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Casino Helsinki

Tiina Siltanen, General Manager, Casino Helsinki chats to Peter White

Casino Helsinki General Manager Tiina Siltanen hasn’t just encountered the glass ceiling, she’s busted through it. After a six-year sojourn in the Swedish casino industry, she returned to her native Finland just in time to participate a ramping up of Casino Helsinki, including the introduction of new entertainment and Sports Bar. By her own description, Siltanen continues to grow and develop as an executive. Casino Life was fortunate to get time out of her busy schedule for this chat.

How did you start your career in Casinos and what attracted you to work in an industry that is almost a way of life?

I actually started as a roulette dealer more than 20 years ago. I had an interest in games and customer service, so casino felt like a perfect place to work for me. It was originally meant to be a short-term summer job, but it didn’t take long to realize how much I enjoyed the gaming business and atmosphere at the casino.

Since starting I’ve worked in many different positions, from Supervisor to Gaming Manager. The last 15 years have been in management positions. The biggest personal decision was to move to Sweden after 5 years in the industry. I had six great years in Casino Cosmopol working as a Pit Boss and Poker Manager right in the middle of the poker boom. They were hectic years, but very rewarding. Poker grew at a fast pace and we built together with the poker team the structure for poker operations in Sweden’s four casinos. Everything from marketing, business case calculations and launching international poker weeks was on the agenda.

Looking back, it was definitely a risk worth taking and enabled me to take on new challenges on my return to Finland.

Image: Tiina Siltanen, General Manager, Casino Helsinki 

Helsinki Casino has evolved considerably since its opening in 1991, with technology being one of the main change drivers. Recent years have seen a big property upgrade with Slot Machines, ETGs, the addition of an impressive display screen, along with a new Sports Bar. What are the objectives of these changes?

We want to keep up with the ongoing change of customer behavior and broaden our customer database. Changes have opened doors for a new generation of casino guests who expect modern products and services. ETG’s, big brand games such as Game of Thrones and adding E-sports in our Sports Bar program are just a few things we have done to offer better services for the younger generation.

Current Casino Helsinki is a mix of modern technology and history. Our show room Fennia Salon is a historical place with protected art and design from the late 19th century. It’s a location for Show & Dinner, concerts and even for our international poker tournaments. You could say we have two different worlds inside the casino. The premises allow us to organize many different types of events.

Can you provide our readers detail on the parent company Veikkaus? Many will be more familiar with the previous organisation RAY.

Sure, I’d be happy to. Veikkaus was established in 2017 when the previous three operators merged into a single gaming company owned by the Finnish State. We operate all the gambling games that are offered in Finland, online and land based. Veikkaus has 90 slot arcades and Feel Vegas clubs, online site and one international Casino with another coming in two years.

The revenue is used for the benefit of Finnish society in its entirety. Veikkaus’ beneficiaries are active in the fields of culture, sports, science, youth work, social welfare and health, and the equine industry. The funds are distributed to the beneficiaries by the relevant ministries.

How have you managed to fit in the Financial and Business Management education and the Executive Development Program Strategic Leadership at the University of Nevada?

It requires some serious planning with the schedules and good support from the other half. I’ve also been fortunate enough to combine a large part of my studies with work which has made studying more interesting and profitable for our casino as well.

What elements of these courses have benefited you the most in your role as GM at Casino Helsinki?

The annual Executive Development Program by UNLV is an exceptional education in our industry; I can’t recommend it enough. I love how it brings together casino executives around the globe and shows all sides of our business. It is a unique opportunity to learn from world class speakers and strategize the future of gaming together with other attendees. I can assure you we were all exhausted after the 10 intensive days but were truly inspired and challenged by the EDP.

What advice would you give Women in this industry looking to move into a Management role?

Be brave and don’t hesitate to apply to a role out of your comfort zone. Make sure your executives know you are ready to take the next step and looking for a more demanding role in the company. Women have a habit of waiting longer than men before expressing their interest to move forward. We need to be a little bit more active in applying for new roles.

Image: Concert & Entertainment Venue Helsinki Casino 

The Casino sector remains very male dominated at Management and Senior Management levels. What do you think can be done to improve the situation?

We need to raise awareness and keep reminding ourselves that diversity in all forms is an asset for the casino and more importantly to our whole industry. Just like our guests are diverse, so should the management be. I’m glad that many large companies have already acted by setting goals, but it is still a long way to go.

Image:  European Dealer Champion 2018 Matti Kankainen and 4th place finisher Sami Winterhalter from Casino Helsinki

To get results in the long term, we need commitment from everybody in the executive level. Evaluating the company’s demographics and culture is the first steps. Numbers help to recognize the current situation and are hard to ignore. Education programs, scholarships, marketing standards are all part of the big picture. European Casino Association is showing a great example by lifting the subject in seminars and awarding a Gender Diversity Scholarship to EDP together with its partners. Overall, we need more men discussing the diversity in our industry not just women.

Image: Hockey player Ville Husso from St Louis Blues brought the famous Stanley Cup Thophy to the casino this summer

What aspects of your role do you find most satisfying?

GM is a complex role that enables the involvement in many layers of the gaming industry. I enjoy the challenge of strategizing for the future and developing the casino. At the same time meeting our guests and staff on the casino floor on day to day operations is rewarding as well. More importantly it keeps me up to date with their needs and preferences which are my top priorities.

Like many others I’m following closely the developments in our industry. It is interesting to see the effects of changes in regulations and customer behavior. I look forward to facing those challenges and whatever the future brings to us. scratched the surface with this and we are going to see some amazing developments in the near future.

Image: Poker Tournament Hosted at Helsinki Casino

There are updates to the AML and KYC regulations on an almost 6 monthly basis being introduced in the UK and Europe. What have been the effects for the land-based Casino Helsinki to all these new directives especially with regards to accommodating overseas visitors who like to gamble with large sums of money?

The majority of customers are getting more familiar with AML regulations and questions about the source of funds since they face the same questions in the financial sector. But not all and on a regular basis we have customers who decline to give us information needed and therefore are not allowed entry to the casino.

We are working on finding the best practices and procedures to meet the criteria with minimum damage on customer experience. The resources assigned for AML issues have increased significantly during the past years. Currently we have a responsible person on duty to handle the questions with AML and several people in the office involved with the subject. The policy for money transfers is very strict in Finland and currently limited to winnings only which of course affects the overseas visitors.

Image: Helsinki Casino Sports Bar

Should the public be better educated about gambling as clearly for most it is an enjoyable pastime?

Absolutely and not just the public, educating the players and the staff on responsible gaming policy is an investment for the future. We still face a lot of hesitation and even false accusations based on movies and old stories. We put a lot of effort on a daily basis to talk to our guests and offer them different ways to control their gaming. I hope technology will provide ever more tools for us in the near future.

I believe in continuing to build a strong image for our industry. Casinos are places where people can play safely and enjoy the environment. Operators must make sure we live up to these expectations and take care of our guests.

 Image: Team Casino Helsinki

Finally, when you are not at work, how do you relax?

Yoga is my personal favorite, it’s good for the body and mind. Since I live in cold Finland where summer is beautiful but short, I’m always looking for some sun. So, an occasional holiday somewhere warm, keeps the whole family happy and relaxed.

Casino Life would like to thank you for taking time from your busy schedule for this interview.

This interview was originally published in October 2019 in Casino Life magaizne issue 133 Volume 15.