Profile – Meet Saratoga’s new GM
Shawn Harris is newest addition to Black Hawk’s gaming community
By Jan Wondra
“I was the slot director in charge of all the gaming machines early in my career,” said new General Manger Shawn Harris. “I began in the industry at the Mohegan Sun, the second largest casino business in the world and helped open the first of our casinos in Pennsylvania. I grew up with them, but four years later I had the opportunity with Saratoga Casinos in New York, which is what brought us here.”
Harris, a New Englander born in Connecticut, admits that his young family loved Saratoga and that it was hard to leave a place that had given him such career opportunity.
“But the minute we arrived in Colorado, this feels like home. We’re going to be here a long, long time. My wife interned at the Olympic Training Center and loved living here. So when this came up, we said, ‘Yes’ immediately,” he said.
Harris is impressed with the gaming industry in Colorado and is quick to voice his appetite for the challenge that brought him here.
“This is the most competitive market I’ve ever seen. That’s the kind of challenge I love. The need to be on the top of your game is obvious; there is no room for error,” Harris said.
At the same time, Harris can spot the major difference between the northeast and Colorado.
“People talk about the rat race in the northeast, but frankly, as competitive as this market is, people are more welcoming. They are so nice,” said Harris. “We are here to serve our customers in the very best way and I think I fit in well here.”
He is enthusiastic about the Black Hawk market and about the many changes he’s planning for Saratoga Casino, formerly known as Fitzgerald’s.
“We’re revamping our main floor. There are enough buffets in this market. So we’re innovating; we’re bringing in the Mill City Chop House to upgrade guests
dining experience options, and shortly will begin adding a main floor bar,” said Harris. “Instead of just a service bar, we’re reconfiguring it to give our guests more space to gather and regroup. While we do that, we’ll be redrawing our entire slot floor for a better flow.”
Saratoga may not be the biggest of the Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek gaming areas, but it is the casino investing long-term in the customer experience.
“When we’re done with renovations we’ll have put $10 million in improvements into the casino, now and in the near future,” said Harris. “We wouldn’t be spending the money if we didn’t believe in this market place and that our guests here are worth it. My core value is to strive for perfection. I want my guests to have what we call a ‘peak experience.’ I’m passionate about that. Our nearly 200 employees are passionate about it. We’re not the biggest, but we take care of our guests because they are important to us.”
Harris, who clearly loves people, sees his role as not just another casino general manager.
“I want to get involved in the community. I’m excited to get to know people,” said Harris. “This is a weekend market and I understand that. I came up through the ranks and you know I won’t lose my connection to the gaming floor. Saturday nights – you know I’m here. So, if guests have a concern, they can tell me directly.”
Saratoga’s new GM is quick to admit that he already feels like he’s been here his whole life and likes the friendliness of Colorado most of all.
“I was filling my car at the gas station and a fellow notices my New York plates – got to fix that soon, by the way – and strikes up a conversation. Would that happen anywhere else?” he said.
There’s a slight sports team problem. Harris, who’s an avid golfer, is a diehard Boston Celtics fan.
“Can’t help it, I am,” he says. “Just wait, my kids are probably going to switch to all the Colorado teams. They already know the colors. That might take me a bit,” Harris said.
He appears to have the time for his sports transition.
“I hope that Black Hawk is my last stop,” said Harris. “I’m kind of loyal. I have young kids [ages 8, 4 and 2} and I don’t want to move again. This is home now.”