A Life Well Lived

On not crapping out in 25 years

According to the in-flight map, I am about 650 miles southeast of Greenland. This is my fifth overseas trip this year, and I am guessing I will make two more before I leave at the end of the month, when I will formally retire from the Innovation Group, the gaming consulting company I started almost 25 years ago.

Dinner was served two hours ago, and I think I have seen almost every movie available. With the quiet and the lights out, I have had time to process the concept of my experiences and upcoming life change.

After almost a quarter of a century being involved in really all aspects of the gaming industry, I realize I have spent more than 4,000 hours in airplanes, flying over 2 million miles, visiting 68 countries on six continents while personally participating in almost 2,500 gaming-related projects. Not bad for a kid from Brooklyn.

Over the course of these activities, working with some of the most creative and enthusiastic colleagues from all sectors of the industry—company execs, investment bankers and analysts, architects and planners, government officials and gaming regulators, my competitors, and, most importantly, my partners and company colleagues—I, at times, felt like a somewhat low-key Indiana Jones having unrivaled adventures.

As part of the research and site visit activities I did, as well as passing social hours with the people I worked with on projects, I had the opportunity to swelter in a ghost town on an abandoned air force base in the Philippines, fish the boundary waters in Minnesota, celebrate a Jewish holiday in Marrakesh, Morocco, dine on a 13-course frog-centric banquet in China, ride the roller coaster on the Stratosphere while the building was under construction, ski in a blizzard in Lake Tahoe, watch the Buddhist monks do their daily alms walk in Laos, take the second flight from Israel to Jordan as the only passenger on the plane with four security guards, two from each country, physically be removed from a casino in Nicaragua, and visit the shtetl where my grandmother grew up in Latvia, as well as innumerable other big and small adventures I will never forget.

Life has not been boring.

The gaming industry, at least in my experience, has been a magnet to famous and creative people from all walks of life. I have had the opportunity to work with A-list movie stars, celebrity chefs, prime ministers, hall-of-fame athletes from four sports and three team owners, world-renowned entrepreneurs, rock stars and rap impresarios, governors and mayors, Asian tycoons and tribal chiefs, the King of the Delta Blues, the executor of the Elvis Presley estate, an alligator wrestler, 31 billionaires and the owner of the oldest bar in New Orleans, and not the least of gaming company CEOs. Every one of them was fascinated by our industry, its nuances and the excitement it generates.

As interesting as the travel, adventures and famous—perhaps infamous—people, the best part of my professional life has been watching the gaming industry evolve, as well as really getting to learn from and know outstanding people in the myriad aspects of what we do.

Personally, I am strongly looking forward to beginning the next phase of my professional life. Hopefully, it will not require quite as many miles or hours of work. Over the course of the last 25 years, I have often reinvented myself, and came into the gaming industry doing traffic and urban studies. With some awesome partners and mentors, we were able to build what I believe was a cutting-edge, well-respected and broad-based consulting firm. With superstar partners, we added Innovation Capital, a mid-market investment bank that developed a meaningful place in the financial sector of the gaming and leisure industry.

Subsequently, with another industry superstar, we formed Innovation Project Development, our project and construction management arm. Individually, I had the opportunity to participate in the ownership and development of three casinos—one each in Louisiana, Mississippi and Las Vegas—a route operation throughout Louisiana, and a full-service, 300-room hotel in New Orleans.

As I have gotten older, I have found my heart lies here, in the development and ownership of gaming and leisure facilities and businesses, and it is in this area I see myself going forward, albeit at a less intense pace, through a refocusing of our Innovation Project Development work. I look forward to spending some quiet time with my wife, Lee, the most amazing person I know, to spoiling my 9-month-old grandson Zeph, and to skiing 50 days a year.

The Innovation Group, I am certain, will continue to be at the forefront of creative thinking for leaders of the gaming industry as it evolves and grows. It will take the individuals like my remaining partners and colleagues—led by my very long-term friend who has been with me since the beginning, Michael Soll—to take gaming to its next step. I look forward to watching them grow.

Finally, I would first like to thank my son David for giving me the awesome opportunity to work, travel and share good times together. Then, I’d sincerely like to thank all of you for giving me more than two decades of friendship, advice and opportunity. You pushed me, whether you were a client or a competitor, to work harder and smarter, and to learn to respect the power and benefits of the industry we’ve built together.

However I go forward, I know it will not be as much fun or as exciting as it has been. You are truly all great, and I look forward to sharing my future with you.

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Steve Rittvo is chairman of the Innovation Group of Companies-a group of affiliates whose broad range of expertise and experience covers almost every aspect of the casino/resort economic development process: The Innovation Group to consult, Innovation Capital to finance and advise, Innovation Project Development to coordinate build-out, Innovation Marketing to position and Innovation Management to operate. Rittvo can be reached at 970-927-1400 or srittvo@theinnovationgroup.com.

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