OIGA Update with Sheila Morago, Executive Director, Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association

Okay. Hey, everyone. Chris Faria here, executive editor of Tribal Gaming and Hospitality Magazine. Today we’re here kicking off our summer issue with a very special guest, Sheila Morago, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association. Hey, Sheila – welcome to TG&H On Air.

Sheila Morago: Hi, how you doing this morning?

Chris Faria: I’m happy. It’s Friday. It’s almost summer here in Reno. How about you?

Sheila Morago: I’m happy. It’s Friday and it’s Memorial Day weekend. So, you know, three-day weekend for all of us.

Chris Faria: We’re going to get caught up on what’s happening right now in Oklahoma. Can you tell me what the main challenges are for gaming operators in Oklahoma right now?

Sheila Morago: Well, obviously just getting back up to full staff; I know that that’s a problem all around the hospitality industry and in every sector of our economy right now is really just getting back to our full staffing capabilities. You know, we’re like everybody else, we’re all running short-staffed. So I know that people are working diligently on making sure that we don’t sacrifice our guest experience with not having enough people.

Everybody is working on that very, very diligently, but it’s about just getting through and keeping an eye out and making sure that we don’t take a hit during the recession. I mean, obviously people are strapped for disposable income. So just like any other part of the hospitality industry and entertainment industry, we have to watch for making sure that we’re not out over our skis a little bit in terms of making sure that we watch that.

Chris Faria: It’s funny that you brought up the big “R” word because we have been so focused on staffing and those type of issues. For your associate members, are folks back and are they playing? Is it a trend that play is increasing?

Sheila Morago: So far we’ve been going up, we have increased year over year. So we’re doing well with that. You always have to look at and weigh guest experience, and making sure that they have the disposable income. You know, gas prices alone are killing everybody. I just drove from Oklahoma and Arizona, and for every state, it added another dollar to the price of gas. Maybe flying may not be a bad idea anymore, because of gas prices. Luckily our casinos are primarily in rural areas and they’re drive-to places … they’re staycation places. People don’t have to spend the money on gas to get there. It’s not every destination resort. So hopefully we will weather this storm.

Chris Faria: I sure hope so. Let’s jump into your annual event, your conference and trade show in August. Tell me what’s new and different.

Sheila Morago: Well, we are going to start doing a couple of different things this year. So our golf tournament is going to be on Tuesday. So our dates are the ninth through the eleventh, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Our golf tournament, our John Marley scholarship tournament, is Tuesday morning, is normal, the first day of fun. But what you’re going to see is we’re not going to do our regular welcome party that we normally do that evening. We are going to switch everything and put everything on the trade show floor. That trade show floor is going to be one big party. So walk around lunch. When the trade show opens, we are going to have our award ceremony and will be giving out our scholarships and our Chairman’s and Warrior awards to our folks on the trade show floor.

We will have our blackjack and once four o’clock comes around, we will have some appetizers, and at five o’clock, we’re gonna start partying; the trade show is going to be a little bit more fun. We’re going to turn up the music. Our blackjack and poker tournaments are going to be on that trade show floor. So everything that you normally see at our welcome party on Wednesday will be happening there on the trade show floor so that everybody gets the opportunity to come together and spend a little bit more time together than normal.

Chris Faria: We talked about some of the issues that are facing gaming operators right now. Do you have a certain focus this year for your educational content?

Sheila Morago: We’re looking at the future this time. We all know we have to live with COVID-19, right? It’s an ongoing thing now. We know we have staffing shortages, but we’re also looking at what’s going to be coming up in the future. As our industry moves more into the digital age, gaining sports betting and player acquisition and how that gets done on your phone and your computer anymore, those are things that we have to grow into. Those are things that are normal in the UK and other parts of the world, not very normal here. Everyone talks about sports betting, but we want to focus on what other things that you need to make this a successful venture for everybody.

Chris Faria: So why do you think it’s so key for Oklahoma operators to attend this year?

Sheila Morago: Well, obviously to see everybody and get the family back together again, but honestly we haven’t been up to full speed on everything in a couple of years with the COVID-19 lockdown. And when we did get back into trade shows, honestly, we were short-staffed. So not a lot of people can go to Vegas and to Anaheim and to G2E and any other things; it’s hard for them to be able to go. This is drivable for our Oklahoma folks. It’s drivable for our Kansas, Minnesota, Texas folks, New Mexico, Arizona. This is a drivable conference, or if you wanna fly in, that’s great too. It’s two days of intense training and the trade show to see the latest and greatest on the floor. Attendees will get quality that you would get if you were going to Vegas or to California. This is a chance for everybody to get there and have a good time and learn something and not have to spend an arm and a leg to do it.

Chris Faria: Well, it sounds like a plan, and I wish you the best of luck for your show. Thank you so much for joining TG&H On Air.

Sheila Morago: Thanks, guys. Have a great weekend.