IMMOKALEE — Edward Aguilar Sr. is passionate about every aspect of the gaming industry. As the assistant director of slot operations at the Seminole Casino in Immokalee and a graduate of Seminole Gaming’s Tribal Career Development program, he continues to sharpen his professional development.
Aguilar earned a gaming management certificate from the University of Nevada Las Vegas International Gaming Institute’s Executive Development Program, held at Lake Tahoe in November. The program, sponsored by UNLV and University of Nevada, Reno, has graduated 1,290 executives from gaming companies and regulatory agencies worldwide in the last 25 years. About 75 casino executives attended the most recent program.
“About half were representatives of Native American casinos,” Aguilar said. “Knowing our place in the history of Indian gaming, being the pioneers, it was humbling to see other tribes finding their own success and leading the way to better their tribes.”
Classes during the week-long program explored important strategic issues common to casino gaming. Key topics such as sustaining a competitive advantage, responding to political uncertainties, managing organizational change, developing strategic alliances and adapting to the rules of a new playing field in the evolving gaming industry kept the participants engaged.
“We are further ahead than most as far as technology, program and abilities,” Aguilar said. “It’s good to know we are ahead of the game, a trendsetter. You see problems being discussed throughout the industry and we are fortunate enough to have been through and overcome those things.”
Aguilar believes the education he received at the Executive Development Program will help to prepare him for his ultimate goal, which is to serve as the Immokalee casino’s general manager.
“Seminole Gaming is all I know, so to get that perspective of what and who we are and how we do things differently from others was helpful,” he said. “We are a few steps or very far ahead of most; not just Indian gaming but Caesars, MGM and those big names we associate with gaming.”
Aguilar believes the ability to install fresh carpet or purchase new furniture when necessary is an advantage not all companies share, and it shows. He went to every casino during the week and took notice of the details.
“We have a great property,” he said. “Little ole Immokalee can compete with those big names.”
Aguilar is also involved in the first of its kind training program that is customized to his skills and goals. The program, part of the ongoing professional development through TCD, is the next level of management training. TCD will use it as a model for other interns in the future.
“Edward is a great person to have as the first person; he’s truly a rock star,” said Ervina Capricien, TCD director. “He’s gone so far in such a short period of time. I tell the interns that you get out of this program what you put into it and he has put in 1,000 percent.”
Capricien credited Aguilar’s drive and desire to learn everything he can about the industry for his success. She believes he will achieve his goal and become Immokalee’s general manager in the next few years.
Until that time comes, Aguilar continues to work closely with other executives in Immokalee including Aniel Bonachea, director of human resources.
“Ed has a keen eye for the business that not a lot of people have,” Bonachea said. “He is able to spot things and he has the confidence of the staff. He is our eyes and ears on the floor.”
Bonachea said the perception of Seminole Gaming is that of an industry leader that others come to for advice.
“We don’t realize the reputation we have within the industry until we go out there,” he said. “It’s very exciting when other organizations ask what our secret is. We’re playing with the big dogs now.”
The Immokalee executives and Aguilar are creating the standard operating procedures for the program, which will be used by TCD for other interns.
“It makes it even better that it’s coming from Immokalee, a non-Hard Rock property, but from a true Seminole Gaming property, our original brand,” Aguilar said.
The Hard Rock and Seminole gaming brands have distinct identities, but a common theme is the Seminole culture of warm hospitality. The difference of guitars versus core traditional values defines the properties. The standards are the same at both brands, but Seminole Gaming’s focus on traditional culture is unique.
“Hard Rock came with an identified logo and service standard, but the Seminole service standard was already part of their culture,” Bonachea said. “That has carried over into every property in the operation. The culmination of both cultures coming together made us the unique industry leader we are today.”
Aguilar is proud to be from Immokalee, a small property which has excelled in all areas. His repertoire continues to expand; he recently added marketing to the mix. He believes learning everything about the casino operation gives him a strong foundation for the future. He wouldn’t change a thing about the experience.
“This is where my Seminole comes out in me; everything has a purpose and the Creator gives you things,” Aguilar said. “Not in your time, but in his time. Being able to accept the things that come and understanding that if you were given the opportunity, you were meant for it. And if you don’t get it, finding the willingness to accept it is the challenge.”
Jim Allen, CEO of Seminole Gaming and Chairman of Hard Rock International, was impressed with Aguilar’s words at his TCD graduation in December 2015. Aguilar stated his goal was to be general manager in Immokalee, which was in line with Allen’s goal of leaving the business in the hands of Tribal citizens. After graduation, Aguilar was promoted to assistant director of slots.
“We are honored to be the first property to move forward with this project and help Jim Allen with his vision and promise to the Tribe,” Bonachea said. “We are creating a future leader for this organization and for the Tribe.”
Aguilar is a strong supporter of the TCD program and always has an eye out for young Tribal citizens who may be interested in pursuing a gaming career.
“I’m a lonely Indian so I’d like to have some company here,” he said. “This generation is so in tune with technology and the modern world; they are a different breed of Tribal member. We want them to keep us in mind, get their education and then come back and use it here.”
The Immokalee program can be customized for other interns.
“Depending on what area they want to go into, we can use this template to easily slide in the information tailored to their goals,” Capricien said.
TCD is open to all Tribal members age 18 and older who have at least a high school diploma or GED. Interns work in every department including Table Games, Slots, Cash Operations, Poker, Marketing, Food and Beverage, Hard Rock Live, Hotel Operations and Hard Rock Café. They work every shift so they experience the casino at all hours of the day and night. For more information contact TCD director Ervina Capricien: 954-364-2076 or firstname.lastname@example.org.