March 31, 2016 by Douglas Burns
Tom Timmons, a familiar face in Jefferson and the veteran gaming industry professional who shepherded Wild Rose’s casino here from a long-shot prairie daydream to functioning, slot-ringing reality, is helming the property during a general-manager transition.
Wild Rose is searching for a new local chief of operations following the resignation last week of Mike Couch. No other employees at Wild Rose Jefferson left in connection with GM Couch’s departure.
In a nearly two-hour meeting Tuesday with the Jefferson Herald, Timmons, the president and chief operating officer of West Des Moines-based Wild Rose, repeatedly stressed one theme: the state of Wild Rose Jefferson is “very good.”
The most recent numbers from the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission show the casino posted admissions of 37,892 in February and gross gaming revenue of $2.28 million that month.
Those filings track with Wild Rose’s Emmetsburg facility, which had lower admissions than Jefferson with 33,176, but slightly higher revenue with $2.3 million in February.
When a full year is on the books, Timmons expects Wild Rose’s new Jefferson facility (having opened July 13) to be knocking on the door of profits at the mature Emmetsburg facility.
“Gary’s very happy with Jefferson,” said Timmons of CEO Gary Kirke. “Can we do things better? Yes.”
That starts in food and beverage, said Timmons, acknowledging that the casino can up its game in that department.
“When you look at first-year businesses, a lot of times it takes a year to find out what works and what didn’t,” Timmons said.
Timmons said he called for the opening of the Jefferson casino before restaurant and bar employees could have the “dry run” training time they did at Wild Rose’s other two properties in Clinton and Emmetsburg.
“Blame me, don’t blame my people,” Timmons said.
(Timmons said he’d make the same call again because gaming revenues in the early weeks were so solid.)
Finding employees and predicting customer surges at the Coaches Corner, a sports bar and grill, has been a challenge and a source of complaints, Timmons said.
About a month ago, on a Saturday, with a busy casino and events, hungry customers poured into Coaches Corner. The eatery simply wasn’t ready, Timmons said.
“We were done from the start,” Timmons said. “I’m just being honest. We didn’t know that was going to happen.”
After that, Timmons, and food and beverage manager Kay Adams, a recent transplant from Des Moines to Jefferson, limited the seating area in Coaches Corner so the wait staff could pay appropriate attention to tables.
“The last three weekends have been good,” Timmons said. “I’ve actually gotten some compliments.”
Soon, with the protocol improved, the full eating area will be open for service.
Another change is coming Monday in Coaches Corner. The restaurant will not be open for lunch Monday to Thursday. Instead, the casino will provide a sandwich stand during that time, which has been low traffic for the full-service menu. Dinner and weekend service will continue uninterrupted.
Adams said the food and beverage employees ranks are strong at about 60 people full- and part-time.
Casino-wide, Wild Rose Jefferson employs 244 people full- and part-time with an expected annual payroll between $6 million and $7 million.
Only about 5 percent of the complex’s revenues come from food and beverage. The vast majority is collected from slot machines, the same as with the other 18 state-regulated casinos in Iowa.
Looking forward, the casino is planning a one-year anniversary celebration in early August.
In coming years, Timmons said, he expects off-track betting on dog and horse racing to be available at Wild Rose Jefferson.
No actual tracks would be in Jefferson, but patrons could wager on races from around the world at Wild Rose, placing bets inside the gaming complex and watching the races simulcast on TVs there.
Along those lines, Timmons is closely watching the legal outcome of proposed sports wagering in New Jersey and other developments, like NBA Commissioner Adam Silver going on record as supporting legalized gambling on professional sports nationally. Should that take hold, and Vegas-style sports books be allowed outside of Nevada, Wild Rose and other Iowa casinos would leap at the chance to allow such wagering onto their premises, Timmons said.
“I’d like to see it legalized,” Timmons said.
Casino sports books would be one way to attract more millenials to Wild Rose, Timmons said.
On Monday, the casino will host a big night for local development as the Grow Greene County Gaming Corporation, the gaming-license-holding nonprofit associated with Wild Rose Jefferson, will announce major donations to causes and projects in Greene and surrounding counties.
That is, as Wild Rose spokesperson Jamie Buelt says, “where the rubber meets the road” for the hundreds of local people who supported the casino.
Courtesy of Daily Times Herald, 3/31/16.