Five Ways to Improve and Optimize Accounting and Financial Processes at Your Tribal Casino

Q&A with Steven Drewes, Senior Manager, Wipfli

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What do most GMs and CFOs ask for when it comes to accounting and financial processes, especially for high-volume casinos? Survey says:

  • Speeding up time to close.
  • Simplifying multi-entity accounting practices.
  • Efficiently using data.
  • Developing and training key personnel
  • Automating and streamline reports for all stakeholders.

Enter Steve Drewes, Senior Manager at Wipfli, who assists in leading the National Tribal Gaming Finance and Accounting Services Team and provides consulting to aid internal finance groups by assessing and sharing efficiency techniques.

Steve says his superpower is, “Taking all that experience and knowledge that I have gained from a wide variety of Tribal and commercial gaming properties and being able to communicate it and work with the various teams at, at all levels. Whether it’s a General Manager, somebody in the accounting department, a non-financial individual, or a newly promoted department head, it’s all about being able to communicate financial information in a way that gets people more comfortable with accounting language.”

We asked Steve for five ways Tribal casinos can improve and optimize their accounting and financial processes, and this is what he shared.

Steven Drewes

1: Utilize software to improve financial data and condense the month-end process

Technology continues to advance at a fast pace in all facets of business, including accounting software. Now that Tribal Gaming has been in place for over 30 years, in many parts of the country, it is time to make sure you have updated your accounting system. I remember when I first started in gaming 25 years ago, and the typical close process took 20 days or more. Sometimes you were barely getting the previous month closed by the end of the following month.

  • Is your accounting system robust enough so that you can complete the month-end close process in 10 days or less?
  • Are you booking your reoccurring journal entries by the end of the current month? This can be an automated process.
  • Are systems integrated to improve the revenue audit process, so revenue is posted the following day?
  • Are audits being completed electronically versus pushing paper around the property? Are your Purchasing and Accounts Payable Systems integrated / automated so you do not have to manually enter all of your invoices?
  • Are you reducing your paper footprint and shifting to electronic? Each step in the month end close process can be updated with enhanced accounting software to ensure the month end close process takes days versus weeks.

2: Develop overall continuity and consistency in financial education and prepare emerging leaders.

When we look to promote emerging leaders what criteria do we use to make that decision? Is an understanding of financial data ever a deciding factor? Over the years, I have seen a lot of great team members promoted to management positions and not provided with any tools or training on how to schedule, and review monthly financial reports, budgeting, or controlling expenditures. Then we wonder why they were unsuccessful! It’s not because they were failures, instead, they were set up to fail pertaining to the financial aspect of running their department.

In an effort to alleviate this from happening, I developed Finance 101, Budgeting 101, and Scheduling 101 training. These trainings were implemented at a property and became a prerequisite for Supervisors prior to being promoted to a leadership position. This training established a foundation to learn from as the new Managers grew into their positions. The goal was to set the new leaders up for success, and provide them tools to feel comfortable in their new positions and new responsibilities.

3: Ensure you have accurate and timely financial analytics to make data-driven decisions and evaluate performance.

Gaming is a numbers-driven business and understanding your data is a major key to being successful. Customer Service is always the most important factor, but how is Customer Service measured? Through data. Having a strong analytics team in place is critical to getting timely and accurate financial information to make strategically sound business decisions. Most casinos budget millions of dollars to market their property and reinvest in their players. Nobody wants to guess at what their player reinvestment rate is or whether their marketing plan is successful. Do you have analytical tools in place? Are you getting a Daily Operating Report? You want accurate data to support this information so you can make the correct business decisions.

4: Improve the budgeting process through automation.

We all know the budgeting process comes around each year and can take months to complete, depending on your internal structure. Budgets are typically required by the Tribal Business Committee to assist in determining what funds will be available from gaming operations to assist with Tribal programs. In addition, if there is any outstanding debt, budgets are a requirement for financial institutions. So, if we know we need to do budgets every year, let’s look for ways to improve this process so it can be completed in weeks versus months.

The biggest improvement is identifying fully integrated budgeting software and getting away from Excel spreadsheets that everyone has used kind-of effectively at some point over the last 30 years. Integrated budgeting software provides many advantages. The main advantage is for the budgeting software to be integrated with the accounting software, refer to number 1 above. This will allow you to get actual numbers for the current year downloaded into the budget. In addition, when you have completed the budget, you can upload your budget into your accounting software. No more manual entry. Budgeting software also provides a variety of analytical tools that can assist in the budgeting process. For example, what does my labor look like as a percentage of revenue, what are my comp to cash ratios in the non-gaming departments, what does my player reinvestment percentage look like. This results in a lot of great data to ensure your budget is in line with what your expectations are for the business.

5: Prepare for shifts in gaming

Once again, looking back over the last 30 years we have seen some significant shifts in gaming like enhancements in gaming systems that now include Player Tracking, the elimination of coin, going to a Ticket In, Ticket Out system (TITO), Kiosks spread out across the property, to include ATM’s and TITO redemption kiosks, Marketing Kiosks, Player Card Reprint kiosks, and Food and Beverage kiosks to name a few.

With the insurgence of Sports Betting in several jurisdictions, Sports Betting kiosks are now becoming common place. Next on the horizon is Cashless Gaming. This has been approved in a few jurisdictions and will continue to catch on as soon as regulatory approvals are in place. All of the items mentioned above show that gaming is always evolving, and operations need to be prepared to take on these shifts as they happen. Embrace technology and automation that can provide your guests, property, and team members with a lot of benefits.

In closing, it is easy to see that technology can provide a lot of benefits for every gaming property. If you have not looked at some of your accounting systems and processes recently, now is the time to do so. It is costing you money every day you wait. Improved technology and training go a long way to making a property more efficient, in not only the strategies mentioned above, but well beyond that.

For more information about Wipfli, modern accounting and financial management solutions, visit Tribal Gaming – Casino Accounting and Consulting – Wipfli