Who I Am
I was born in Auckland, New Zealand. My dad is a Maori, my mum a Pakeha. I grew up in one of the southernmost cities in the world, Invercargill. About as down-under as you can go, it is a blue collar town famous for bitterly cold Antarctica winds, the best oysters in the world and sheep. My dad worked at the local meat works and my mum was a bookkeeper for a local business. My parents worked hard to take care of us kids and make ends meet. They couldn't always afford to give my two sisters and I the stuff we wanted but they always gave us what we needed.
When I was a teenager my family emigrated to the lucky country - Australia. We moved to the beachside town of Surfers Paradise in the sunshine state of Queensland. As they say in Queensland it's beautiful one day, perfect the next. For me Australia was like a big candy store. I wanted to experience as much of it as possible so I left home when I was 17 and went "walkabout." I had always dreamed of traveling the world. I think I inherited a travel gene from my ancestors. If I was born 500 years ago I would have been an explorer.
I spent the next few years in what I like to call my work hard, play hard days. From picking fruit in Australia's rugged countryside to building boat jetties in shark-infested waters, I learned hard work is hard! I mean dude, the human body is a wonderful machine but there's a reason you're not supposed to drive it into the ground year after year. I marvel at my dad and others like him who raised their families on sweat, muscle and callous hands but his tired body is a personal reminder of why working smart is better than working hard. Working smart is also more profitable.
At 19 years old I busted open my piggy bank, took my life savings and bought a plane ticket to the biggest candy store of all - the United States of America. It was my dream. I had a six month travel visa, a backpack, a bus pass and $2,000 in my pocket. My first stop was Disneyland. Second stop Hollywood. Third stop Muscle Beach. I couldn't believe I was rockin' in the U.S.A. It was everything I thought it would be and more. By more I mean - a life changer.
In a small-town bar in Kentucky, I met my bride. A coal miner's daughter from Hazard, Jo appeared from amidst a sea of tobacco chewing, baseball cap wearing, half-price drinking college students. She was super hot like the chick on the Whitesnake video. She had big Kentucky hair and wore a pretty blue sweater and white jeans. Then it happened. Out of the blue she activated some sort of tractor beam eye-lock on me. I was paralyzed by her beauty. She started to walk towards me. I began to shake like a dog shitting razor blades. I could smell her perfume as she stood in front of me. She leaned forward, pulled out her country girl southern accent and said, "you look like a man who knows how to dance." Thankfully, I had more moves then a monkey on a jungle gym. That was 1985. We're still dancing.
How I got into the casino business
When I look back at our lavish wedding at Don's Chapel of Love in Lexington Kentucky, I think it's safe to say it was the best $60 I ever spent. Realizing job opportunities for a bloke like me were limited in Kentucky, we decided to move back to Australia. In our early days we both worked various jobs to pay the rent. I was a fortune teller in a theme park for a while. It was a lot of fun but ironically, I couldn't see much future in telling the future.
Then we got lucky. The state government approved the legalization of casinos in my hometown of the Gold Coast. They awarded the license to Hilton who built a five star property called Jupiter's Casino. The property employed over 2,000 people including a number of my surfer dude mates. One of them suggested I apply for a dealers job so I did. I got a callback, bought a tie, got a haircut and was interviewed by an HR lady. She gave me a math test which I breezed through. The next day I got a call from the casino boss. He requested I come in and see him. I was excited. Not only was this an exciting career opportunity, the R.O.I. on the tie had just doubled overnight.
He started the interview by sharing his philosophy on casino management. He then looked at me and told me my black leather skinny tie looked like crap. I was shocked. Not because my fashion sense was brought to question but because I thought I had blown my chances of a future I so desperately wanted to provide for my new bride. He explained that casinos are like paramilitary organizations. He's the boss and he can say whatever he wants to me. He liked the sound of his own voice and continued to berate me before finally showing me the door. I took that as a no. I was devastated. What did I do to the guy? I dragged my bruised ego home to my wife and pretended everything would be alright.
We nearly fell off our balcony the next day when I got a call from the casino offering me a job in Surveillance. Still dumbfounded by the events of the previous day, I paused for a moment then asked the lady on the phone "what's Surveillance?" I started the job the following Monday. I wore a brand new red silk tie.
The casino put me straight into their 3-month surveillance trainee program. The course was very comprehensive. It was tough but I loved it. Not only did I get an in-depth education on how casinos work, it imparted in me the importance of the role of surveillance, game protection and integrity. The instructors became my mentors. They were dedicated to making me a good operator and their encouragement would instill my loyalty to the organization. Their training and confidence in my ability won me over. This is what I wanted to do. That was 1987 and I still love it today.
What I've done in the casino business
What I love about working in casino surveillance is catching bad guys. The job has many responsibilities and is often caught between regulatory and operational politics but when you strip away all the distractions, for me there's nothing like taking down scumbags.
I had a fantastic casino career. Fueled by ambition, the travel gene and a supportive wife, I was able to take advantage of opportunities that presented themselves in a expanding global industry. Over a 15 year casino operations career I worked in Australia, Asia, South America and the U.S.A.
It took me 7 years to become a Surveillance Director. I joke that I served a Triple A apprenticeship by working in Australia, Asia & America. In Australia I learned a lot about regulation. In Asia I learned a lot about gambling (real gambling). In the U.S. I learned a lot about competition. A tipping point in my career happened while I was working in surveillance at the Mirage in Las Vegas. The corporation was building the new Treasure Island property and they were looking for staff to transfer across. The Vice President of Gaming, who knew me from the Mirage, asked me to join his opening team as a Table Games Floor Supervisor. Me, a surveillance guy? I was flattered and decided to take the job. I enjoyed it a lot. The experience allowed me to lower my helicopter down to the front line and get a better, more rounded 360 degree perspective of supervising and managing casinos.
In 1995 I got the call for my first Surveillance Director position. It came from my very first mentor. He had just taken a senior asset protection role for a management team building the first casino in Sydney, Australia. He wanted me to open and run surveillance. I jumped at the chance. My bride was pregnant with our first. This was an opportunity of a lifetime.
During my 6 years at Star City we opened temporary and permanent properties. I have fond memories of my days on the harbor. I learned a lot about project management and took away an everlasting impression of the importance of professionalism, leadership, integrity and relationships. I also discovered the "learning culture." Our company was really into education and professional development. They invested in their people. My team and I were always doing training and courses. I was honored when they chose me to attend the annual Casino Executive Development Program at the University of Reno Nevada in 1999. It was a great experience that wet my appetite for continued education.
In 2001 I was approached and accepted an opportunity to be the Surveillance Director in a turnaround team recruited for a beautiful boutique casino in Argentina. The operation was a lot smaller than I was used to but it gave me the opportunity to spend time and learn more about the management of other areas outside my comfort zone of surveillance and gaming.
Unfortunately in 2002, Argentina went bankrupt. Overnight our casino revenues dropped 70%. The government made some questionable moves including not allowing cash out of the country. Not good for our Brazilian players. Not good for Willy. I was contemplating the future when one day, out of the blue, I got an email from the vendor who had provided the surveillance system equipment back in Sydney. He told me their company had decided to expand into the U.S. and they needed a casino guy to help open a sales office in Las Vegas.
I was sad to leave Argentina. I loved the country and the lifestyle. My kids had become bilingual and my family had made a lot of good friends. But the political and economical situation was not good and the opportunity to return to the world's capital of gaming was enticing. I had never done sales before but it was a good opportunity for me to learn more about new digital technologies, network with surveillance professionals in the U.S. and make a few bucks.
For the next 3 years I did just that, with the emphasis unfortunately on being "a few bucks." It was interesting to see the casino industry from the vendors side. I saw how surveillance managers with limited knowledge of new technology were making uneducated million dollar decisions for their casinos. It seemed CCTV knowledge and the latest technology information often took a back seat to relationships and misguided trust. I saw a need to create an annual industry event that would focus on game protection and surveillance education. It would include an exhibition of the latest surveillance technologies and the opportunity for attendees to network and learn from industry leaders and peers.
So in 2005 I quit my sales job to create the World Game Protection Conference. The WGPC debuted in Las Vegas in February 2006. I'm proud to say the show has become an annual mecca for passionate surveillance and game protection professionals. My Chief Organization Officer (COO) Jo and I love organizing and hosting the show every year. We're very proud of the interesting speakers we've had over the years and appreciative of the continued support we get from our friends in the industry.
From 2010 to 2017 I combined my passion for the casino industry, traveling and education by conducting game protection training and consulting services around the world. I had a great time and met a lot of good people along the way. In my seminars I taught my students that in gaming there is no such thing as luck. In life I can say, I've had my share.
In the summer of 2017 I decided to cut back on catching airplanes to work and focus on making the WGPC an even better educational event for the casino industry. It's time to shuffle up. For me it's about, and always has been about, being better. There are a number of challenges the casino industry is facing and I would like to try and help make it better. The journey continues and I'm not sure where the cards may fall...but I'm all in. Game on!