Scott Cooper is a casino man.
He's spent three decades in the industry, managing new gaming developments across the United States.
Now he is in charge of one of south-central Kansas' biggest economic development projects.
Cooper is general manager of the Kansas Star Casino, which is being built at the Mulvane exit of the Kansas Turnpike.
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Construction started in March on the $260 million project that will create a projected 1,600 construction jobs. After it opens in early 2012, it initially will employ about 500 people and is projected to employ about 800 when its final phase is completed.
The Kansas Star will be the 10th casino opening for the 63-year-old Cooper. Previous stops for him include Las Vegas, Illinois and Missouri. He's worked for Players International, which sold to what is now Caesars Entertainment; Delaware North Cos.; and Hyatt Gaming.
He's been with Peninsula Gaming, which is building and managing the casino for the state of Kansas, for a little over a year.
He and his wife, Susan, have four children, two boys and two girls. Their youngest daughter is 14 and will be a sophomore in high school.
How is construction going so far?
"It is going very, very well. We're on schedule. We just started a couple of weeks ago to erect some steel... It's coming out of the ground. The framework of the equestrian venue you can see."
I bet it's neat to see that going up.
"That's really the point when you know it's happening.... When you're coming out of the ground is when it starts to get exciting."
Anything caught you by surprise?
"I don't know if I would term it as a surprise, but we set out on a Kansas First program where we would try to use as many local subcontractors as possible. And so far we have been very pleased at the quality of local subs that we've been able to identify and we have awarded contracts to.... We have awarded 97 percent of all the construction dollars to Kansas and mostly Wichita vendors."
What's the most difficult part of managing a casino?
"After opening, the challenge is growing the business. It's a business that people have experienced, and I've done it before. But it's a new jurisdiction, a new customer base. There are a lot of things new about the project."
What's the best part?
"The best part is just developing the team and getting them ready to really provide a great experience for our customers."
What is one thing you've learned from your previous casinos that you brought with you here?
"Generally the timeline to put the project together, just to stay on schedule. That's the thing that you always try to remember to do.... The other thing is you have to really make sure your executive team is providing leadership for the organization. The goal is to develop an organization that provides superior customer service."
Is promoting the casino going to be a big part of your job?
"You can't ever assume everybody knows who you are and what you're doing and where you're located. We'll have to get our name out there and provide promotions and events that allow people to want to come and see us."
Is there something about the Kansas Star that will surprise people?
"I don't know about surprise people, but when we get fully developed we will have an outstanding casino gaming product. We will have excellent, multiple food options, and we will have a one-of-a-kind equestrian/entertainment facility. And a 300-room hotel."
Do you gamble?
"I don't gamble much, no.... That's my career for 30 years. I see it every day, and I can't gamble in my casino, so I just don't get the opportunity that often."
But when you do gamble, what do you play?
"I'll either play blackjack or slots. I kind of split my time."
What's your favorite casino you've visited?
"The Venetian/Palazzo in Las Vegas. That's more from a visiting standpoint than a gambling standpoint."
When you're not at work, what would we find you doing?
"When I'm not working I spend most of my time with my family.... Our 14-year-old this last year was involved in cheerleading and tennis."
Your thoughts on the Wichita area?
"I like it a lot.... Met a lot of nice people. It's a city that's easy to get around. And I mostly have been very pleased with the friendliness of the people."
What's one thing about you that people wouldn't know?
"I used to be a very good golfer, but now my golf game is in need of a complete makeover."