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Grand Biloxi Casino executive envisions Coast that

Karen Sock leading the way, opening doors for others

Karen Sock didn’t set out to be a gaming executive. The senior vice president and general manager of the Grand Biloxi Casino, Hotel and Spa entered the hospitality industry while in college. She began her career in her hometown, Cleveland, Ohio, and through the years has advanced through the ranks by proving her mettle.

She began with Harrah’s in 1985 as a guest services manager, and was general manager of the company’s Embassy Suites in Omaha, Neb., when gaming came calling.

“Winding up in gaming was a function of the growth of gaming,” she said. “The president of the company said they didn’t have enough talent and needed more leadership in gaming, so he recruited from the hospitality industry.”

And the rest…

Sock’s first job in gaming was at Harrah’s Vicksburg where she was director of customer services. And the rest, as they say, is history, with Sock making some history of her own as the country’s first African-American female casino manager. The distinction came after her appointment as general manager of the original Harrah’s Tunica Casino.

“Responsibility goes with being first in anything, and it takes hard work,” she says. “Being an African-American female is incidental to the appointment. The fact is that I have worked for the company for a long time and proven my skills over and over again.”

With example, hard work and a warm personality, Sock continues to lead and open doors for others. She likes mentoring employees and is appreciative of those who mentored her.

“I have the responsibility to find and train new talent and to mentor employees as they move along,” she said. “It’s important to me. When you open doors, the opportunity stays with you.”

She sees gaming as a dynamic industry with constantly changing technology, marketing strategies, people and business opportunities.

“It has allowed me to move all over the country,” she said. “I work for a great company. I left and came back twice and have been through lots of changes. Working in gaming is a life style. We work when others are off, but I love it.”

Different challenges

Now Sock, 54, faces different challenges as the Coast as the industry re-emerges from devastation. “The ability of the workforce to find comfortable, affordable housing is hard,” she said. “We’ve been able to come back but we recognize that for the Coast’s long-term recovery, we really have to get many viable, first-class attractions here.”

She feels the next five years will see a very different Gulf Coast, and that it will come back bigger than ever.

To help employees cope, the Grand Biloxi has three clinical psychologists available for support. The stress of dealing with the hurricane’s aftermath, and for many living in FEMA trailers is much like battle fatigue she said, and the counselors help.

“The counselors and the employees are wonderful,” she said. “I’m only as good as my team, and we’ve got a great team here.”

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

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