It was during the March Sugar Moon when the 4,000 enrolled members of Michigan’s Little River Band of Ottawa Indians learned 30-year casino veteran Wendell Long was heading north to manage their gaming enterprise.
“I’m proud and honored to join this team, and together we can look forward to achieving great things,” he said after Rose Ludden, chair of the tribal Board of Directors, gave him the official Aanii Kina Gwayawelcome.
“Wendell’s expertise, strategic leadership and education will provide the specialization required to manage the tribe’s continued growth and success,” Ludden told Indian Country Today Media Network via email.
Long recently departed his CEO position at the by the Pascua Yaqui-owned Casino Del Sol and the tribe’s original Casino of the Sun, both in Tucson, Arizona. He held that position since 2006, becoming the longest-tenured Indian gaming CEO in the state. At the desert facilities, Long was responsible for a $100 million Triple-A Four-Diamond Resort with 1,500 slots, a dozen restaurants, a 5,000 seat amphitheater and a championship golf course, collectively staffed by 1,400 employees, many of them tribal hires.
The Little River Casino Resort along the shores of Lake Michigan will provide a different set of challenges. Long will oversee a team of 900 at a resort that in 2010 made $20 million in gross revenue through its 300-room luxury hotel, a 1,600-seat event center, three restaurants and an RV park, as well as an expanding collection of slot machines (currently 1,700) and 40 gaming tables.
After being on the property less than a week, with his bags still unpacked, Long observed: “This is a beautiful property in a beautiful area of the country with some of the most dedicated and hardest working employees I’ve seen in my 32 years in this business. Things are currently well run here, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make them run even more smoothly.”
The tribe, headquartered on some 1,200 acres of reservation land, represents nine villages or bands of the original Grand River Bands. Relatively unknown to the general public for a long time, their popularity began to grow once the Little River Casino and Resort opened its doors in the summer of 1999.
“This Casino Resort is one of the finest in the country, and I’m proud and honored to be joining their team,” Long said in a tribal press release. “Together, this team can look forward to achieving great things.”
In a phone interview with ICTMN, Long noted his immediate priorities would be to continue improving an already loyal customer base. The overall mission ahead will focus on improving the customer experience with a few tweaks here and there. “No major changes are needed,” Long said, “just some fine-tuning to get the whole property in sync. When you take little pieces to improve the property by a small percentage, pretty soon that turns out to be an appreciable change.”
One area the new general manager will be involved in is litigation between the tribe and the National Labor Relations Board involving both jurisdiction and Fair Employment Practices, the right of employees to organize and bargain collectively. “It’s important for our tribe to let other tribes know what we’re doing,” Long says, noting, “A lot of money is being spent litigating—not just for ourselves, but for all tribes.”