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Follmer looks at changes in gaming, market here

Tunica — There have been a lot of changes in the gaming industry in Curt Follmer’s almost 40 years working in the industry. The San Francisco native started as a change person at Harvey’s Casino in Lake Tahoe in 1969 while attending California State University in Chico. He is now senior vice president/general manager of Rainbow Casino in Vicksburg, a Bally Technologies property.

A college student would be hard pressed to find a position as a change person now. That job title has been phased out along with mechanical slot machines. Follmer, 60, took a few minutes while attending the Southern Gaming Summit to reflect on his career and the state’s gaming industry.

“I don’t know of any casinos now where the table games make more than slot machines, and I remember when it was very different,” he said. “I was working at Harrah’s in Atlantic City when that shift occurred and it was very dramatic. If anybody had told me, I wouldn’t have believed it.”

The shift came as machine technology advanced to computer driven, surpassing the limitations of the old mechanical machines that earned the ‘one-arm bandit’ nickname. “Slot machines now pay more and have many features. It’s unlimited what can be put on them,” Follmer said. “Before, they really didn’t have much but lights.”

Changing technology has also produced coinless machines that eliminate players having to scoop up coins and sometimes wait for time-consuming hopper fills. Ticket payouts and kiosks where players redeem their own tickets have made it possible for Rainbow Casino to reduce its staff through attrition. There is no longer a hard count room where coins are sorted and rolled.

“I think we’re headed toward totally cashless gaming. Electronic funds transfer cards are the wave of the future,” he added. “We’ll probably see that in three years and run pretty lean, needing fewer employees.”

Follmer, who came to Vicksburg 11 years ago, says gaming is a boost to the economy there, but he is concerned about market growth in the Warren County city. There are four casinos there with an approximate $250-million annual market. Two new properties are proposed.

“Vicksburg needs non-gaming amenities to extend people’s stay,” he said. “There won’t be significant growth without that. Growth on the Coast will be tremendous. It might hurt the Vicksburg market, but it will be very good for the state.”

Nor does he predict growth in the Tunica and Greenville markets, reiterating that gaming growth will be focused in the coastal counties.

Active in the Casino Operators Association, Follmer currently serves as vice chairman and was president of the Mississippi Gaming Association before the two organizations merged. Amid rumors and conjecture as to why some state casinos did not participate in the summit, he said his number one goal is to bring all gaming operators back into the organization.

This gaming veteran majored in sociology in college. He wanted to teach after graduation but jobs were scarce in that field. “Sociology and gaming: both are dealing with people. It seemed like a match,” he said. “I had to learn the business by osmosis.”

He has worked in numerous gaming locations, including the storied Desert Inn in Las Vegas where he was director of table games. He’s also worked in slots, dealt craps and been a pit boss. His last stop as an operations manager was at the Aladdin Hotel & Casino. Alliance Gaming hired him as director of the Southern Nevada Casinos in 1994 and promoted him to general manager of Rainbow Hotel Casino in 1995.

Follmer and his wife, Linda, who has also worked in gaming, are the parents of two grown daughters, Jamie and Becky. They enjoy life in Vicksburg where they live in one of the area’s oldest homes. Built in 1834, the house is a Louisiana cottage, the same style as Beauvoir in Biloxi. Follmer believes the house was commandeered as a hospital by Union forces during the Civil War siege of Vicksburg. Blood stains are still visible on the wooden floors. The Home & Garden television channel filmed a segment on the house for the show, “If Walls Could Talk,” which the Follmers think will air sometime this summer.

When he’s not working, Curt Follmer likes to cook, snow ski when he can get to where there’s snow, and fly the airplane he recently bought. He was looking forward to a visit from five fraternity brothers when he spoke with the Mississippi Business Journal. It was the first trip to Vicksburg for all of the old friends, and their host planned to show them the local sights, including the historic battlefield park.

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.


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