For this month’s edition of the Industry Insider we spoke with Alex Dixon, CEO of Q Casino and founder of the African American Gaming Network, to discuss what makes Q Casino unique, how his organization is making the industry more diverse, and what he is most looking forward to at G2E 2022.
As a native of Las Vegas, a career in gaming would seem to be a natural path, but you took indirect route to get to your current position. Tell us a little about how you got to where you are now and how you’ve seen the industry change over your time in it?
Any conversation of how I got to be where I am today within the gaming industry must first start with the fact that up until 1960, black people could not legally walk through the front door a casino on the Las Vegas Strip. My grandmother and housekeeper benefitted from this rule change and my father later benefitted from a 1971 consent decree between the Nevada gaming industry and the United States government in 1971 to hire black people in roles greater than entry level jobs.
With that background, the rest of my story, while circuitous is pretty universal. Hard work, relocation, opportunity, mentors, great teams, and dumb luck all played a part. After graduating from Howard University, I started with Goldman Sachs in New York and spent years in the London and Los Angeles offices. I then relocated to Las Vegas and worked for a boutique investment bank where I was exposed to executive management teams from casino resorts. I then joined Caesars Entertainment as a Director of Planning & Analysis and later Assistant General Manager of Horseshoe Baltimore. I then joined MGM Resorts as the opening general manager for MGM Springfield and later President and COO of Circus Circus before its $825M sale to Phil Ruffin. After leading Brady Linen in Las Vegas throughout COVID, my family and I relocated to Dubuque, Iowa in August of 2021 to lead the Dubuque Racing Association and Q Casino as President and CEO.
You oversee the African American Gaming Network, a resource to pay it forward through coaching, mentoring and developing future executives in the industry. What are some of the biggest obstacles affecting diversity and inclusion in the gaming industry and how is the industry responding to them? How do you see the African American Gaming Network helping to move the needle and mentor the next generation of leaders?
It’s my belief that the industry on average does not value the African American consumer and as such does not choose to develop a dataset to measure the potential benefits of targeted strategies to maximize this consumer segment. No CEO in our industry, myself included, could tell you what percentage of our revenues are derived from African American consumers. We can’t because we don’t track it. In contrast, the industry values the Asian American consumer and therefore measures the theoretical gaming revenue driven by this segment and develops comprehensive hiring, marketing, gaming, F&B, and reinvestment strategies to maximize this segment. Simply put, we are approaching this phenomenon as a function of corporate social responsibility as opposed to equity value creation. When we make the switch in our mindset, our industry can spend less on marketing, generate greater loyalty, increase daily room rate, and re-purpose under-utilized venues by developing comprehensive business strategies to maximize on the African American consumer.
Mentoring will be great byproduct of the African American Gaming Network, however, advancing the ownership, employment, governance, and regulatory impact of African American interests are the primary goal of the network.
Q Casino is an incredibly unique property because of its non-profit status. What are the benefits of running a casino with this model and what are some of the biggest challenges you encounter?
Q Casino and the Dubuque Racing Association is organized as a non-profit and holds the license for casino-gaming operations of Q Casino and is also the co-licensee for the Diamond Jo Casino, both of which are located in Dubuque. We distribute 100 percent of profits after expenses, with 1/3 distributed to area charities, 1/3 to the City of Dubuque, and 1/3 to a newly created Schmitt Island Development Fund. In 2021, we distributed record distributions over $12 million dollars to the entities above. As you can see the community reaps the direct benefit of this structure and I believe more cities and states across the US should consider this model as gaming continues to expand.
One of the biggest challenges of this model is understanding the right amount of capital reinvestment to incur as a business. As we all know, reinvesting with your core business is vitally important as are the needs of a growing metro area. Together with our volunteer board of directors and City leadership we are navigating an increasingly competitive market by making investments in our core business, our non-profit partners, and our community.
G2E is the destination for industry innovation and the premier global gaming showcase. What are you most looking forward to seeing at G2E 2022?
G2E is the perfect opportunity to ask questions and reflect upon strategies that drive actual shareholder value including:
1. What percentage of gaming revenues are derived from African American consumers?
2. How could we generate more profit from the African American consumer segment?
3. How can data help us to deliver more effective marketing messages to diverse consumers?
4. How can a partnership with African American legislators help our industry to gain access to markets like Florida, Georgia, and Texas?
5. Could the industry be more profitable if we approached the African American and Hispanic markets like the international and domestic Chinese market?
I am most looking forward to discussing diversity through the lens of shareholder value as opposed to social responsibility.