Dillon takes over at Spirit Mountain Casino

10.14.2014 Ron Karten Spirit Mountain Casino

Stan Dillon, who has worked in the gaming industry since graduating from Ashland High School in 1974 and moving to Reno, Nev., became the official general manager of Spirit Mountain Casino on Sept. 22.

Dillon, 58, had been interim general manager for about two months after the departure of General Manager Randy Dugger. He then agreed to a two-year contract with the Spirit Mountain Gaming Board of Directors.

Dillon has held many positions during his 40-year career, but this is the first time he will hold the general manager title.

 "I've developed a lot of friendships and close relationships with people here in the Tribe," Dillon says in his casino office. "I thought it would be a great opportunity for me to step up to that position and work with Tribal managers here. I feel that hopefully I will be able to move those people into positions and develop them, which will be the last goal in my career. If I leave here, I probably won't work anymore. I plan on making this my last job. I'm committed to Spirit Mountain."

Dillon grew up in Ashland and left southern Oregon after graduating from high school because of the bad economy. He went to Reno, where his sister was working in the gaming industry as well, and started on the bottom rung as a houseman, shampooing carpets and working in the laundry.

"My sister said, 'Hey, why don't you come down here. There are jobs here.' … She was coming home every night with a $50 bill, getting paid, and I'm working myself to death for $18 a day and she's making $70 to $100 a night and getting a break every hour. I'm like, "I want to do that!' "

The day after he turned 21 in 1977, he started working at Club Cal Neva, picking up chips as a dealer. From there, he was promoted to main floor person, pit boss and then assistant manager of Cal Neva's racing and sports book.

In February 1984, he was promoted to casino manager, a position that reported to the general manager. He remained in booming Reno until 1993, when he took a position as table games manager at Mystic Lake Casino in Prior Lake, Minn.

 "At that time, Mystic Lake was the second largest Native American casino in the country," Dillon says. "They had a huge table gaming department. They had 142 blackjack games … 1,200 people in their table gaming department."

He was quickly promoted to director of table games, and eventually became director of gaming, interim vice president of Little Six Casino and assistant general manager at Mystic Lake in charge of all gaming departments, as well as surveillance and security.

Interestingly, when the Tribe's Spirit Mountain Casino opened in 1995, it hired the Mystic Lake surveillance and security staff.

In 1999, Dillon was asked to return to Cal Neva in Reno as vice president of operations. Cal Neva had about 1,650 slots and the second largest race and sports book in the country. After casinos opened in California, however, the Reno gaming economy nosedived and Dillon started looking for work elsewhere.

Six years ago, Dillon landed in Grand Ronde as the director of gaming.

"Technically, I still am," he jokes. "I haven't hired a new director yet. I've kind of come full circle, which is very strange."

Dillon says that although he has never aspired to be a general manager at a casino, he does have goals as the new leader of Spirit Mountain Casino. He says that early conversations with Tribal Council and the Spirit Mountain Gaming board have helped identify some projects he would like to work on.

He said the casino is coming up on its 20th anniversary and the building is in need of upgrades, from updating the gaming floor to renovating 106 more rooms at Spirit Mountain Lodge.

"The gaming floor looks like it did when we opened," Dillon says. "We need to try and improve the ambiance, not just the games that are on the floor. It really positions who you are in the market."

Dillon says that the casino also needs to catch up on capital expenditures that were postponed after the economy crashed in 2008. Many of the slot machines, which are the core of the casino's business, are reaching their "end of life," meaning the manufacturers no longer make replacement parts and no longer support the technology.

"Our biggest competitor is the Oregon Lottery," Dillon says. "They have a plan to replace all 12,000 of their games within the next five years. That puts more pressure on us to make sure that we remain competitive and refresh the games on our floor."

Dillon says the casino will continue to support Tribal member employment, which usually runs about 12 percent to 15 percent of the workforce, but says the casino is being challenged by an improving economy to find good employees. If someone can find a 9-to-5 job in Salem or McMinnville, they are less likely to take a job 25 to 40 miles away that requires them to work nights, weekends and holidays.

"We're not getting near the number of applicants that we were," he says.

Dillon also says that the Tribe's new TERO program is giving Tribal members other employment options that have regular hours and better pay than working the entry level, minimum-wage jobs at the casino.

"It is going to get harder and harder for us to attract quality employees," Dillon says.

Dillon says the aftereffects of the recent recession continue to affect Spirit Mountain Casino because people became more frugal in their discretionary spending.

"I think that, ongoing, it will be challenging to grow the business. I do think that we can do that. People are getting tired of being so thrifty. I think that as more people are retiring every day, and gaming is something retired people like to do, I do think it will take time to recreate that gaming habit."

Dillon also says he wants to make the casino a fun place to work despite the fact that gaming is a highly regulated business.

"You should still be able to have fun and focus on your job," he says. "Sometimes you become stiff and rigid because of that fear of violating a rule, but you do not have to overreact to that."

Dillon has been married to his wife, Cathy, for more than 30 years. He met her while working in Reno and she has worked in gaming marketing for much of their marriage. They live in West Salem.

"I look at this job as this is not my company, but the Tribe's company," Dillon says. "I need to understand 'What do they want their company to be?' And it is my job to help them get where they want to go."