Where the chips fall: The new man in charge at Four Winds Casino Resort

Frank Freedman, who serves as Four Winds Casino Resort's chief operating officer, stands in front of the New Buffalo casino's front lobby. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

Frank Freedman, who serves as Four Winds Casino Resort’s chief operating officer, stands in front of the New Buffalo casino’s front lobby. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

NEW BUFFALO — Frank Freedman is aware of just about everything there is to know about the Four Winds Casino Resort in New Buffalo.

The casino is equipped with a 130,000-square-foot gaming floor, about 3,000 slot machines, 415 hotel rooms and is home to more than 2,200 employees.

These are just a few of the tidbits the Philadelphia native thinks about on a daily basis since becoming the new chief operating officer at Four Winds in March.

A glance at Freedman in his black suit and slicked back hair, one is reminded of a less-sinister version of Robert DeNiro in the movie “Casino.” Sitting inside the Copper Rock Steakhouse, Freedman is professional and meticulous in his proceedings from the way he talks to the way he repeatedly straightens the silverware at the table.

The man is soft spoken with a command of his words. Occasionally he lets his Philly accent take over in conversation.

As a young man early in his career, Freedman started in the food and beverage industry. He has been a bus boy, waiter and maitre d’ until more opportunity came his way.

He went to Rutgers University to become an accountant. With degrees in accounting and business administration, it was the latter that came through for his career.

“I thought I was going to be a businessman and run an accounting firm,” he said. “I’ve always worked in restaurants as a kid. The nature of entertaining people was very appealing to me.”

Amid his senior year at Rutgers, he noticed a managerial position was open for a New Jersey restaurant on the university’s job placement board. Since it was his last semester in college, Freedman told himself he would take the job to see if he liked it. If he didn’t, he would look into something in accounting.

Low and behold they hired him.

“I loved it and never worked a day in (the accounting) field,” Freedman said. “Once I got involved with it and got a taste of management, I could envision myself running a large facility.”

Managing a casino

The enjoyment of the entertainment aspect carried over into fine dining at the casino. Upon moving to Indiana, he became the assistant general manager for the New Buffalo casino.

As assistant general manager, Freedman wore two other hats by serving as the general manager at the Dowagiac and Hartford casinos when they opened. He spent a quarter of his time at those two satellite locations.

“From the outside looking in, everyone seems to think (the casino life) is glamorous,” Freedman said. “It is glamorous from the respect that it is exciting. Our main product is gaming, but why our guests return is all of the interactions they have with our staff. The X factors are employees and the guest services. That’s where I come in.”

It wasn’t always positive experiences for Freedman. Before he found Four Winds, Freedman worked for The Trump Organization, which as a company went through three bankruptcies and changed a lot at the management level.

He said at times, Trump was departmentalized. He wanted to make sure that was not the case at Four Winds.

He began incentive programs for the employees to create a festive atmosphere. With one of the various vice presidents in operations, Freedman often sits down and has lunch with employees.

“Drop your name in a box, we’ll sit in the steakhouse here and have a private luncheon,” he said. “We’ll talk for two or three hours about their area and find out how we can help. It lets all the employees know they are part of the solution.”

Freedman does these things because he learned it from his family, which was involved in the food business in Philly.

He and his wife owned a restaurant for 10 years, which is where Freedman furthered his education in entertainment. He cooked there, while doing casino work in the evenings.

Freedman is excited about making people happy and entertaining them with concert performances like Frank Sinatra Jr. to perfecting the menu at the casino’s eatery.

His plans as chief operating officer are to protect the casino’s brand and find out where it is heading in the next decade.

“As a kid, my father always asked me if I was going to get a regular job,” Freedman said laughing. “He stopped asking me after a while. I’m here to stay.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@thehp.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on July 30, 2015)

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