Boasting an impressive 42 years’ experience in the industry, Mick Caban started as a dealer at Australia’s first casino, Wrest Point in Tasmania, in 1974. Since then he has worked everywhere from Perth and Melbourne in Australia to international destinations such as Auckland, London and even Swaziland! He inevitably landed in Macau in 2005 which eventually saw him assume his current role as Pre-Sales Manager for Asia at leading gaming manufacturer and supplier IGT. Our Managing Editor, Ben Blaschke, caught up with Caban to discuss his diverse career.
IAG: Can you tell us a bit about your background? Where did you grow up?
Mick Caban: I’m the second of four children – two boys and two girls – and was raised in a country town in Cessnock in the NSW Hunter Valley by my mother after my father died in a motorbike accident when I was four years old. Coal mines and vineyards are the local industries and many of my close family members have been involved in the coal industry. I also had uncles and grandparents who were farmers and I spent many happy times roaming around the farms trying not to get into too much mischief. The good thing about growing up in the country is the access to different activities – sport consumed my life. When I finished school at 15 I started work as an apprentice electrician at BHP in Newcastle.
IAG: How did you get started in the gaming industry?
MC: After I completed my apprenticeship I headed north to play cricket with West Brisbane and as soon as the cricket season ended I was asked to go to Tasmania to play soccer – a friend had been appointed coach of Juventus in Hobart. The coach was a builder and roof tiler so I worked with him for about two months but he didn’t pay me. The casino at Wrest Point had opened the previous year and two of my friends had just started working there as dealers. I started working as a dealer in 1974.
IAG: Were you attracted to the industry from the outset?
MC: The main attraction at the time was that Wrest Point paid their staff and also that there were many beautiful women that worked there – and they all liked to party! Young people from all around Australia came to work at Wrest Point in the early years and we were all one big family. The casino industry has been very good to me. I worked in London at the Playboy Club, in Southern Africa in Botswana and in Swaziland. I worked on cruise ships too and saw the world.
In Botswana I started pulling slot machines to pieces and rebuilding them so when I returned to Australia it was a natural progression to work for a slots company that serviced and sold machines in Newcastle. I was employed as a slots technician and went around to the clubs servicing their machines. Once I was in the industry I tried to learn as much about it as possible.
IAG: You’ve spent time running various gaming operations in Perth, Melbourne and Auckland. What did you learn from your time working at those properties?
MC: Burswood Casino in Perth opened in late 1985. It was an interesting time in the gaming industry in Australia as Adelaide Casino and Jupiter’s on the Gold Coast opened within three months of each other. I was the Slots Department Manager and was responsible for gaming machines, systems and all operational aspects of the department.
At Crown Melbourne I was originally employed as a Gaming Shift Manager and then worked my way up to General Manager of Table Gaming. Crown was a great learning opportunity. The owner Lloyd Williams was a visionary and was happy for you to spend money if there was a return on investment.
Many of the innovations we introduced at Crown have become industry standards worldwide. I remember the fights I had internally when we wanted to introduce pre-shuffled cards to baccarat.” Manager of Table Gaming. Crown was a great learning opportunity. The owner Lloyd Williams was a visionary and was happy for you to spend money if there was a return on investment. Many of the innovations we introduced at Crown have become industry standards worldwide. I remember the fights I had internally when we wanted to introduce pre-shuffled cards to baccarat. Previously after each shoe the new cards were brought to the table still in their boxes, sorted to see if all the cards were present and spread for the customers to see, then shuffled and cut by the players before play recommenced. The process took around 15 minutes which was lost revenue.
At SkyCity in Auckland I was General Manager Gaming. SkyCity opened as a joint venture between Harrah’s and SkyCity in 1995. After about two years SkyCity bought out Harrah’s and I was employed two months prior to the departure of Harrah’s in 1998. My role was to oversee the gaming operations of the group, to set up the new casino and be a part of the team that looked to acquire other operational casinos. We opened two new casinos in New Zealand – Sky Riverside Hamilton and SkyCity Queenstown. We looked to purchase properties in the US, Africa, Europe and Australia and eventually we purchased both the Adelaide and Darwin casinos in Australia.
IAG: How did you come to be based in Macau?
MC: After SkyCity I worked for TCSJohnHuxley and regularly travelled to Macau in 2004 and 2005 before moving here permanently in November 2005. Sands had opened in 2004 and it was clear that there was huge growth potential for the gaming industry. I had been to Macau in 1979 and it was very different!
IAG: What were your early impressions upon moving to Macau?
MC: One of the main things I had to get used to was the politeness. Quite often when I wanted something or asked for something I would get a polite yes but what they really meant was no which was something I had to learn. They’re too polite to tell you no at times. They just say yes, then nothing happens. Now I know to ask them, “Is that a ‘no’ yes or a ‘yes’ yes?” In Australia if someone disagrees with you they’ll offer their point of view. That was a big thing I had to get used to – particularly when setting up Galaxy StarWorld.
IAG: How did working at Galaxy compare with your previous experiences at properties in Australia and New Zealand?
MC: My time with Galaxy was very enjoyable. I was VP of Gaming Operations at StarWorld and later became part of the Galaxy Macau pre-opening team. I had tables, slots, security, surveillance and marketing all reporting to me which kept me fairly busy.
I was used to busy casinos in Australia but at Galaxy this was raised to a new level never seen before. The revenue mix was very different too. At SkyCity 55% came from slots. In Macau, 96% came from tables and 92% from one game, being baccarat. Unfortunately my time with Galaxy came to an end when the GFC hit in 2008, which saw Galaxy Macau postponed and the majority of staff made redundant.
IAG: You’ve been with IGT for about six years now. What does your job entail?
MC: I’m Pre-Sales Manager for Asia so I look for growth opportunities in Asia as well as being a consultant about anything gaming – both internally at IGT and for any customers if they require any help. I try and give them advice on systems, tables or slots. I am also the Account Manager for LVS in Macau. We’ve got a fantastic team of people who all take their jobs seriously but don’t take themselves too seriously. We have a lot of laughs. We get the job done but we enjoy it while we’re doing it which makes for a great environment to work in.
IAG: Finally Mick, what do you like to do in your spare time?
MC: I like to play golf. I was a member at Caesars for many years but they closed off the membership just recently. I also have a Suzuki 800cc Intruder and I like to ride that. But I have 5-year-old twins – one boy and one girl – and they keep me very busy. I like to spend time with them and they give me a lot more than I give them. One thing about having young children in later life is how much I regret that I didn’t spend enough time with the three children I have from a previous marriage. They lived with me up until they left school but when I was working at Crown and other places like that, the pressure of getting the properties up and running was a lot greater.
I was working lots of hours so I didn’t get to spend as much time with them as I’d have liked. They’re all still in Australia and I’ve got four grandchildren as well. One of the joys of IGT is that I get to put the kids to bed every night. I’m up in the morning getting them ready for school and taking them to school. That’s a pleasure I never had with my other three children.