Behind every funnyman, it is said, is a serious story.
So, when West Chandler resident Mike Kintner parades around Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino south of Maricopa in a costume for every occasion, or glad-hands and back-slaps a guest, or rolls out some wacky promotion in his new job as general manager of the casino and its 500-room resort, it’s a manifestation of several meaningful experiences along his life’s journey.
“People will ask me, ‘What, exactly, does a casino general manager do?’ and I have to think about it for a second,” Kintner said. “My canned answer is that, working here, we get to play games for a living. We’re here to entertain people and have a good time. You’ve probably seen pictures of me out there in a funky suit. At Halloween I was in more outfits. It was pretty fun.”
It’s more than that. No doubt, the guy, at his roots, truly is goofy. He also has serious values and personality traits shaped by his father, a career Air Force man, and by having to move frequently as a schoolkid.
Those experiences made serving others and philanthropy part of Kintner’s fiber. He also is shaped by the specter of being left out. As a kid, he learned to adapt to new situations and to reach out and get to know people quickly.
“We have a hotel. We have a casino. We have gaming. We do events and promotions. We make marketing offers. It’s a 24/7 business. It can be kind of stressful,” Kintner continued about his role. “People work all different shifts and we have all sorts of different occupations. I tell people that if you can think of a job and want to contribute here, we have something for you.
“I’m lucky enough to work for the almost 800 people who work here. I help make sure they’re successful every day. I have to make sure I’m humble and understand what they have to go through, especially now with these crazy times through the pandemic, where our people have to worry about virtual learning for their children, or about getting sick, or working around the public. We’re supporting each other by being positive. So, keeping a good sense of humor and telling our people to relax and have a good time is just part of what we do and who we are.”
All of that, it should be pointed out, is delivered in Kintner’s rapid-fire, 200 mph speaking pace. That, too, is a reflection of his youth, and feeling that if he doesn’t say what he needs to say quickly, he might not get the chance to say it at all.
Constantly challenged as a new kid to make friends and be accepted, he craved the stability that he now has with his 16 years at Ak-Chin. He especially wanted that for Mason and Chase, his two teenage sons, his wife Amanda, who he met as an undergrad at the University of Arizona, and Oakley and Kyah, a couple of Rhodesian Ridgebacks. They love the West Chandler lifestyle. He’s an avid outdoorsman who enjoys working out with his family, running long distances and motorbiking with his kids.
Kintner also relishes the sense of family and community that comes from nurturing employees at the property.
“Moving around so much as a kid really made me who I am,” Kintner said. “So, when I go into a situation, I want to find something in common with folks so I can start a conversation and make that relationship. As a military brat, you didn’t have a lot of time. You’re in a place two, three years. Either you make friends quickly or you didn’t have friends. What kind of kid doesn’t want to have friends?”
Kintner spent most of his childhood at bases in Turkey and England. He grew up learning about honor, hard work and giving back to the community.
“As a military brat, you get to experience different cultures and see how other people live,” he said. “That also allows you to see how fortunate you are.”
In Turkey, he swept the floors and washed trucks for the Explosive Ordinance Department at Incirlik Air Force Base. In England, he worked at the post office and at the base gas station at Lakenheath Air Force Base. He began riding horses in England at 9, and later rode competitively. That would become a life-altering avocation.
At 16, Kintner’s family moved back to Kansas, where his father was from.
“Kansas is the most foreign country I’ve lived in,” Kintner said.
Kintner enrolled in Kansas University, intending to be a lawyer. He attained senior-class standing in political science and history before he said, essentially, “Whoa!” He still had horses on his mind. KU has a horsemanship class, which he took. He also joined the equestrian club and was pretty sure he wanted to be a horse trainer. Instead, on the advice of his dad, he transferred to the University of Arizona into its renowned Race Track Industry Program, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1996.
That set him up for a position at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, Calif. He learned horse racing. He learned marketing. And it was his introduction to the gambling industry. It was a dream job for seven years.
“Then, with the advent of telecast wagering, on-track attendance started dropping but the handle was still good,” he said. “Casinos were picking up in the early 2000s. I heard a lot about Harrah’s, now Caesar’s. So, after seven years, I reached out a little bit.”
Harrah’s Ak-Chin called him back. He worked up through the ranks, from casino marketing manager, to director of marketing (he returned to the UofA on the side and earned an Eller Executive MBA in 2013), then to director of marketing and casino operations, and last fall to GM.
Casinos aren’t for everybody. The hayseed winter visitor from the Midwest might get to the door and freeze, intimidated. They are viewed by some as smoky, seedy places where good people are separated from their money.
It’s part of Kintner’s job to break down those stereotypes and make people feel at ease, especially those who’ve never set foot inside a casino.
It doesn’t necessarily require donning a clown suit to do that.
“We have lots of what I call Golden Retrievers around here,” Kintner said. “They smile. It takes less muscles to smile than it does to frown. When you smile, it releases all the chemicals in your brain and makes you feel better. Then you make somebody else smile, so now you’re making them feel better, too.
“Our Golden Retrievers just want to say hi to you. They greet you. That really defines who we are.”
Kintner points out that there are plenty of things to do at Ak-Chin besides gamble.
“We also have excellent food options – a wine bar, a steak house, a 24-hour quick-serve grill,” he said. “We have a heated pool. During normal times we have concerts, and we’re looking to bring those back in 2021, perhaps in the second quarter. Next door is an entertainment center with a bowling alley, movie theater, laser tag, dining. Lots of fun stuff. We have nice hotel rooms. We also have a spa.
“And some people like to play slot machines. Obviously, with slot machines you’re taking a little bit of a chance. First off, I’m a bad loser. I don’t like losing. The first thing is always know your budget and stay within your budget. For some people it’s 20 bucks at a slot machine, for others it’s $2,000 at a table game. My vision is for this to continue to be strong and healthy and be a really fun place for people to come and relax.”
The pandemic has challenged attaining that vision, he concedes. These times are the toughest of his career, even more than the 2008 financial crisis.
“Our employees are up to the challenge,” he said. “They’re finding new ways to do things, better ways to do things. We’re doing our best to keep the place clean with our sanitation squad. We have electromagnetic sprayers.”
Ak-Chin is a Native American community. Some of the take from the casino goes back into the community, into homes, education and businesses.
“Building those relationships and having those relationships is very meaningful to me,” Kintner said. “We’re coming up on 26 years that this property has been open. It’s been successful for both sides and we’re hoping to extend that well into future.
“Getting to be GM is very humbling. I’ve been a part of building the culture here and involved at the highest level of what’s going on here for the past 10 years. One of the things I’m really grateful for came when we had to close the casino for eight weeks. The Ak-Chin community really stepped up and kept our employees whole. They paid them during the entire time. When we opened back up, we were able to make that money back up for them.”
The casino has HERO – Harrah’s Employees Reaching Out – in which they give back to the community.
For 10 years, Kintner has been a state-appointed Pinal County council member on First Things First, which is an Arizona voter-approved tobacco tax. Funds go toward early childhood education through age 5. He has been the chair for two years.
“I learned from my dad that the ability to serve is a person’s greatest attribute,” Kintner said. “That service was my dad’s life — family and that good, old Midwestern work ethic. That shaped my world view and how I do things myself.”
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