- Willy Allison
Why I Got Out of the Consulting Business
I used to be a gaming consultant from 2010-2017. I consulted for surveillance operations and conducted game protection seminars around the world. I quit after 7 years. This is why…
I Love the World Game Protection Conference
I founded World Game Protection Inc. in 2005 and in February 2006 my wife and I launched the first World Game Protection Conference. We were very excited that we could have a business bringing like-minded people together during an annual educational event focusing on my passion: casino surveillance and game protection, a business which I had been involved in since 1987 when I was a bright-eyed bushy tailed 22 year old. We had big plans and then, as fate would have it, we got punched in the face by the 2008 “great recession.” We kept the show going and managed to keep it afloat.
So in 2010 as the world was restricted from coming to our show because of budget cuts, I decided to take the WGPC to the world. Well kind of. I created a 2-day game protection seminar and a health check evaluation process to help casinos improve their surveillance operations.
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 but after seven years I gave it up.
I have four reasons for giving up consulting. First and foremost it was because the WGPC was recovering from the recession and I wanted to focus on making it as good as it could be. Training and consulting took me away from that and I didn’t want that distraction.
Secondly, my health was starting to suffer. I always seemed to be getting sick. I put it down to the constant airline travel, airports, time zone adjustments, living in smoke-filled casino hotels, bad food and varying from my normal eating and workout routine.
Thirdly, I did my 2-day table game protection seminar 89 times in total. Towards the end I felt like a robot. How could I keep my students engaged when I was bored as hell myself? I really get why Mick Jagger doesn’t want to sing Satisfaction anymore.
The final reason, my experience and training course was not relevant to all properties. They hired me but it didn’t make sense to me after I got there a lot of times. Unlike college classes where there is a pre-requisite before taking a class, often I had new-to-the-industry hires and 30-year vice presidents in the same class. Ask any teacher what it would be like to have a class of first graders with college graduates.
In the casino business when they hire a trainer/consultant they often bill it as an event for everyone related to gaming. More of a show, than training. I had a problem with that because I like to connect with people in the classroom, especially if we’re going to be spending 2 days together. I need to know everyone gets it but I have my doubts if you’re talking about the intricacies of a craps collusion scam and your students have never seen a craps table.
I also learned that every casino in the world does things differently. There is no universal standard. An example is games. I think the penny dropped for me one afternoon when I had just finished 3-hours of content focused on baccarat. Everyone loved it. It’s some juicy stuff. However, one of the students came up to me on the break after the segment to tell me he enjoyed the class and that he hopes the casino gets the game in the future.
If I had known that, I wouldn’t have taken the job or I would have at least pointed out that a quarter of my stuff focuses on baccarat - the game of kings and the biggest scams in the world. The funny thing is that my clients were always sent my syllabus before the seminar. They either didn’t read it or they thought the other three quarters of my seminar was worth the money.
I also didn’t like doing training courses in the wake of others who had done training that had muddied the waters. I’m talking the dog and pony shows from people who have never worked in the business or don’t have a grasp of the reality of running gaming and surveillance operations in today’s world. Sometimes I felt like I was expected to pull rabbits from hats. I don’t do that. I also don’t take a job that is out of my scope of knowledge. This I have seen many times over the years. When a consultant needs the work he will tell clients he can do anything. I don’t. I know what I know and I do what I do.
I have the upmost respect for the importance and role of consultants in this industry. I learned a lot over that seven years and I got an inside view of the “consultant circle.” There are some I trust and there are some I don’t. They play an important role in our industry. However, there aren’t many to choose. This creates a gap for fraudsters, the unqualified and the newly unemployed to throw their hat into the ring.
To help guide you through the process of due diligence in selecting a consultant, I am reminded of an article that Jeff Murphy, a well known and highly-respected Surveillance professional, wrote back in January 2008. I shared it with the world in my monthly newsletter “The Catwalk.” The article is a guide to choosing a consultant. It was one of my most popular Catwalk articles. Except for one, the numerous emails I received from the industry agreed with Jeff’s article and thanked me for publishing it in my newsletter. Almost fourteen years later, I would like to share it with you again.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: How to Pick a Consultant
By Jeff Murphy
Gaming is such a large industry; it can be very difficult to filter the consulting and training resources best suited to fit a casino’s individual needs. As a fellow industry professional, I feel your pain.
Gaming continually raises its capacity as more and more casino properties open in various jurisdictions across the United States and world-wide. Casino growth naturally creates an equal need for employees. The demand for seasoned personnel liquidates talent pools, as every casino looks for personnel to develop and run a casino operation. These days, the foundation for building a quality casino rests upon the ability to develop people quickly.
The first employee related matters involve direct comprehension and the ability to perform skilled duties. This can be achieved by creating strong in-house training programs both casino-wide and department specific. In-house training programs are essential and should be easy to develop considering the proper leadership core has been hired. External consultants can also provide useful assistance when creating in-house trainings, but casinos must prioritize a goal to create a stand alone and solid in-house program to fully receive progressive, on-going benefits.
Secondly, casinos must remain competitive, always looking to maximize opportunities. Employees must become aware and possess solid understanding of the entire gaming business to assist these competitive goals. External consultant resources can also prove valuable toward these efforts. Bottom line, anyone even remotely involved with gaming over the past decade, can appreciate this information, but each day we still deal with the affects of poor training which are real and ongoing.
As the casino industry has progressively grown the consultant industry has progressed as well. It is important to note though, that consultants are growing in much the same manner as the casinos. With a higher demand for training, we are now inundated with people wanting to consult. Herein lies the problem, just like gaming, the talent pools for consultants have greatly thinned and dispersed. What are the leaders of the casino industry to do? How do you find solid training to assist development and growth? If I had all the answers today, I probably wouldn’t be writing about the problem now. I do have some thoughts on the matter though, so stay with me.
Training has been an issue in casino operations for years. There are numerous factors providing reasonable facsimiles as to why training has been an issue. We must begin by addressing the training issues in greatest need of correction. The six factors below represent some of the most glaring problems found within training.
1. First, gaming evolves so quickly, consultants’ knowledge hastily becomes outdated, stale, and ineffective. This is largely in part to the growth of technology, which is always changing the casino operation on a yearly basis. Many consultants have a difficult time keeping up with the casino industry. Change is hard for everyone, trainers included.
Many of today’s most noted industry consultants train in a manner that reflects their experiences and simply can not relate to the new era of gaming. These expert consultants simply have not kept abreast of current operations. That’s okay, for the casinos don’t have a full grasp either and there is time to develop resolutions. Everybody needs to develop, grow, and adapt to the present needs of gaming. It is considered highly unacceptable when consultants continue to promote aged training without providing real efforts toward adapting to a new age. Any consultant out of the business for twenty, ten, even five years must re-evaluate and update their ideas and trainings. Spending many years away from the trenches of gaming has transformed many of yesterday’s leading expert consultants turning them into casino historians. History is useful and should be reviewed but by no means is it the way to progress a casino.
2. The Fluff Factor: Have you ever eaten a peanut butter and fluff sandwich? Fluff is a sweet, marshmallow spread that is exciting and tastes great but provides no nutritional value. This brings me to my second point: the same can be stated for some of the expert consultants who utilize magic tricks and entertainment as the bulk of their training sessions. Understand, I am not stating these amazing sleight of hand tricks and magic shows aren’t important. They are great to see once or twice because it is important to understand the concepts, have awareness and respect the value for these tricks can happen on gaming tables. The problem is most of these trainings don’t delve any deeper than an entertaining awareness show. Once it’s been seen, it’s been seen. Unless these skills are then taught; they provide little value outside of entertainment. Understand I respect these people for their talents. They are true showman and artists. The question becomes are they really training anyone? The reality is no.
There is hope and value to be learned from these consultants, once they or better yet if they, reevaluate the worth of the training they provide. Magic tricks were able to hold people’s interest at bay for years stupefying us all. Today, everyone wants to know how the trick is performed. What makes it effective? The “magicians” of our industry possess value, yet must be willing to share “secrets” to assist growth. No one is interested in a dog and pony show these days, we want and deserve more.
3. The Fear Factor: Have you ever attended training and felt belittled or even stupid because of the teaching style a consultant utilized? Have you ever felt so degraded by a supposed industry expert that just their name alone being linked to training makes you not attend? Realize you are probably not alone. The glory days of casino strong-arming are over. Every casino consultant must drop the tough guy routine and develop constructive relations with their customers, the casinos. I’m not stating these consultants are necessarily wrong in what they have to say but if downgrading and disrespecting the very people that hired you is your method of training, that’s a definite problem.
I respect “Old Vegas” and everyone that has worked casinos prior to me, but personally would refuse to be spoken down to by anyone. Some valuable lessons and information are tragically lost when a consultant is perceived as a bully. Once an entire audience is offended, getting them back to learning is damn near impossible. What happens when people are attacked? They become defensive, right? How can anyone be open to learning in a defensive state? Simply put, they can not ever learn. Consultants providing platforms based upon the “mine’s bigger than yours” theory may connect with the competitive nature of some attendees, but to truly assist the masses, fear and combativeness simply do not work. It is the responsibility of a consultant to provide quality customer service. A consultant’s honesty is important but the manner in which that honesty is presented should never involve a two by four to the head.
4. The Buyer Beware Factor: Casinos represent profits in the billions of dollars within a growing industry. The large amount of financial asset involved with casinos does not often permit open access to the operations and rightfully so. Casinos are looking for consultants they respect and trust. Any investments toward training can constitute major financial recourse effects both positively and negatively. As gaming has gained popularity, now being worthy of numerous prime-time and cable television shows, everyone is looking to cash in on the current popularity. Once proclaimed cheaters are now looking to alter their questionable pasts because they surely have the casinos and your best interests at heart? I think not. The reality is these former cheats are naturally gravitating toward the money in vulture-like fashion. They are scouring the fields looking for a chance to partake and feed off the heightened celebrity of casinos as consultants. I liken this new fade (allowing these former cheaters the opportunity to consult and benefit from the success of casinos) to that of being mugged by a person one day and having that same person attempt to pull at your heartstrings while panhandling the next day. Either way this person represents character traits most would deem undesirable. With that stated, I very highly question a former cheater’s value as a casino consultant.
Casino professionals are hard working people providing effort to make our casinos run effectively. Yet for every hard working casino employee, there are multiple people of questionable back grounds, looking for the quick hit while providing equal effort toward under minding casino operations. These cheaters not only represent a threat to the casino and the assets, they represent a threat to any employee who could ultimately lose a job because of a cheater’s under minding activities. Where does the honor in that rate? Why should the industry provide these folks with a platform to assist their success? Bottom line, we should not value these flawed individuals by offering “rock star” status to already perceived selfish individuals.
I recently had an opportunity to intensely reflect upon cheaters turning consultants and have formulated some direct thoughts for the matter. I truly appreciate reading about a cheater’s perspective and would buy and/or recommend some of their books. I also have some appreciation to hear them speak at large gaming conferences; not that they have overwhelming value in typically short sessions but again the overall perspective can be deemed valuable or if nothing else, entertaining. With the perspective value firmly in mind, I warn anyone looking for further consulting provided by former cheats: a buyer’s beware label comes super glued to every former cheat’s forehead that should be highly regarded as skeptical value at the very least . Anytime a consultant is invited into a casino setting, the operation’s risk factor ultimately rises.
Why is character so important? Because to truly benefit from trainings or learning experiences, casinos and every employee attending must extend signs regarding their vulnerability. Our vulnerability is our openness toward desired growth. A high level of trust is a necessary quality any valuable consultant must possess. Industry professionals have their heart, time, efforts, and interests invested in the casino business. A truly beneficial consultant will share and understand the values of these investments. Just the other day, an industry consultant and insider whom I greatly respect stated the thought process he utilizes to explain the importance of reputable trainers. “You could hire John Dilinger to guard your bank. He knows a lot about robbing them. However, if you show up in the morning and Dilinger is gone and your money is gone; you are going to look pretty stupid.” Do former cheats have value to our industry? The answer is yes. Do former cheats convey the character and values expected of a consultant? Absolutely not; buyer beware.
5. The Hidden Sales Pitch Factor: Today’s most valuable consultant resources are popping up from within the gaming industry. Most often these folks still work in casinos or have recently ventured off to work for industry oriented companies in the world of equipment and technological sales. These companies are wisely seizing opportunities by employing industry professionals to increase sales of a product while also delving into the opportunities found in the training business. They are maximizing their employees’ talents which are highly intelligent business decisions on their part.
The trainings are unfortunately perceived as marketing ploys preformed without much actual substance. Casinos originally seeking training are side-swiped by what literally is an infomercial of product disguised as a training session. Many of the trainings are watered down and generalized providing very little benefit to casino attendees. A four hour training becomes a half hour of introduction, then a 20 minute break, followed by some basic thoughts, a 45 minute lunch break, some more basic gaming thoughts, another 15 minute break, and concludes with an hour long talk of a product. How much training was actually received during that 4 hour session? Advertising products within trainings is a wonderful idea, but these companies must provide a level of training meant to stand alone. Casinos do not mind product fliers on a back table or even a short ten minute product overview but when paying for specialized training, we expect the specialized training. When hiring consultants that work for sales companies, casino must make sure they are getting exactly what they are paying for, nothing less and nothing more.
6. The Generalization Factor: There are some excellent consultants and training groups out there just waiting to be found by casinos. Unfortunately many of these elite training organizations are not gaming oriented. Whether the topic is guest service, leadership, communications or motivation, these people offer an extremely high level of training. There is a problem though; many of the best business consultant organizations do not understand casino operations. Casinos are a specialized entertainment venue. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how tremendous the quality of the training may be; as soon as the employees catch onto the fact the instructors don’t really understand the casino biz, employees tend to tune out the training. When this happens, many valuable ideas become lost in translation.
These companies often represent Fortune 500 companies and really do have value, but again, if the consultant can not connect with the audience base, the trainings really do become lost. Generally once a training session does not meet the initial expectations of the audience or management, the entire training program suffers. Casinos are never quick to follow up an expensive and flawed training session by instituting another training soon afterwards. They simply stop the trainings altogether or wait an abundant amount of time prior to issuing future training sessions, which are both also mistakes. United these companies and the casinos must work together to forge an understanding of the training environment prior to commencing the actual training program for the full and true value of the training expectation to be achieved. Many of the best consulting groups have no casino background. To be successful they must become aware of the casino environment
Getting Down To Business & Bringing in the Experts
External consulting resources are extremely beneficial. Consultants offer great avenues toward developing, fine tuning, and complementing current casino operations. They also provide interesting perspectives toward the opening of future properties. You can never really place a value on innovative ideas when building or developing a casino. Overall, I’m a huge fan of resourced consultants. I just don’t believe any casino should forgo building in-house programs when recruiting outside assistance. This doesn’t make my view of “the consultant” jaded, it simply means casino’s must create their own goals and incorporate the use of consultants in their plans as appropriate.
So what are the best ways to find outside consulting worthy enough to enter your casino? There are six basic levels toward researching consultants and communicating with them after a casino management team or department has outlined their direct goals and identified their specific needs regarding training subjects.
1. Networking Contacts: One of the very best forms of locating the proper consultant is established through professional contacts within the casino network. Every one of us has experienced great training sessions and consultants as well as the terrible ones. Sometimes very good consultants provide awful trainings and visa versa awful consultants get lucky. This is where networking becomes so important. Anytime a casino looks to spend upward of $5,000 on a product there should be some research involved toward the product. Why not research the consultant? I reckon any consultant worth hiring should have at least ten solid recommendations which should be checked thoroughly. Details such as character, effectiveness, course outlines, substance, feedback, value and expense should be explored. Questions must be asked. What were the two largest benefits of the training? What were two things that could use altering? Has the consultant been scheduled to return? Would you utilize this service again? How flexible were they? Did they leave materials to assist further growth? Networking and asking detailed questions always helps in the search for great training. It also provides a checks and balance system geared toward bringing in the best. Networking provides casino professionals with an ever present platform to eventually weed out the good, from the bad and ugly consultants.
2. Background Checks: Official background checks are a staple of casino employment and vendor licensing for every casino. Why not also include and mandate of background checks prior to negotiating services of consultants? We should find out: Does anyone involved with the consulting company have a criminal record? Is the company under investigation or is it backed by questionable sponsorship? Is the individual or company’s credit in good standing? Bottom line is this person or company worthy of gaining our services prior to utilizing their services? This question should be answered and will riffle through the good and bad eggs very quickly. The unfortunate knock toward training is it only takes one bad egg to ruin a perfectly good omelet, so check the eggs prior to mixing in all the ingredients. Good consultants will welcome the future reference whereas bad ones will need to search for different careers. Any consultant harboring an ego driven concept of “well they need me” will soon come to realize that the casino industry is a big-time business. We are not the ones self-employed. Casinos have the power to dictate the path a hired resource follows in meeting our expectations. We should always invest the necessary time to make sure those expectations are met in a satisfactory manner after we make sure the person or company is acceptable for hire.
3. Detailed Training Outline: If a consultant can not organize a detailed training outline or send clips of training subject matter, chances are the training itself will not be very organized or possess much substance. It’s true you really do get what you pay for and if sight unseen worked well for purchases many review critics would be unemployed. Ask for any information you deem important prior to making a financial commitment because if you don’t and you purchase a lemon, it’s your own fault.
4. Audit Training Beforehand: Any reputable consultant worthy of bringing to a casino should be willing to invite a casino representative to audit their training during a live session. Inquire about the possibilities of sending a training review auditor to evaluate a similar training already scheduled. Most often, a creditable source will welcome and invite your class audit participation without a blink of an eye or additional cost. Whether you attend or not, simply knowing the opportunity exists, weeds out the good from the bad. It is equally beneficial to send a training audit representative to paid courses to estimate their value prior to sending a large group. I have attended many training institutions and programs strictly to assess their value. Most courses have definite value; others not so much, but it’s a great way to assess the value prior to going “all in”. Find the trainings that work well for you and your organization. Sampling a product prior to purchasing the whole just makes sense. The same hold true prior to committing large expenses toward a particular training because after all, the training is a product.
5. On-going Communications: Casino leaders must be involved in the training. Consultants should never be brought to a property and left in a room to train a casino staff without someone in place to oversee the training sessions. This provides on-going communication between the casino leader and the consultant keeping the training on track toward the overall expectation. Consultants often enter a casino without a full knowledge of the casino’s needs; that responsibility falls on the casino leader. Structured breaks and a sit down meeting with the consultant over lunch offer excellent opportunities to evaluate the training in an on-going fashion. A failed training session is not solely the consultant’s fault if casino leaders are unwilling to become involved with the training process. Consultants desire positive feedback and this style of proactive communications makes sure everyone is on target to benefit from the training experience.
6. Appraisal and Evaluation: A prepared consultant will have a brief training appraisal sheet to evaluate their performance and assess the value of the information. Casinos must also perform an independent evaluation survey to determine the training’s effectiveness and the need of future training sessions. People represent the best training efficiency barometer, so after any training make sure to survey the audience in detailed fashion. The consultant and casino should utilize this valuable information to assess the success and create improved efforts during a follow up conference. Training is about the people, make sure their needs were met and utilize the power of having multiple training evaluators. You might be surprised what they learned from a training or what opportunities may have been missed. Asking a consultant to provide a few evaluation sheets from previous classes may seem pretty loaded, as yes, they will most often be extremely positive. The point is are they professional enough to have training performance evaluations sheets to begin with. We can learn a lot from evaluations, even before our staff members fill them out.
I realize I’ve written a lot during the process of reaching six very simple concepts toward promoting and achieving more successful training programs or hiring the right consultants. Realistically, the subject of training deserves this type of honestly detailed review and much more.
We are the casino industry. If we want the best training possible we must expect, demand, and require the best from the consultant industry. Anything less than a consultant’s best is not worth the time or money. We have the power to steer training in the direction we desire. Consultants not agreeing or working with casinos will be left unemployed. It’s that simple. Training is important, our people are important, our casinos and their growth are important. What are we going to do about the consultant/training portion of the casino industry? How do we sort through the good, the bad, and the ugly? The answer lies with us.