
A; Running casinos, like the one we're going to build in Cape Girardeau, is what we like to do best. We are not in Las Vegas, we are not in Atlantic City, we're not in major destination gaming markets. We're not building thousand-room hotels with marble, glass and brass. We're building an entertainment facility in your community where people will come regionally to have a good time. It will be an attraction and a catalyst for the time of development this community wants. I'd like to think we are going to be that catalyst.
Q: What are you most proud of during your 30-year career in the gaming industry?
A: We give a lot of autonomy to our local management teams to meet the needs of the customers right in front of them. I was working for Argosy at a regional meeting, and we were going around the room and I asked how has the company changed in the three years since I've been here. One individual answered and said, "Before you came, Jim, our job was to make people in the corporate office happy. Now our job is to make the customer standing in front of us happy." I'd like to think that if I have a legacy in this business, I helped create an environment where our employees understand the customers come first.