HomePublicationsNewsletter ArchiveNewslettersVolume 20Issue 13Interview with Rock Gaming's President and COO Mark Dunkeson

Mark Dunkeson joined Rock Gaming in October of 2013.

He has worked in the commercial gaming and hospitality industry for more than 19 years and currently oversees the company’s strategic partnerships and operational responsibilities to advance Rock Gaming’s six-facility portfolio. He comes directly from Las Vegas, where he served as senior vice president of operations for several multi-property divisions of Station Casinos LLC since 2008. Most recently, Dunkeson was the senior vice president of operations for Station Casino’s luxury brand division, where he led and operated several destination gaming properties. Mr. Dunkeson previously led and operated five core Station gaming resorts and spent five years as Station’s corporate vice president of development where he executed the strategic direction for the company’s growth and expansion.


Q: As President and COO of Rock Gaming, what would you say is the #1 skill-set that helped you achieve your position in the industry?  How did you arrive there?

A: You have to really enjoy this industry to be successful, and I do.  Being in a business that never closes, in an industry that is so dynamic and demands attention constantly requires a certain type of committed individual.  Commitment to change, the commitment to the evolution of a guest service and a guest experience based business; those are the attributes that have helped me over my career.  And just as important is the skill set of mentoring great talent.  This  applies to all industries, but it is and always will be a key driver of my success.

I arrived in Michigan last fall, by way of 20 years in Las Vegas, Nevada. I joined Rock Gaming LLC not just for the opportunity to lead a great gaming company, but more importantly to be part of a larger organization lead by Dan Gilbert.  It’s a unique experience for a person like me whom is tenured in such a distinct business as the gaming resort industry to get a chance to be part of such a unique organization with so many business interests completely different from my own experience and skill set.

Q: Based on what you have experienced over the past year, what advice can you lend to those in the midwest casino gaming industry?

A: Simple.  We better innovate and change to get ten steps ahead of the new gaming consumer.  The gaming industry has hit a barrier, common in all industries, that never has been experienced by us.  Domestically, the practice of “build it and they will come” is no longer working  as competition increases with new jurisdictions opening up across the country. What is going to differentiate the gaming experience for the new generation of gamblers?  That is the question that the entire industry should be spending 90 percent of our time on.  The gaming resort industry has reinvented itself before to deal with challenges; this is going to be different.  Enjoying a gaming experience is no longer as unique as it once was due to the expansion of casino gaming throughout the states.

Q: In your opinion, what is the general outlook on the Michigan casino gaming market?  What are the biggest challenges the market is seeing today?

A: I am cautiously bullish on the near term trends, and very positive taking a longer view.  Our economy, both nationally and locally, is still under severe pressure, and we are a discretionary business.  As far as the biggest challenges, they’re no different than what we all see throughout the Midwest.  However, in Michigan, particularly Detroit, the most significant opportunity the gaming industry has is the holistic reinvention of downtown Detroit as a daily destination for entertainment.  What is happening in downtown Detroit is amazing, it is truly a different place than it was even five years ago.  But we all have a long way to go to educate and convince a generation of people that something fantastic is happening in our city, and everyone will benefit from this urban resurgence.  We need this entire Michigan community to believe what I believe…to believe in the strong future of Detroit.

Q: Since the acquisition of Greektown Casino Hotel, are there any plans for development concerning additions, expansions or renovations?

A: More plans than we can get done!  Greektown as an area of the city, has a long history for Detroiters, and that history is one of the reasons that Dan Gilbert purchased Greektown Casino Hotel.  This property has been underinvested in for quite some time, and our commitment is to change a lot of things about this property in the coming 12 months that make the guest experience one that we can be proud of, and our guests will reward us with their patronage.  We are already making changes. The most notable is the addition of 275 new slot machines, with a lot more to come.  From new carpet to a complete overhaul of the air quality system, we are going to make a major difference to this property.  We are going to start with about $50 million worth of improvements, and go from there.

Q: What type of player are you marketing your properties towards and how are you going about accomplishing this?

A: Our guests are right down the middle, local gamblers.  We are focused on the market that want’s a personal experience, want’s to be in an environment that provides friendly service and great value, and a guest that loves and is committed to the reinvestment in our city.  The convenience of our location in Detroit makes us a favorite for not only our guests in Detroit, but the surrounding community and suburbs.  And we want to be their first choice, we want to be their obvious choice.  And we are going to do it one guest at a time showing them by action our commitment to this new chapter for Greektown Casino Hotel.

Q: What role have new technologies played in the success of Rock Gaming’s casino properties?

A: A significant one, and getting bigger everyday.  Going back to one of the earlier questions, innovation, especially through technology, is going to be a key indicator of who will be successful in these competitive markets.  Everyone offers basically the same base offerings, the same base experience.  The competition really comes down to the execution of a service culture, and the importance an organization puts on innovative growth for our guests.

Q: Do Rock Gaming’s gaming properties engage in any cross marketing with any Las Vegas Casinos?

ACertainly with our partnership with Caesars Entertainment in our properties in Ohio and Maryland we have a very strong relationship with some of the finest Las Vegas properties.  Speaking specifically for Greektown Casino Hotel in Detroit, we are exploring options right now for a relationship in Las Vegas.


If you would like to participate in future interviews please contact Mr. DeGracia online at info@michigangaming.com.



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