On Oct. 31, the Coeur d'Alene Tribal Council officially named Laura Stensgar as the new CEO of the Coeur d'Alene Casino Resort and Hotel. Before that, Stensgar had been interim CEO for more than a month, but being in leadership at the casino was far from new for her.
From helping the tribe explore whether it even wanted to get into gaming in the early 1990s, to leading the way in marketing the casino and resort in little Worley, Idaho, and developing cultural tourism, Stensgar has been involved at every step. Now with a hugely successful golf course, resort, multiple bars and restaurants and, of course, gaming, Stensgar says she's ready to lead the casino into its next phase of success.
INLANDER: Tell us a little more about your experience at the casino leading up to this point.
STENSGAR: I actually was involved right when the tribe was deciding whether or not to get into gaming. The tribe got a committee together, and I was included as a result of working at the planning department. We had heard of the Oneida Tribe in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and that they were doing phenomenal things for their tribe, so we flew there.
I'll never forget that day when I got off the plane, and just a mile down the road was this amazing resort. They had pretty much what we have today, you know, 26, 27 years ago, which was amazing. I was just in awe. They had a hotel. They had their own outlet mall. They had their own senior housing. They had a wellness center, a fitness center. We toured the tribal housing. It was just amazing what they had and what they were doing with their gaming dollars. So I came back and was inspired and just said, "We've got to do this."
Now that it's been more than 25 years, what are some of the really important projects for the tribe that the casino has been able to support?
Oh, we've done amazing things. We're good neighbors, we're good community members. I think that education is the most profound dollar-wise. In 1991, the gaming compact was agreed and signed off on between the Coeur d'Alene Tribe and the state of Idaho. I was privileged to be there during the negotiation. [A] pivotal moment was when I saw a tribal leader speak up and tell the state that they want to put 5 percent of the net profits towards education, in the agreement. Many people think that it was stipulated by the state, but this was mandated by our tribal leaders.
We were so proud of our tribe at that time. They had no idea what we would have today, the potential, but we followed through with that promise, and to date we have given over $33 million towards education. We view education as an investment in our children, investment in our programs and investment in our region.
What are the cultural tourism opportunities that you offer?
It's an amazing program, and we're three years into operations. Initially it started because we recognized that people were associating tribes with casinos. I don't blame anyone. I mean, we spend a lot of dollars as far as getting out there and advertising our big promotions or events. But we're so much more than that as tribal people.
We thought it was important that we educate people that gaming is a tool. It's an effective tool that helps us to gain jobs and revenue for tribal social programs. But it's not who we're about. It's helping us accomplish what has been instilled in us from one generation to the next: That we must take care of each other and look out for each other and provide for the next generation. And so we have cultural tours and activities [such as] bison tours, canoe-kayak tours, hiking tours; and we have activities such as making Pendleton moccasins, making beaded necklaces, basket weaving and storytelling, exhibition dancing, and also traditional food.
What are your goals for your time as CEO?
I want to, of course, maintain profitability. In order to do that, I think we need to clearly understand who we are, and understand what is that special thing that we have to offer, what differentiates us from others, and really capitalize on that. I think what's key is our employees. I really want to empower employees to offer that great customer service, what we call traditional tribal hospitality. I really want to focus on that. And then continue to be a good neighbor and work with the community. ♦