General Manager, Legends Casino
Number of employees you oversee: 700
Brief background of Legends:
Yakama Nation Legends Casino opened in May 1998, and we’re excited to celebrate 25 years in 2023. The casino has grown steadily since our opening, and we’ve taken the time to plan and build the necessary infrastructure along the way from the new wastewater treatment plant in 2008 to the new day care for our team members’ children in 2012.
In 2017, we invited the community to celebrate with us – Legends Casino Hotel – as we marked the completion of our $90 million expansion and renovation that includes a six-story, 200-room hotel and conference center, expanded gaming floor and so much more.
How did you land your current role? How long have you been in it?
I am a native of the Yakima Valley and an enrolled Yakama.
I completed my associate degree at Yakima Valley Community College, then earned my bachelor’s degree in business administration through Central Washington University.
My career with Legends Casino began in 2008 as part of our Keys to Success program, which was designed to move enrolled members into casino management.
It’s an ongoing training and mentorship program where the enrolled member not only works but continues his or her education.
After completing the program, I became machines director. Then, after several successful years in that position, I applied for the general manager position in 2016.
I saw an opportunity to carry forward our tribe’s vision to lead and inspire our team as we took the next step with the expansion and hotel. After seven years and many changes – including weathering the pandemic – this role has been an opportunity to invest in our community, our tribe, our team members and the property.
How does Legends fit into the region’s tourism and visitor industry? Why should the Tri-Cities care about it?
The Tri-Cities is our neighbor, and there is so much that links the Yakama Nation and the Tri-Cities community, from Hanford to fishing, to shared stories and more. As neighbors, we can learn from each other and support each other.
Legends is a regional destination for gaming, events and conferences. When we started planning our expansion efforts in the early 2000s, the research showed that regional guests – including from the Tri-Cities – were interested in staying longer. The addition of our 200-room hotel met that need.
Then, we brought back Pow Wow and Stick Games in 2017. These events draw visitors from all of our neighboring states and much further. Visitors for these events typically drive, and they explore the region during their stay.
All these visits drive revenue for us, and that in turn helps us provide grants in the communities we serve – including the Tri-Cities – through the Yakama Cares program. In 2022, 15 nonprofits in the Tri-Cities received grants from this program.
Please share the social purpose behind Legends and how it supports its community.
The Yakama Nation built Legends Casino 25 years ago as another entity owned and operated by the tribe where tribal members would have an opportunity for a job and a career.
We quickly realized that it’s not just about tribal member employment but employing our community and bringing energy to our community.
We employ over 700 people from the area, and while our goal is to hire tribal membership, we’re privileged to help create a better quality of life for all people who live in our community.
What is one characteristic that you believe every leader should possess?
As leaders, we’ve been through everything from the front line through middle management to the leadership position.
It’s important that we as leaders can remember living check to check, being in a relationship where you’re not on the same page as your partner, or the time in your life before you fully matured and made good decisions regularly.
That empathy for our team members allows growth to happen when we embrace it and look for ways to build them up rather than beating them down.
What is the biggest challenge facing business owners/managers today?
Most industries are trying to find ways to do more with fewer people. It’s not because we prefer that; rather, there aren’t enough applicants to fill all the open positions.
What advice would you give someone going into a leadership position for the first time?
During the first few months in a leadership position, listen and take in everything from the front-line people all the way to the top to learn as much as possible without expressing opinions. This will help you create a picture for yourself of what your position is and should be and what the big goal is for the organization. Then, you can set out to achieve it.
Also, remember never to promise anything that you can’t deliver.
Who are your role models or mentors?
Karen Jim Witford is an outstanding volunteer, community member, tribal member and my mother.
She loves and cares about her people. She’s never held a traditional job with an income, but she’s always given everything she has. She’s a great human being, and in leadership positions in our industry, we need to exhibit those same values and give back to our communities.
Patsy Martin served as a Yakama Nation Tribal Council member and the Washington Professional Educator Standards Board, among many other achievements. She created a lot of great programs around education for the community and the state inclusive of native youth. Her approach ties many elements together to help one person become better.
How do you keep your team members motivated?
When I want to force interaction, laughter and engagement among team members, we do goofy exercises that they hate.
I also ask a lot of questions in a way to get the team to process the information and develop the decision. That way, they are part of both the conversation and the solution. Motivationally, that’s not always easy because everyone has priorities, so I try to respect their priorities
How did you decide to pursue the career that you are working in today?
For the first eight years I worked for Legends, we had some great managers, but there was always turnover before the vision came to completion. While that’s normal for this industry, I wanted to be part of creating stability for Legends Casino Hotel and help develop a long-term plan where we’re all on the same page working toward a shared goal.
How do you measure success in your workplace?
Numbers and reports will always provide a measure, but in a service industry, the culture of the workplace is critical for continued success. We must rely on our people.
What do you consider your leadership style to be?
I try to understand the person in front of me and adjust my style to fit the best way for that person to receive information.
I also think it’s important to be situationally aware. In group settings, there are times when I need to step in and lead, and there are other times when I can participate and help elevate team members to lead.
How do you balance work and family life?
While I was still in school, my mom told me that I would need to balance who I am, how I was raised (being a tribal person), and my work priorities. Culture is a significant part of our lifestyle, and that includes gathering tribal food, being with my mother as an elder, and caring for my family from my youngest daughter who is 7 to my mother-in-law at age 84.
I don’t have any recommendations for how to do it, really. I try to focus on what’s in front of me at work or at home; however, they do blend often.
What do you like to do when you are not at work?
I spend time with my kids. My daughter loves gymnastics, and my son plays basketball. Now that they are getting older, I’m also trying to find more time for projects I love like crafting, beading, scrapbooking, and shifting things around while cleaning and organizing.
What’s your best time management strategy?
This is not one of my strengths, but team members and my family rely on me. I start the night before by placing notes in front of my keyboard to tell me where I want to focus the next day. Then, when I wake up in the morning, I review my calendar for the day and continue to reference it. Using these techniques helps me keep on task even as emails start pouring in, new requests crop up and the day takes shape.
Best tip to relieve stress?
I reconnect with my base, my home.
My children talk about their day, and that makes everything else disappear. We’ll play games or work on projects together. This week, we’re playing Battleship. A couple of weeks ago, we were putting together a 1,000-piece puzzle of Yoda in a swamp, and since I’m tenacious, I’m the only one still working on that.
What’s your favorite podcast?
Most-used app? Or favorite website? Favorite book? (Feel free to choose one or all)
I’m 300 episodes into the podcast “Morbid,” and my favorite book series is “The Southern Vampire Mysteries” that the television series “True Blood” was based on. The most used apps are Tik Tok and Facebook.
Do you have a personal mantra, phrase or quote you like to use?
We’re in a position of change.
As an employee, it’s easy to see something wrong with the company and complain about it. I want our team to remember that if you are in a position to make a change, then you should make it.
Daily and Monthly NewsSign up now!