The Palms: It’s a People Story

Interview by Deana Scott with San Manuel Gaming, Hospitality Authority Chairperson Latisha Casas, and General Manager Cynthia Kiser Murphey

Deana Scott: I was lucky enough in April to be at the Palms on that momentous occasion [the grand opening] when the doors opened, and the tenured team members came out who were so excited to be back for the reopening. And now it seems like in the blink of an eye, and now we’re almost done with summer. I would like to start with you, Chairperson Casas. Is this what you expected when you opened those doors back in April? How’s it been going?

Chairwoman Latisha Casas: So much more, for sure. I think we spoke shortly after the confetti and everything went off, and at that moment, I think I had told you the only way I could describe it was surreal, and that still is probably the best way of continuing to describe this historic moment for the Tribe. We continue to get to know our team members there on the property. CKM, Cynthia, we call her CKM, is doing an absolutely amazing job with the property. Could not be prouder. We’re so grateful to have her.

DS: So, CKM, let’s just go with it. You have spent most of your career working in Las Vegas for corporate organizations. And now here you are wrapping up, you know, this season for the Tribe, bringing back such tenured team members. What has this been like for you, this new experience?

Cynthia Kiser Murphey: It is such an honor. I’m so humbled to have been chosen and to have had the opportunity to do this. The people are amazing. Our Tribe is fantastic. The GHA [San Manuel Gaming and Hospitality Authority] could not be more supportive. We were so blessed that 50 percent of the Palms team members who had worked here in the past came back to help us open. They were amazing because they knew where things were and we were trying to figure that out. They understood the heartbeat and the pulse of the Palms. We have over 70 day-one team members who opened the Palms in 2001. And the Palms will be celebrating its 21st anniversary this year and over 70 of them are still here. It’s been a people story beyond my best imagination. It’s been wonderful and heartwarming and we’ve been very, very blessed.

DS: Let’s keep talking about the people’s story, because I think that is where so many properties and organizations are struggling right now is with the people. How do we get people to come back? I’ve been in this industry a very long time and I’ve always loved “the why” people work with Tribes. It’s that longer-term vision and the care given to people. The San Manuel Tribe Chair has been very generous and very much at the forefront of giving and creating a leadership culture within the organization.

How do you see your philosophy and culture growing and connecting in the Las Vegas market, and has that started to rub off enough that you’re attracting more people?

CKM: From my perspective, we are such a new opportunity for people in Las Vegas. No people in Las Vegas have had the opportunity to work for a Native American property. We were so blessed. Many people came back to us and said they were really attracted to this. There’s a lot of great employers in Las Vegas, but we are different. The warm sense of hospitality, the sense of family, because our Tribe is a family. Our Board came to our team member rallies. They came to our team member orientations. They were here last week for a meeting, and they just popped into orientation. They’re very approachable and very warm and kind to the team members. That’s different from a lot of other companies. It’s refreshing, and there’s a segment of the population that really wants to try something different. We’ve been quite fortunate to attract people.

DS: That’s amazing to hear in this really short time where you’re still, like you said Chair, trying to get your feet underneath you and really see where this can go. So, Cynthia again, you’ve been such a mega operator in Las Vegas, and I don’t want to say that maybe some stones are being thrown, but if Palms can bring the revenue. How’s it going? How are you feeling about where you’re at financially starting in your first few months of operation?

CKM: Well, we are growing every day. We’re growing with our gaming revenue. We’re growing with our food and beverage covers. And one of the things that we did is we opened carefully. We opened what we thought we could open. We opened quite quickly. It was very important to our officials, to our government, to our Tribe to get open as quickly as we could to get over 1,500 Nevadans back to work. So we knew that the best thing would be to be very deliberate about opening what we thought we could handle. We staggered our room openings. We staggered our restaurant openings. So next weekend for Labor Day, we’ll be opening the Pearl, which is a really famous, wonderful concert venue. We just opened Ghost Bar and we just took Scotch (Scotch 80 Prime Steakhouse) to seven nights a week. So we’re working to grow the business as we can. And as we understand the guest flow, it’s been a work in progress. We’re doing some creative programs with guest special promotions and guest events. We have our first slot tournament this weekend. So we’ve been layering on bringing in live entertainment all over the property deliberately and carefully.

DS: Chair, how has the opening of the Palms impacted Yaamava‘ Resort & Casino at San Manuel? Are you seeing some synergies between the two? Is it starting to work the way you had hoped when you had the vision of going after this project?

Chairwoman: Yes, absolutely. You know, our guest base at Yaamava’, they’re so excited to be able to finally get to the property. When we first announced the purchase of the Palms, they could not wait. Even when we were there walking the floor, they would come up to us [and ask], “When are you opening? We can’t wait to be there.” We’re excited to have them, and we’re super excited to be able to welcome the locals and the visitors who come through Las Vegas and introduce them to who we are as San Manuel Gaming and Hospitality.

DS: Well, you have done a fabulous job of giving new life to a beloved property, and we are very, very excited to watch this grow and see maybe what you have up your sleeve next. I’m sure there’s a lot more and before we close, one thing that I’ve really appreciated about the approach, has been the care for community too. Not only have you taken a really hands-on approach to the team members, but that’s a big part of the philosophy of the Tribe as well. Correct?

Chairwoman: Absolutely. When we first walked the property, one of the biggest standouts, the absolute biggest standout was the condition of the back of the house. We pivoted our whole direction to focus completely on the back of the house and making sure that we turned it into what CKM and team now call the “heart of house.” They deserve that. That’s one of the biggest things that we’ve worked really hard to make sure that we’re bringing with us; for Tribal value, our team members are our family, and we want to make sure that they feel like they’re family. When the board members of San Manuel Gaming and Hospitality are in Vegas, we walk the property. We make sure that we’re connecting with our family who’s up there. I always joke around and say, one of these days, I’m going to go up there with a scooter or razor or skates or something, and just go zooming by there with all of our family members. Because we’re there to have fun at the same time too. Right?

DS: I can’t wait to see that video, make sure we get to be there when you do it.

Chairwoman: It’s really cool.

CKM: We could talk about our other board member who gets up and sings.

Chairwoman: Yes, so my mom’s a singer. When we were there last week at the Ghost Bar, they invited her up onto the stage and she sang some songs for the guests and for the team members; it was totally impromptu, super exciting. And yeah, we were happy that she was able to do that.

DS: Okay. Then she has an invitation for the Native Networking Party, Wednesday, October 12, at the Palms at the Ghost Bar during G2E. So, if your mom makes a special appearance, we might put a mic in her hand.

Chairwoman: Oh, she would love that!

CKM: She did a great job.

DS: I love it. Well, thank you both for joining us and we appreciate what you do and the new vision that you’re bringing to Las Vegas. And again, we look forward to checking in with you guys from time to time to watch this vision grow.

CKM: Definitely. Thank you. Thank you so much for this opportunity to talk to you about the Palms today.

DS: And for those of you who’d like to join us at the Native Networking Party, just click the link below. Join us to meet new friends, learn about Native and Tribally owned businesses, and just catch up and have a nice cocktail and conversation with all of us at Raving. Be safe and happy

To find out more about Raving’s Native Networking Party:

To find out more about the Palms Casino Resort, the first resort in Las Vegas fully owned and operated by a Native American Tribe: read our other articles and interviews: