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Q&A: Jim Allen talks gaming at G2E

Hard Rock International Chairman and Seminole Gaming CEO Jim Allen is interviewed by CNBC correspondent Contessa Brewer during a panel discussion about gaming Oct. 6 in Las Vegas. (Courtesy G2E)

LAS VEGAS — The Global Gaming Expo (G2E) returned to Las Vegas Oct. 4-7 after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic. About 13,000 people attended education sessions, keynotes and visited 233 exhibitors at the Venetian Expo and Convention Center.

Hard Rock International chairman and Seminole Gaming CEO, Jim Allen, was part of a keynote panel Oct. 6 with Bill
Hornbuckle, CEO and president of MGM Resorts International and Matt Maddox, the CEO of Wynn Resorts. CNBC casino and gaming correspondent Contessa Brewer served as the moderator and asked questions about gaming topics.

The following is a sample of her conversation with Allen. It has been edited for length and clarity.

Brewer: Gaming had a sigh of relief and then came Delta. How do things look now?

Allen: We’re in Florida, so we’re very fortunate. We have a governor who is very pro-the state being open. If we look at Ohio or New Jersey it’s a different mindset, but still the regional business is doing very well. If you really study the data, we’re seeing a lot more visits from people 25-to-35 years old. Hopefully the 50, 60, 70-year-olds will come back. The [revenue] numbers are growing at strong double digits, but the question is – is the discretionary income sustainable long term?

Brewer: How is the labor and supply shortage affecting you?

Allen: It’s not just the products that we need; it’s the effect on the economy. Not today, but in the second and third quarters of next year, and that’s why I’m a little bit more cautious on this incredible rush of business we’ve had since Covid. There’s a lot of pent up money that’s being utilized right now. And also obviously there’s a lot of stimulus money. When you look at those 21-to 35-year-olds, and the regional markets, and you look at the theoretical value of them, you can tie that directly to stimulus money. So I’m concerned that, whether it’s the employment shortage or the amazing rise in revenues, that we shouldn’t over, or under-react too rapidly until we get into next February, March, April, May. But clearly there is a shortage, not just here in the United States, but remember we’re in 70 countries around the world. This is a global problem.

Brewer: There’s been a drive to digital: sports betting, iGaming, e-wallets … the pandemic made people more comfortable using their phones for everything from a room key to gambling to payments. What have you seen?

Allen: In Florida there’s no doubt technology is more relevant when we look at those 25-to-40 year old guests that we’ve been courting for decades. I think that’s extremely important versus someone who’s 50-60-70, who’s probably doing it because they need to. One of the advantages to having an owner that’s a sovereign nation is that we have our own gaming commission, so we can be much more progressive with technology. That’s how we attract the next level of customers.

Brewer: The chase is on for sports betting customers, which is still a nascent industry. In Florida it hasn’t launched yet,
but is on the cusp. How do you compete and get customers?

Allen: The category is extremely relevant and important, but not necessarily today – everyone is playing for 2027 and
beyond. If you look at New Jersey, pre-Covid, 36 to 37 percent of the total gaming revenue was coming from iGaming and sports betting. People thought that would be five or 10 years from now. I think that that’s where the business is going. We’re fortunate because we knew if we won the political battle in Florida we had the chance for that to be our foundation block. Certainly we could lose in court and then we’ll revisit the philosophy, but we have the referendum route that we can go. But most importantly, you take a land-based database, with the right online philosophy, but not just in sports betting. If you’re only in the sports betting business and you’re not lobbying the political side of this to get iGaming eventually legalized, then that’s where there could be a flaw.

Brewer: The pandemic made people focus on a work-life balance. How do you juggle the demands of home and work life?

Allen: I don’t hunt, I don’t fish, I don’t ski – my life has been work since I started in the gaming industry in ’79. I love
it, it’s what I do, it is my life. I got out of the hospital from open-heart surgery and interviewed someone the same day – that’s what I do, that’s what I love and I choose that. But I certainly recognize that’s not healthy long term as far as the culture of the organization. It’s not like I have a huge family with children, going to soccer games – my life is my job. That’s answering the question honestly. But do I think that’s healthy? Would I recommend people to do that? Absolutely not. Because happiness is a balance of family, your community, your career, your significant other and your belief system.

Brewer: How does the pandemic end for the gaming industry?

Allen: It’s been a tremendous learning experience, but I think companies like the three of ours: we’re going to be responsible and care about our employees. One of the first things we did was, to anyone making less than $50,000 a year, was giving a meal card every other week. You know how that happened? Because I saw a line at a local church with people who were just trying to get food, and these weren’t homeless people. So I think companies that recognized that, paid their employees, made sure they had their health care and insurance, those things matter. When it ends? I don’t know if we’ll ever say ‘it’s over.’ I think it’s a continuation of how we can be smarter and more appreciative of our guests and employees. And let’s be honest, it certainly helped us become more margin focused.

Brewer: What will you consider success a year from now?

Allen: Most importantly just to be more humanistic, just to make sure we continue to be better listeners, specifically with our guests and employees. Specifically from the business, obviously, we’d like to win a few lawsuits and if we prevail then that really creates the magnificent foundation block for sports betting in Florida, which then takes our business to a whole other level.

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