Kel Telford walks the floor of The Star casino in Sydney like it’s his domain, as equally at home with the ‘slots’ as he is with the people who work with them, the croupiers at the gaming tables and the customers.
Telford is CIO of Echo Entertainment Group (operates The Star), the company that was formed when Tabcorp, Australia’s largest wagering and gaming company, hived off its casino business in a lengthy process that was only completed last year.
The Star began life as Star City Casino in 1985, making it the 12th legal casino to open in Australia, following the first at Wrest Point in Hobart in 1973 and, in the intervening years, one in every state of Australia except NSW. The Star is now Australia’s second largest casino after the Crown in Melbourne and, at the moment, is the only one in NSW. (There is a controversial proposal by James Packer, owner of the Crown, for a second casino in Sydney’s Barangaroo district area near the Harbour Bridge, just across Darling Harbour from The Star.)
Tabcorp was listed on the Australian Stock Exchange in 1994, and acquired the Star City hotel and casino in 1999 as part of a broadening of its portfolio beyond its traditional wagering business on racing. In 2003, the company merged with Jupiters, the owner of hotel and casino complexes in Brisbane, the Gold Coast and Townsville. In 2004, Tabcorp completed the acquisition of Tab Limited, the NSW-based wagering, media and gaming company. In the 2010-11 financial year, the company generated revenue of approximately $4.4 billion, putting it in the top 100 listed companies in Australia. Telford says the casino business represented about 40 per cent of that income.
Telford had a 25-year career with ANZ bank, looking after operations and testing, before moving across to Tabcorp in 2009 as CIO. There, he has overseen the IT aspects of the company’s casino businesses, and now he has gone through the subsequent demerger of those same businesses, a 10-month process that has resulted in a spin-off company owned by the newly-listed Echo Entertainment Group.
Beginning before the demerger and continuing as an on-going project today, The Star has gone through a major refurbishment, taking it, as Telford describes it, “from a crappy RSL-type building to an entertainment destination”. This means that he has to contend with hotel and accommodation, as well as a multipurpose events centre, on top of the casino business. The refurbishment was originally budgeted at $475 million, but recent reports put that cost at closer to a billion dollars.
Despite the rising cost of the refurbishment, Telford says that, from his point of view, the demerger itself was “probably one of the best programs of work I’ve ever been involved in — the framework around project governance and management, the amount of work that’s had to be delivered to transition, and to split apart an organisation and start a new one.”
“Most of the changes were based around our corporate systems,” Telford says. “I had to bring networks in and our Oracle ERP system is a significant part of that. As well as the casino systems, we now also have all of the corporate applications — business systems, finance, payroll, etc — which we didn’t have before.” This includes bringing previously outsourced infrastructure and operations management back into the organisation.
Even before the demerger, there were indications that changes would have to be made. “We had to put in the underlying infrastructure — Tabcorp hadn’t invested well in this. Whether it was IT, whether it was the property, whether it was other systems, we didn’t have the infrastructure that was going to support a new hotel, extra gaming floors, extra bars, etc. What we had to do from a technology side of things was to put in a whole new 10Gb network in place,” he says.
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