John Setterstrom, the former chief executive of Lucky Eagle Casino, has spent 38 years in the gambling industry — 22 of them at Lucky Eagle Casino in Rochester.
But for the moment, Setterstrom finds himself in the role of free agent, unemployed for the first time in a long time. He said his decision to leave the casino was mutual, agreeing that the job needed a fresh set of eyes.
Lisa Miles, the former chief financial officer, is the interim CEO. The Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis announced the transition last month and say a search for a new CEO is underway.
We sat down with Setterstrom to ask him five questions about his time at Lucky Eagle.
Q: What’s next for John Setterstrom?
A: I still haven’t figured it out. The gaming industry is in my blood, but I’m not closing my mind to anything. I have three interests: Nonprofits, mentoring or consulting, and working for a casino. I really love the nonprofit world and sat on several boards in the community, and the tribe supported me in that effort. As for mentoring, there are a lot of tribal casinos out there that need a little more mentoring and consulting to get tribal members up to speed. Or, working for a casino. Before any of that, though, I’m going to take some time off.
Q: Is there a lot of turnover in the tribal casino world?
A: Yes, and a lot of it is political. Chief executives in the private sector have a certain way of doing business and apply their best practices. A tribal casino is a political environment, and a lack of servitude can result in turnover. Lucky Eagle has a stable tribal government, a stable management team and a stable regulatory environment. I think a missionary mindset and servitude served me well. A lot of chief executives don’t get it. Every part of the business is intertwined.
Q: How long were you a card dealer in Las Vegas?
A: From 1979 to 1983, and then I became a casino floor supervisor. The most I made in tips as a dealer was $400 or more per day. I specialized in blackjack, which my employer encouraged, wanting all the dealers to be proficient in one area. All of us could deal other games, but they wanted us to specialize. I was better at watching baccarat (the card game popularized by James Bond) than I was dealing it. There’s a lot of pressure in a high-stakes game like baccarat.
Q: How has Lucky Eagle changed over the years?
A: We started with table game operations, followed by slots. We expanded the restaurant and built an event center. We built a hotel, expanded the casino and added to the hotel again. Our next major expansion resulted in a parking garage with a casino underneath it. We opened a restaurant for employees, as well as an Asian fusion restaurant. And we rebranded the steakhouse.
Q: What’s the state of tribal casinos in Washington?
A: Tribal gaming is maturing. Over the last three or four years, tribal casinos have broadened their horizons and are reaching out to the region, instead of just the local area. To attract the high-dollar player, golf courses have been built. There are challenges. The retail industry can raise their prices, if need be, but the casino can’t necessarily expect consumers to spend $10 on a $5 bet. And the Cowlitz tribe are set to open a new, Vegas-style casino north of the Portland/Vancouver market. There are some challenging years ahead, but eventually tribal casinos will settle into a new norm.