Updated Jan. 29
Behind every funnyman, it is said, is a serious story.
So, when 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, or keeps his 800 employees loose with his sense of humor, 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.”
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. Consequently, Kintner had to move frequently as a schoolkid.
Philanthropy and serving others became the essence of Kintner’s fiber from the example of his dad. He also is shaped by the specter of being left out. Always the new kid, he learned to adapt to new situations and get to know people quickly.
Kintner 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 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 he feels from nurturing employees on the job, including a half-dozen from West Chandler.
Among them is Harrah’s Ak-Chin Employee Engagement Manager Jane Stimmel, who lives in the Ray/Rural area. She has been at the casino since Day 1 in 1994, starting as a beverage server and advancing into human relations. She was the first person Kintner met when he came to the property.
“I did his one-on-one onboarding,” Stimmel said. “He and I immediately hit it off. I was friends also with his wife. We were pregnant at the same time. We’ve been friends since. Our families have camped together. Our kids were friends.
“One thing about his leadership is he takes feedback very well, and I’ve had to give him feedback that he’s taken humbly and graciously and made changes. He’s done some amazing things for the company that are very telling of who he is personally and professionally.”
Ak Chin also is popular among West Chandler residents who are members of Caesar’s guest-rewards program and make the drive frequently to play.
Kintner acknowledges that moving around so much as a kid really made him who he is.
“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,” Kintner said. “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?”
At Ak Chin, just about everybody, whether it’s a guest playing in the casino or a housekeeper in a luxury suite, is his friend. He hopes.
“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 said. “People work all different shifts and we have all sorts of different occupations.
“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 this, it should be pointed out, is delivered in Kintner’s rapid-fire, 200 mph speaking cadence. 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.
Kintner spent most of his childhood at bases in Turkey and England.
“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 floors and washed trucks for the Explosive Ordinance Department at Incirlik Air Force Base. In England, he worked at the base post office and 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.
“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. He took KU’s horsemanship class. He also joined the equestrian club and was pretty sure he wanted to become 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, in the process returning to the UofA on the side and earning an Eller Executive MBA. He became Ak Chin GM last fall.
Casinos aren’t for everybody. The hayseed winter visitor might get to the door and freeze, intimidated. Casinos 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 them feel at ease.
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.”
Stimmel said that Kintner, essentially, is the employees’ Golden Retriever.
“He guides us, supports our development, our training, our growth,” the West Chandler resident said. “The fun environment that he creates, just coming to work and having fun and playing – that’s really what he encourages our employees to do, not only with each other but with our guests.
“It’s an entertainment venue. We want guests to have fun and keep coming back.”
Kintner points out that there are plenty of things to do at Ak-Chin besides gamble. With the addition of a new tower, Harrah’s now has 500 guest rooms for an easy weekend getaway or a staycation. There is golf nearby.
“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 his vision, he concedes. He said that these times are the toughest of his career, 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 (last spring due to the pandemic). 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 also 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 – that and that good, old Midwestern work ethic. That shaped my world view and how I do things myself.”
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