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Welcome to Caribbean Comeback, in which TPG shines a post-hurricane, pre-season spotlight on the region. Stay tuned for more stories throughout the week, and be sure to share tips in the comments if you’re planning an upcoming trip.
Congratulations are in order for Louella Brezovar. In July, she got a big-time promotion: hotel manager of the The Ritz-Carlton, Aruba (a Tier 4 Ritz-Carlton Rewards property). She’d previously served as the general manager of the hotel’s casino for 2.5 years and, well, technically she still does: No one’s been hired yet to fill her old job. That Brezovar manages two full-time gigs at once — one that includes bouncing a never-ending stream of wannabe cheaters from her casino, all without breaking a sweat — is testament to how tight a ship she runs. Her domain, which includes 550 hotel employees and a 15,000-square-foot casino, operates at full-tilt 24 hours a day and shows no sign of slowing.
So how does she do it? TPG managed to get Brezovar to stop running around for a few minutes to hop on the phone and spill the beans.
Two jobs at once — sounds exhausting. How long are your days?
I usually come in at 8 A.M., and then at around 6 P.M., my casino roles kicks in. On average, it’s a 12- to 14-hour day. Hopefully in the future, it’ll become a little less crazy.
That must be a ton of work. What does an average day entail?
Site inspections, meeting group planners, doing walk-throughs to inspect for maintenance and cleanliness and brand standards. Part of my day is also involved in future planning: upgrades, renovations and the whole financial aspect of making sure we’re making the money we need to make. And yesterday I had a meeting with a vendor for the future purchase of slot machines.
What do you look for in a new slot machine?
I’m very involved in determining whether games are cutting edge, and if they’re Ritz-Carlton’s style. Our customers like newer slot machines, the latest things on the market. So we’re trying to stay ahead of the curve. There’s a game called 88 Fortunes that’s very popular. The latest Wheel of Fortune game, too. There’s also a new game that you can link up to blackjack called Blazing 7s. And then there’s a lot of ETGs — electronic table games — where you can play roulette or craps and there are no dealers involved. We’re also looking at our table games to have the latest side bets for blackjack. We try to keep it fun and exciting, and we’re always asking ourselves, “What do we need to change the machines to become more effective?”
“More effective slot machines”: What do you mean by that?
We look at the machine performance of every slot machine. If the coin-in performance of a machine is good, it stays. But there are always a few machines that’ll fall out of favor. Just like with videogames and children, some games are popular and then they’re not popular. On average, we upgrade 10 to 15 percent of our floor every year. We have 275 slot machines on the floor any given time, so that’s between 30 and 50 machines a year.
And what do you do with machines that don’t perform well?
They’re either taken off the floor, or if the cabinet is modern, we put a new game theme in there. Or we just move the game on the floor. That’s something we do on a daily basis. The hot machines and new machines, you move them to the back of the casino. It’s kind of like in a retail store: You want the things people are coming for to be in the back, so they walk through the whole store. Maybe they’ll see something else along the way.
How often are machines moved?
I would say we move between 10 to 15 machines per month. In August, we moved a whole bunch of machines — 60! But in September, we didn’t move any.
If you look at our slot floor today versus November 2016, it looks completely different. You just kind of look at what works, what doesn’t work. It’s an evolving thing. There’s absolutely an intuition to it. But we also look at their performance daily, weekly and at the end of every month. We look at data from the players, slot machines and tables. Everything is reviewed and analyzed to make sure we’re continuously maximizing what we have.
So you obviously know a ton about gambling. Does that mean you’re really good at it?
Well… I’m not a gambler. I don’t get a high from it. I see it as part of my job. I’m also not inclined to gamble because I know the odds. You can be a very good advantage player, but you have to invest a lot of time and energy to get there. I always say I work too hard for my money to invest it in a casino. If a casino makes money, that means the players can’t win all the time — and I know my casino is making money.
Fair enough! So tell us: How’d you end up working in a casino?
In my career, I’ve made some weird moves because I’ve always wanted to continue to be challenged. When people say being a casino manager is something women shouldn’t be doing, that’s usually when I jump in and try to prove them wrong.
Have people ever hassled you for being a woman in the casino biz?
I’ve had guests tell me, “I want to speak with the manager!” And when I say, “I am the manager,” they say, “No, a male manager.” But I’m just like, “I’m the only man you’re going to find here tonight!” People sometimes think it’s odd, but in this day and age, ladies can do whatever men can do. I see it as an advantage. A lot of times we can instill more empathy and understanding in the workplace.
What’s the worst part of your job?
The amount of people who try to cheat. And staying on top of the people who are trying to do money laundering. Then there are the people want to do drugs in your casino, and people who are constantly trying to bring in prostitution and escort services.
My life had been so vanilla when it comes to those things. But with gaming you have people getting drunk, hitting on other people’s wives, prostitution — those are the things you fight everyday. I had not anticipated that.
Yeesh. How do people try to cheat?
Lots of ways: Recently, we had a group of three players that tried to cheat the casino by switching cards in blackjack. Then we had a group who we caught card counting.
Surveillance plays a big part in game protection. We have one director, a supervisor and six employees who are looking at cameras all day. We keep them separate and they don’t really mingle with the rest of the staff.
What happens when people are caught cheating?
Depending on the level of cheating, we ban them from the casino. Sometimes it’s three months, sometimes it’s a few more months. We once had a gentlemen get so mad that he broke apart one of our machines. We banned him forever. For the worst offenders, we report them to the casino organization led by the government.
What’s the right amount of time to spend in a casino, do you think?
Our goal at the Ritz-Carlton is not to have people go for broke; after all, we want people to come back. I would say two to three hours is enough to have a fun time and not miss out on too much sleep. It’s fun after dinner, if you get complimentary drinks.
About those free drinks — how much booze do you give away?
We probably give away $15,000 to $20,000 worth of liquor a day. We only do it with people who are actually playing. If you have someone playing and you have four people standing around, only the person playing gets a drink.
Makes sense. So who’s cleaning up after all of these people?
We have cleaners all the time, 24 hours a day. Our rest rooms are cleaned continuously. Some of the bigger cleaning work, like carpet shampooing, happens between 4 A.M. and 7 A.M.
Tuesday and Wednesday mornings are quiet, so that’s when we schedule special high cleaning — lights and stuff — but we have people dusting and mopping throughout the day. We have an average of two to three shifts a day, and at any given time, we have six people cleaning plus a supervisor. They basically work 24 hours a day. They’re the unsung heroes of the casino.
Do you personally ever take a break?
I usually take at least one weekend day off. But I take my “boyfriend” home — my laptop — and I work sitting on the back porch. And that’s O.K. We all make choices. My husband (he’s real) always gives me the support that I need. Our casino is open 24 hours a day, but you can’t be here all the time.
So how does a non-gambler feel about spending all her waking hours in a casino?
I don’t believe in spending 10 to 13 hours of your day doing something that makes you miserable. And yes, you have days when you’re like, “Why am I doing this?” But most of the time, at the end of the day, I’m like, “That was great.”
Ready to start planning? Here are TPG’s recommendations for getting to the Caribbean via points flights this season.
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