Thinking small as Nevada casinos get the green light to reopen By John L. Smith, CDC Gaming Reports May 27, 2020 at 8:00 pm With a smile on his face and a calculator between the ears, Jackie Gaughan was proud of his El Cortez whether it came to the craps odds or prime rib special. He loved to walk the floor of his place in a loud sports coat and greeted employees and customers by name. He could be forgiven for noting that his joint netted more profit than flashier operations on Fremont Street and parts of the Strip. Jackie was one in a million, but he was also a lot like his contemporaries who helped build the casino business prior to the mega-resort era. I’ve been thinking a lot about Jackie lately. Jackie and Mel Exber, Sam Boyd and Kell Houssels, and a generation of gambling men long gone. Las Vegas Strip/Shutterstock These days I am wondering how they would have reacted to the devastating coronavirus pandemic that has swept the globe and turned thriving Las Vegas dark. It’s an easy thing to think they would have been overwhelmed by circumstances, that they might cut corners, or try to control the message about whether Las Vegas was open for business. One thing I do believe they would do is to think small, and that’s a good thing: Small, as in, one satisfied customer at a time. As I’ve poured over the planning of local and state officials and corporate casino executives, the wartime like a coordinated response to the challenges of the viral pandemic is undeniable. It’s part of what makes the anti-social, anti-science, and anti-intellectual reopening protests such a sham. Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak has been vilified by the far right for every move he’s made in recent weeks while corporate casino executives with conservative political ideologies have largely marched in step against a common enemy. The display of innovation and rapid response to daily developments had been remarkable. Now that the new coronavirus cases have flattened, the curtain is about to be parted on a new era in the industry as a whole and Las Vegas most of all. I think the clubs should take a lesson from a previous generation and think small: A series of little victories on the road to full recovery. Las Vegas is famous the world over for doing things in great big ways. Whether it’s fireworks displays, marquee entertainment, or convening conventions larger than mid-sized cities, it’s a land of superlatives and exclamation points. And someday I think the hyperbolic reality of that Las Vegas will probably a reappear. That time will come. But this is not that time. This is a time for small ball and teamwork. Every casino worth its cards and dice has a training program that reminds employees of the essential importance of customer relations. That goes double for the days ahead. We’ve heard union leaders, corporate executives, and front-line service workers in recent weeks tell us about their sense of uncertainty about how to reopen a place forever known as wide open. It won’t be as easy as throwing open those doors that had never been locked. But it begins with customer service on the ground: eye contact above the masks, friendly waves without a handshake. And patience, patience, patience with those who imagine the new days are just like the old days but for a few cosmetic changes. They’re not. And they can’t be expected to be. It may be an old-fashioned notion in an industry gone high-tech, but the one-to-one relationship between employees and customers hasn’t changed. It transcends all technology. And I think it’s more important than ever. John L. Smith is a longtime Las Vegas columnist and author. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith.