Behind the Scenes of One of the World’s Busiest Slot Operations

Russ Christianson, Vice President of Slot Operations, is responsible for all aspects of the slot floor encompassing one of the busiest slot operations in the world at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa (SHRT).

In addition to working in nearly every aspect of casino management for over 25 years, his focus over the years has been on staff management, casino internal controls and procedures, and collaborating on marketing and guest relations. He also helped to design the new electronic gaming machines and developed gaming floor layouts at SHRT.

We wanted to know how Russ got to where he is today and what he sees in the future of slot machines:

Tell me about your career with the Seminole Tribe of Florida?

I have been very fortunate and honored to have worked for the Seminole Tribe of Florida for over 26 years. It started back in 1987, as I moved here from San Diego and started as a Bingo Floor Supervisor. Since then, I pushed myself to understand as much as I could about the entire operation. With that, I have worked as F&B Manager, Cage Manager, Director of Bingo Operations, Director of TAD (Technical Aid Devices) Operations and now, VP of Slot Operations. It has been a wonderful adventure as the Seminole Tribe of Florida continues to grow over the years. To think back to the when there weren’t machines in our 2,200 seat bingo hall and to compare it to when where we are today, one of the largest and busiest casinos in the world; I’m amazed every time I walk into the building.

How did you get into the casino business?

It started back in the 80s when I was working in a job I absolutely hated. I took a weekend to visit my parents who lived a few hundred miles away. My mother told me we were going to play bingo that night and I thought she was nuts. My father was working as a bingo caller at Tesuque Pueblo Bingo, just north of Santa Fe, NM. We went, I won, I met the general manger and he offered me a job on the spot. I started about a week later as the Pull-Tab Manager and have enjoyed the ride ever since!

How have things changed in slots over the years?

I have been amazed at the changes since we first started offering Class 2 technical aid devices. We’ve moved on to the Las Vegas-style Class 3 slots and we continue to offer this style today. We offer the mechanical reel games, which I love, bingo-based games, video slots, which offer crazy bonuses and ties to the modern trends such as: TV shows, popular games, music and cartoons. Slots have really changed so much in such a short period of time.

How many people do you oversee?

I oversee about 300 terrific team members.

What is the best part of your job?

The absolute best part of my job is working with these 300 slot team members. My crew of Slot Management, Attendants, Technicians, Tech Helpers, and Dispatchers are the best in the business and they put our guest’s needs first creating a friendly and safe atmosphere for all to enjoy.

What is the biggest challenge when it comes to slots?

There are two very different challenges I continue to face. On the guest side, it is making sure our guests understand that slot play must be for entertainment only. Having spent most of my gaming career here in Tampa, I have been able to create a slots gaming environment that caters to our local players and is on-par with the casino payback experience in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, and Pennsylvania. On the internal side, communicating to 300 team members and making sure we are all on the same page is a difficult task. My goal is to put the information out there in as many avenues as possible. We communicate through detailed team pre-shifts, emails, forums, postings and newsletters.

What do you see happening in the future of slots?

As technology continues to make our lives easier, the push for legalized on-line slot gaming will become more vocal. But there will always be a need for the brick and mortar casinos, as these places provide an escape and entertainment that sitting on your couch will never bring. Also, just look at our electronic table games such as Big 6, Craps, and Roulette to see where the future is heading.

What kind of tips would you give to slot players? (How to play, where to play, etc.)

With over 4,800 options, my tip would be to try as many different games until you find “the one”.   Set your gaming budget in advance and most importantly – HAVE FUN!

What is the latest technology and/or trends in slots?

The latest trend appears to follow the “bigger is better” mindset. On Monday, we introduced a slot machine that is over 12 feet tall with a 55” monitor. It’s located near the entrances to Jubao Palace and the High Limit Table Games rooms. Also, four new jumbo games went live last week and those are located near the Food Court and near the entrance of Winner’s Way garage.