Four years ago, news surrounding Casino Aztar was front-page worthy: massive layoffs, revoked state casino licenses, and one big bankruptcy. A displeased Evansville mayor issued complaints about the new owner of the riverboat casino, Bill Yung, who also had casinos in New Jersey and Nevada.
Those state officials had a beef with the understaffed, dirty operations from Yung’s company, Columbia Sussex Corp., and the Garden State’s gaming commission yanked Columbia’s gaming license. Through it all was Stacey McNeill, Casino Aztar’s longtime marketing director, who began as a slot attendant shortly after the riverboat first docked on the Ohio in the mid-1990s. In March 2010, Tropicana Entertainment, Inc., which operates Casino Aztar, emerged from bankruptcy with a new owner, billionaire Carl Icahn.
McNeill’s first experience as a gambler began when she was just old enough to legally drink alcohol. She headed to a casino in Metropolis, Ill., with her grandmother, Donnie Swearer, and her friends. “They showed me what the casino is all about,” McNeill says, and she won a $900 jackpot on a slot machine, “which for a 21-year-old was pretty cool.”
Are you a gambler?
My passion for the game is what drew me here 15 years ago. I like to play blackjack, but it requires you to think a lot. My favorite games are craps and slots. Having that perspective from the gambler’s point of view has helped me become more successful in my position today.
What are gamblers looking for?
They’re looking for entertainment. It really boils down to that. We sell an experience, and people come knowing they’re likely not going to win. But, we want them to have fun while they’re here.
You are in the business of selling entertainment. Can you have fun at work?
Without a doubt, it feels more like fun. I have a personality that likes to be busy. I don’t like to be bored. In this industry, it’s always something different, something new. Because I’m in marketing, the work and fun kind of go hand-in-hand.
Do you stay for musical acts at the end of a workday? Can you relax and enjoy it?
I typically do stay for our performers, and I do try to have a good time. Relaxing is a little more difficult because when I’m on property, everyone knows me. So, I’m always ready to work or be professional if necessary.
One of the slogans at Casino Aztar is “Have a lucky day.” How do you define “luck”?
For me, “luck” is a perception of an enhanced condition in life. For example, I feel lucky to have been drawn to this industry all those years ago and for the opportunities available to me today because of it. In the casino, “luck” is simply being in the right place at the right time.
For a while, news surrounding the casino was all about recovery. What mode is the casino in now?
We really are focused on a bright future. Tropicana has probably already invested a couple million dollars in new slot products even before we emerged. It’s a game of wait-and-see to learn how much capital we can get and when we can get it. We just want to grow successes for the business and the community.
What challenges still lie ahead?
Probably the two biggest future challenges are the decline of economic conditions and the expansion of gaming in our neighboring states — specifically Kentucky.
What might be needed to face those?
The economic condition is just going to be tough. Fortunately for us, Evansville has a diverse economic climate. There’s automotive, manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, and oil. All of those things have helped sustain us a little better than some of the casinos across the country. As far as Kentucky gaming, that will be a serious threat. We will really have to focus on the value of our amenities for our players: the fact that we have two hotels and eight restaurants. Those kinds of amenities will matter.