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‘A business like no other’: Q&A with the Classic Casino GM

HOLLYWOOD — Edward Aguilar Sr. started working for the Seminole Tribe at the ripe age of 14. It was summer jobs in recreation and youth centers then. He’s never stopped working, but the roles and titles have changed over the years.

Now the general manager of the Seminole Classic Casino in Hollywood, he credits much of his success in life and in his gaming career to his mother and to his participation in the tribe’s Tribal Career Development (TCD) program.

TCD started in 2003 and is designed to educate and train tribal members with the goal of placement in high-level positions within Seminole Gaming. Interns work their way through every department while they receive mentoring and on-the-job training.

Since Aguilar became a member of the program in 2013 he’s been an assistant GM of slot operations, assistant director of casino operations and assistant GM/VP for the Seminole Casino Hotel Immokalee with about 1,000 employees. But Aguilar began his foray into gaming even before entering TCD. He was a lead Seminole Gaming commission officer and assistant compliance officer – later at the Immokalee Board office.

The Tribune asked Aguilar to reflect on his life and what he’s learned from TCD and the world of gaming. It has been edited for length and clarity.

Edward Aguilar on the floor of the Seminole Casino in Immokalee. (File photo)

Tell us a little bit about your personal background.

I’m from the Immokalee community – my family moved on the reservation from LaBelle in 1989 when the first housing project was completed. My mother is Elaine Aguilar and my father is Pedro Aguilar Sr. I have three sisters and two brothers.

My father is non-tribal – he worked in the orange groves most of his life and my mother worked for the tribe for a long time in many roles. Her most notable role was as the council liaison for the community. In all she served the tribe for nearly 30 years in one form or another. Her work ethic and compassion she had for her people and her community was visible to me at an early age and she would share her hopes to her kids of the importance of supporting the tribe in any way we could by going out and getting an education, working for the tribe, respecting our elders, and to always find ways to give back to the tribe and to not be dependent on what the tribe does for us.

What stands out professionally?

I worked for the tribe since the age of 14 – summer jobs with recreation and the youth center and with Seminole Broadcasting (now Seminole Media Productions) under Danny Jumper and Sylvia Marrero. The late Allen Jumper and Delores Jumper offered me a position in 2000 to be a gaming inspector. I worked in gaming under that administration and under Ed Jenkins.

I’ve worked for the Seminole Tribe Inc. as the assistant to Delores Jumper and was Immokalee Board liaison for four years. From there I ended up going to culinary school at the Art Institute where I ultimately took an internship with TCD. I navigated the program and excelled in most departments, ultimately taking on new challenges and responsibilities that led me to the position I now have as property general manager of Seminole Classic.

TCD was a big part of your career success.

I started the program in 2013 as a full time student and full time intern. I needed internship credits to graduate culinary school and this led me to apply for the program. I stayed within the food and beverage world for some time until I had to rotate into other areas of the casino world.

There’s just something about interaction with people and having a hand in creating the experiences that keep the guest coming back for entertainment and gaming. You have to have that in you to fully grasp all the happenings of the gaming business. Let’s be honest, this line of work is not for everyone. It requires a huge commitment of your time, a willingness to learn and adapt, self-sacrifice, drive and most importantly patience. This business is like no other and the possibilities are endless, but you have to be willing to put in the work and to always challenge yourself.

Any specific TCD memories?

Going through the program and working in each department really puts into perspective the commitment and passion that our team members have working for the Seminole Tribe. My memories include seeing from the inside the growth of the company over the years – growing through the company merger of Hard Rock International and Seminole Gaming and going through the expansion phases at multiple properties.

What would you say to those who haven’t heard of TCD or are considering it?

There are so many different career paths in Seminole Gaming, chances are we have a career path that you’re looking for. We are more than just slots and tables. We are entertainment, culinary, hospitality, finance, security, surveillance, IT, social media, advertising, marketing and so much more. We are more than just Florida. It’s an exciting business to be a part of, but it takes a huge commitment from the individual to make it all the way through. I always like to say, it’s a ladder not an escalator, you have to put the effort to climb up. We provide 10 percent of what you need to be successful, the other 90 percent comes from you. But it’s worth the journey.

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Damon Scott
Damon is a multimedia journalist for the Seminole Tribune. He has previously been an editor and reporter for digital and print media in Florida and his home state of New Mexico. Send him an email at damonscott@semtribe.com.
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