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HTM 371 students pose with Janet Beronio (front left), general manager of Harrah's Southern California. HTM 371 students pose with Janet Beronio (front left), general manager of Harrah's Southern California.

Off the Beaten Course: HTM 371

This course explores the legal, cultural and regulatory framework of the global gaming industry.
By SDSU News Team

Off the Beaten Course is a series that delves into SDSU's course catalog to share unique and non-traditional classes.

Course title: Hospitality and Tourism Management 371: Tribal Gaming: Casino Operations Management
Professor’s name: Katherine Spilde

Spilde also works with San Diego State University's Tribal Gaming Student Association and the Native American Student Alliance.

1) What inspired you to create this course?

This course is one of the required courses for the tribal gaming emphasis area within the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at SDSU.

Through the Sycuan Institute on Tribal Gaming here at SDSU, we developed the nation’s only 4-year degree that focuses on tribal casino operations and this is the program’s signature course. While designed to support the HTM Program’s tribal gaming emphasis, this course is open to all students with an interest in government and public policy, casinos and economic development or the global gaming industry.

2) What can students expect to learn from this course?

HTM 371 explores the legal, regulatory and cultural framework of the global gaming industry and the operational issues that are critical to its success. Given our proximity to some of the most successful casinos in the United States, we use tribal government gaming as a lens to explore the benefits and challenges of various casino industries around the world.

Because tribal gaming facilities are owned by tribal governments, this course explores the ways that governmental ownership of casino gaming facilities creates particular operational challenges and opportunities.

Attention is also given to the economic, social and political effects of casino gaming on localities, including the differences and similarities between tribal and commercial casino gaming in the United States and casino gaming in Asia, with an emphasis on Macau, China. The most important thing that students learn is that there is a place for them in the tribal gaming industry and I encourage them to find that place!

3) What makes this course different from similar courses?

We are the only program in the U.S. that teaches casino operations from the perspective of its stated public policy purpose: to support tribal governments in their nation (re)building activities. 

Because tribal casinos are owned by tribal governments, the revenues are invested in ways that encourage social and economic development. HTM 371 encourages our future casino managers to consider the critical nature of casino revenues for tribal governments as they develop their operations strategy.

The course also compares and contrasts the two dominant business models for casino gaming: the integrated resort and the repeater-market property (i.e. “locals” casino), with an emphasis on the casino product lifecycle.

4) Is there one day on the syllabus for this course you most look forward to? If yes, why?

The School of Hospitality and Tourism Management places a high value on our relationships with industry professionals. I take great care in selecting and inviting guest speakers who can share their experience and wisdom with the students. These guest speakers range from elected tribal leaders to casino operators to slot technicians.

I always look forward to the days when I have guest speakers so I can observe the interaction between the students and the guests. Our students are empowered to ask very probing questions (sometimes extremely personal!) and I always learn a lot about the guests myself.

5) What’s your favorite thing about teaching this course?

I have worked in tribal gaming in some capacity for more than 20 years and I am deeply committed to its continued success and growth. The industry itself was created in the late 1970’s by tribal governments in Florida and California.

However, I find that the students have very little understanding of — or appreciation for — the scale and scope of the tribal gaming industry ($28 billion annually in gaming revenues from 428 properties in 28 states). My favorite thing about teaching this course is exposing them to the opportunity to fulfill their own hospitality and tourism management goals while also contributing to the incredible renaissance in Indian Country that is being supported by tribal gaming.

I enjoy sharing the stories of cultural and social revitalization among the tribes and encouraging my students to become a part of it.

6) Any other thoughts?

The School of Hospitality and Tourism Management encourages our students to participate in industry events and engage in experiential learning. One of the highlights of this course — in addition to having guest speakers in class — is our commitment to visit local tribal gaming properties and to make a site visit to Las Vegas for the Global Gaming Expo, an annual event that overlaps with this course each fall.

While I can expose students to many aspects of tribal casino operations in the classroom, these experiences generally cement the students’ understanding of the ways that tribal gaming differs from commercial gaming and the incredible turn-around that is taking place in Indian Country due to the economic development made possible through tribal gaming.