On May 17, Henry Williams officially became the new executive director of the Michigan Gaming Control Board. He brings 20 years of experience at the MGCB where he served a wide range of roles. Williams takes over for Richard S. Kalm, who had held the position since 2007.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer appointed Williams to the executive role on April 23 for a six-year term. Williams’ tenure began on May 17 after a 34-1 roll call confirmation vote in the Michigan Senate solidified Williams’ new position.
GreatLakesStakes.com caught up with Williams to discuss what the appointment means to him, his future plans for gaming in Michigan, addressing problem gambling and more during an interview on Thursday.
Great Lakes Stakes (GLS): What does it mean for you to be named the next executive director of the Michigan Gaming Control Board?
Henry Williams: It’s really amazing and remarkable if I can say that. I've worked in the industry for 20 years now and have enjoyed working in his industry since I started back in 2001. I think about the lessons from my parents about hard work and dedication, keeping your word and all around just treating people nicely, so for the governor to offer me this opportunity is just really remarkable.
GLS: You’ve been on the job for nine days, what has the new position consisted of you doing so far?
HW: So far it's really just been talking to great people, listening to the industry, taking their calls and concerns that they may have and some of the issues over the years. And so really just listening, so I'm really on a listening tour right now and you can call it that.
GLS: You mentioned your experience. How has that helped you prepare for the executive director position with the MGCB?
HW: I think my experience prior, even prior to coming to the agency as an investigator, as a protective service worker, a social worker and as a probation officer, I think all those experiences helped me in my career.
Starting here with the agency, I started as a regulation officer, regulating the three Detroit casinos. Just going through the ranks here in the agency and in our enforcement section regulating the casinos 24-7, to our employee licensing section that licenses all of the employees who conduct work on the gaming floor, then moving to being a manager of the employee licensing section and then into the deputy director role. I think each of those steps has prepared me to lead the agency.
GLS: You worked with Kalm for 14 years. What can you take away from being under his leadership and apply it to your current tenure?
HW: I will say you know I've learned many things from Rick. But I would say what I would take away from lessons that I've learned from Rick is to let the team lead. He always allowed the team to lead, and I think that is very important. The staff does the work every day; they're in the trenches. So hearing from them and allowing them to lead is probably the most important thing I will take away from Rick.
Gaming Progress in Michigan
GLS: From your perspective, what has it been like to see Michigan gaming progress through the years to where it is now?
HW: I was here when they used to load those big bag of coins and toss them up under the slot machines, or open the bag and pour it into the hopper and all those coins would come ringing out of the machine. So, from there to the ticket in and a ticket out, where you just send a scan bar through, it's so much different.
I will say that the technology is so advanced and it quickly moves. The casino industry finds some of the most talented creators and they know how to keep their patrons entertained. Casinos already are entertainment venues, and they're very creative in the things they come up with, so just looking to keep up with the industry as far as that technology.
HW: Yes, the revenue from online gaming housing has far exceeded anything that any of us thought it would do. We knew it would be big because when you give people more opportunities to game on their cell phones or computers or tablets, and they don't have to go and visit a physical location, we knew it would bring more people to gaming. The amount of gaming has definitely exceeded what we've projected.”
GLS: With increased gaming and accessibility across the state, the likelihood of problem gambling increases. How do you look to curtail problem gambling and help those people in need?
HW: That's really close to my heart. As a licensed social worker here in the state of Michigan, gambling addiction that may face our citizens is truly close to my heart, so right now what we're looking to do is build out our responsible gaming section. We’re now looking at our marketing material. We're currently not doing any public service announcements, but we will look to do this in the future. We're adding staff to that section, so that they can be responsive to the citizens that are calling us and seeking additional help. We're collaborating with the lottery, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, and the Attorney General's Office on ways that we all can collectively come together and help the citizens who may find themselves in a position where they're gambling more than they can afford. That's definitely on the top of my list.
A Growing Gambling Market
GLS: With the three commercial casinos in Detroit, plus the tribal offerings across Michigan, along with online gaming, what’s it mean to have one of the more progressive gaming states in the country?
HW: I mean it's really exciting. We didn't get here overnight, right? The relationships that the industry has with the regulator is very respectful here in Michigan. We all make sure we try to listen to each other. We all may not agree all the time, but one thing we always tried to do was hear each other out and move forward in the best interest of the state because that's my responsibility as executive director of the gaming control board is to ensure fair and honest gaming and protect the interests of the citizens in the state of Michigan. That's my primary focus and goal, and so, I take that with me and any decision that I make and any discussions I have with the industry. And I think the industry understands that about the gaming control board, and so we're able to meet in the middle on a lot of issues.
GLS: What’s next for online gaming in the state of Michigan, and what are some of your goals and expectations for the future?
HW: The next thing for online will be multi-jurisdictional poker. We're in discussions with the other jurisdictions right now, looking at the agreement that they currently have in place and trying to see where Michigan can fit inside those agreements. We're definitely at the table working all those things out so that we can bring multi-jurisdictional poker to the state.
Short-term (goal), I want to focus on the online section to ensure that the staff has all the resources they need to regulate the online platform. Long-term, what I see for the agency, notwithstanding if we receive something else from the state of Michigan to regulate, so long-term, outside of receiving something else to regulate, I will say that building our IT infrastructure to ensure that we're changing with the industry and the technology that's coming into the gaming industry.