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Best of Howard Stutz
Howard Stutz

Nevadan At Work: When Change Happens, Executive with Station Casinos Embraces It

4 July 2006

After nine years at the heart of the Strip, Scott Kreeger wanted a change of pace.

What he got was an education.

Kreeger has held seven jobs with Station Casinos since joining the company in 2000. He is general manager of the $925 million Red Rock Resort, overseeing operations of the Las Vegas-based casino company's newest property, which opened April 18.

Once the 450-room second phase of Red Rock opens by February, Kreeger knows the company -- which has six potential casino sites around Las Vegas, two projects planned for Reno, and four possible American Indian casino management deals -- could move him once again.

"I'm a utility player. They'll put me where they think I'll be beneficial," Kreeger said. "As a result, I've developed certain skills about organization and leadership. I have to be a quick study."

Because of his movement, Kreeger jokes that he keeps a copy close by of "Who Moved My Cheese?" a self-help best-seller that deals with adjusting to organizational change.

With Station Casinos, Kreeger managed both the Santa Fe Station and Green Valley Ranch Resort before spending a year as president of the tribal gaming development division.

Kreeger spent much of 2005 as president of Project V, Station Casino's planned resort project on 58 acres that houses the small Wild Wild West casino west of Interstate 15 on Tropicana Road.

When the company decided to delay the development, Kreeger took over Red Rock in October, heading up the final construction phases while planning for the property's spring opening.

The 40-year-old Kreeger began leading the Red Rock team when there were just five full-time employees. He soon became involved with hiring 2,400 workers and overseeing a six-week training session that prepared the employees and resort to handle the expected large crowds.

Having gained his initial casino experience in nine years with The Mirage and Treasure Island, Kreeger thought he was ready for whatever opening Red Rock could entail.

On Mother's Day, he found himself busing tables at Red Rock's busy buffet.

"It was one way of staying grounded, that I'm no different than anyone else," Kreeger said. "The worst thing you can do is separate yourself from (your employees). You can lose respect and a connection."

Kreeger joined The Mirage after graduating from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, moving through the ranks of the casino's slot department. He switched over to Treasure Island to help in the casino's rebranding effort.

But when the MGM Grand Corp. purchased Mirage Resorts in 2000, Kreeger decided to switch direction. He joined Station Casinos and went to the company's then recently purchased Santa Fe Station, helping in the efforts to remodel and expand the northwest casino, far from the glimmering lights of Las Vegas Boulevard.

Question: After working on the Strip, what influenced your decision to join Station Casinos?

Answer: I'm a hometown kid. I grew up in the mountains of Alaska, Colorado and Northern California. It was a big-city thing to be on the Strip and I had a great experience there. But I wanted an opportunity to do something a little more local.

Question: What's the main difference between a Strip casino and a locals property?

Answer: When you work on the Strip, people come from all over the world. When you work in a Station casino, your guests are your neighbors. Being from a small town, it seems more real to me. (The guests) will come knocking at my door in the neighborhood to tell me about their experiences.

On any given night when I walk around Red Rock, I bump into my friends or neighbors, and that's something you don't get to experience on the Strip.

Question: How is Red Rock Resort different from other Station Casinos properties?

Answer: Red Rock is a big animal and it's more akin to a Strip property than a typical local property in size and volume. But we operate it with the same mentality and culture as we operate all our other Station properties; guest recognition, quality of service and values are our cornerstones.

Question: Where did the idea come from for a six-week preopening operation?

Answer: The typical casino opening is rush until the last second to get everything done, bring the team members in a couple days before to get them acclimated to their environment, and open the doors. Inevitably, you provide subpar service and you don't meet the expectations.

Red Rock was the biggest step for our company. Locals have a higher expectation than any guest on the Strip and they expect a certain level of service and quality. We wanted to the be able to deliver on that expected experience.

Question: Was it hard convincing corporate management to fund six weeks of preopening training?

Answer: It was an easy sell. For us, it was money in the bank to take six weeks and run our property. We ran all the restaurants and we had people stay in each hotel room three consecutive times. We were able to take care of any issue that a room had. In the last week, we had over 4,000 people a night eating and generally enjoying the facilities.

Question: What were the benefits from the pre-opening?

Answer: It did three things. It assured that we were as prepared as we could be. It also ingratiated and rewarded our team members from across the valley. They were able to come into the property and enjoy it. Our own team members were educated about what exactly Red Rock was all about.

The third thing it did was the best form of guerrilla marketing ever done. Every person who came in here with family or friends went back and told 10 people about Red Rock. We served over 100,000 meals during that six-week time. When you look at that, all those people went out and said something. That was an incredible boost to the awareness of the property.

Question: What was the buzz like after Sting gave a surprise performance at the opening- night party?

Answer: We had one of the best openings of any resort in town, ever. I firmly believe that. Were we perfect? No. Can you be perfect? Probably not. It's how quickly you react to the things that you missed. We're still shaking the bugs out and we will always be striving to improve on something.

Question: What has surprised you in the nearly three months you have been open?

Answer: Red Rock has quickly woven itself into the Summerlin community. It was an immediate adoption from the Summerlin residents and for me, it's exciting to see how comfortable people have become.

Question: What type of pressure does the general manager of a hotel-casino feel?

Answer: There's a difference between pressure and ownership. Pressure comes from not feeling confident that you will succeed. I feel an amazing amount of ownership so I don't have any trepidation about being successful.

Question: What skills does it take to be the general manager of a hotel-casino?

Answer: You have to be able to understand everybody's world. I can go from talking about trash compactors out on the dock, to a boiler system in the cold room, to national advertising campaigns. There are a thousand skills sets in this facility that people have spent their lives mastering. The coolest thing about being the general manager is you wear a thousand different hats.