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40 UNDER 40: Investing in the Future

Niko Vittas, Vice President, Gaming Investment Banking, Bank of America Merrill Lynch

40 UNDER 40: Investing in the Future

When Niko Vittas attended the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania for his undergraduate degree in economics, his proximity to Atlantic City was, perhaps, just as integral to his career path as his studies at the prestigious school.

“I probably went to Atlantic City more than I should have during my time at Penn,” jokes Vittas. His initial visits to the area were fueled by his enjoyment of gaming.

As he continued his trips, however, he became interested in more than just playing cards. “The more I went, the more I became intrigued by the business operations, on the casino floor as well as at what went on behind the scenes.”

Upon completion of his bachelor’s degree,

Vittas’ interest in the operational side of the industry led him to join the management training program at Tropicana Resort and Casino. This program not only strengthened his passion for the gaming industry—it exposed him to a variety of additional industries with experiences that touched on the hotel, retail, dining and entertainment aspects of the casino resort.

“The management training program was truly a multi-industry experience,” comments Vittas. “I had the ability to cycle through a lot of departments, learning about everything from hotel management to player database analysis.”

Tropicana also exposed Vittas to one of his first professional mentors, the late Dennis Gomes.

“Dennis was a very impressive person. He was innovative, high-energy, and was great at building camaraderie within an organization,” explains Vittas. “On top of this, he was an integral part of the introduction of integrated resorts in Atlantic City.”

Throughout his time at Tropicana, Vittas was drawn to finance. His interest in enhancing his financial skills ultimately led him to further his formal education, completing a joint J.D.-M.B.A. program at UCLA. During his time at UCLA, Vittas had the opportunity to complete internships with two gaming companies, Las Vegas Sands Corporation and Rush Street Gaming Management. While working with Rush Street, Vittas assisted with several transactional projects.

He enjoyed the transactional work so much that he decided to pursue investment banking—first as a summer associate and then as a full-time associate for Barclays. Today, Vittas serves as a vice president in the Global Real Estate, Gaming and Lodging Investment Banking group at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

In this position, Vittas works on a broad variety of capital-raising and strategic advisory assignments for gaming industry clients including large-cap multi-national companies, regional and single-site operators, Native American casinos and equipment suppliers, among others.

“Investment banking provides the opportunity to work with a lot of different people and companies,” says Vittas. “It has allowed me to develop a broader knowledge base, and the transactional nature provides an exciting working environment.”

Vittas’ passion for the industry has also led him to pursue a teaching role with Fairleigh Dickinson University’s International School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, where he serves as an adjunct professor of casino management.

When considering the prospects for young leaders in the industry, Vittas believes the potential is great. “Gaming continues to represent a fascinating and exciting industry with a lot of great opportunities,” he says.

His advice to the emerging leaders of today relates to his own diverse gaming background.

“I think young people looking to get ahead in the industry should try to gain exposure to as many different segments of the industry as possible,” recommends Vittas. “This will serve you well… It will give you a broader perspective and will open up a variety of opportunities throughout your career.”