PURE Canadian Gaming’s Family Values

George Goldhoff taps into his lifelong passion for hospitality to expand the family-owned business into a gaming powerhouse

The PURE Canadian Gaming Calgary location's slot-machine-lined floor.

“When I was 15, I became a dishwasher at a local restaurant. I didn’t see much of the restaurant—primarily the kitchen—but I could tell it was an intense, exciting environment that was pretty far removed from how I grew up in upstate New York on a 25-acre hobby-farm. I was always working. My parents used to have big parties, and at five-years old, I had my first basic service job: serving peanuts to guests. I remember liking to make people happy; it felt rewarding, even as a little kid. Little did I know that child’s play would evolve into a rewarding career in hospitality.


How Goldhoff led the casino group’s rebrand

Figure out what works
George Goldhoff assessed PURE Canadian Gaming’s strengths and weaknesses, deciding immediately that infrastructure needed to be put in place for its finance, marketing, IT, and HR departments.

Find the right people
Hiring and recruiting for those departments was next, with Goldhoff and his team looking to hire the best and brightest who would excel in a fast-paced, entrepreneurial culture.

Have a vision
Rebranding efforts began in 2013, with Goldhoff deciding the primary focus was to be gaming based, not amenities based, as many other casinos.

Get personal
Getting to know the employees in order to build trust and improve communication was crucial to Goldhoff, in order to build a healthy company culture.

Take criticism
An employee survey was created to get feedback from employees. Feedback was taken seriously, often implementing concerns and suggestions into the company’s new policies and approach.

I worked my way up from dishwasher to cook and eventually received a culinary-arts degree from a local community college. I eventually decided it wasn’t for me and went to university, focusing on hospitality. I was really awakened to the potential of the industry. It was more than just a way to pay the bills; I was passionate about it.

My career has been all over the place in the best-possible way. I worked at Hyatt Hotels in Savannah, Georgia, in the 1980s. I moved to Lake Tahoe, California, and was speed skiing while also managing the restaurant. I worked on a merchant ship, travelling around the world while cooking for a crew of 12. I was the assistant beverage director at the Plaza Hotel in New York. I was eventually promoted to manage the Oak Room, making me the youngest manager in the restaurant’s 90-year history. I also went on to manage the legendary Rainbow Room, which I left to obtain my MBA from Columbia. Afterwards, I helped open up Bellagio when I was with Mirage Resorts, led by Steve Wynn.

I’ve learned a lot along the way: that excellent service is always the primary concern, that being genuine to staff is the only way to build honest relationships, and that a little kindness goes a long way.

When I joined PURE Canadian Gaming in 2011 as president and CEO, I knew it was exactly what I wanted to be doing with my life. It was a successful business built on a successful leader, founder Heinz Oldach. He was the company culture; he made every decision and built this hugely successful business from the ground up. When I joined, it was transitioning away from being a family-owned business and turning into a professional organization. I was thrilled to be able to help them make that transition.

Part of the challenge was that this was a huge shift the casino was undertaking, with the culture and environment of the business changing along with it. That meant employees had to operate differently, but we couldn’t just expect them to make a seamless transition without leadership and guidance. That’s like dropping them off in a valley and asking them to find the top of the mountain by themselves. If people weren’t doing a good job, it was almost always because we didn’t train them properly.

When I joined, there was no HR department or IT department. We had this amazing company, but we needed to put systems and structures in place to get us to that next level. It was a matter of taking our strengths and using them to fix our weaknesses, which was the gap in talent. We set out to hire the best and the brightest, and I believe we did.

The effort to rebrand was perhaps the most important. PURE Canadian Gaming operates four casinos: Casino Calgary, Casino Lethbridge, Casino Yellowhead, and Casino Edmonton. We didn’t want to frame ourselves as being amenity-centric; we’re all about the gaming. Reframing meant playing up not only what we did but what we did well: gaming.

You can’t just flip a switch and make the transition or rebrand or shift a culture. Our rebrand had to do more than reflect the culture we were trying to cultivate. It was a way of telling people our direction moving forward and, to a larger degree, announcing who we are as a company. When you tell people who you are, it holds you accountable to them, and I want to do right by our customers.”