The grief I felt when I heard of the passing of Terry Lanni was, I’m sure, a small fraction of the loss felt by his family. I’ve gotten to know Terry’s son, Sean, over the past couple of years, and I know that he loved his father dearly.
But it was grief nonetheless shared, I’m sure, by all. Everyone in the industry who knew him—and many who did not—felt affection and respect for Terry. He was a great representative of the industry and he will be sadly missed.
I first met Terry when I was hired as a dealer at Caesars Boardwalk Regency in Atlantic City in 1979. While I can’t claim to have really known him then—he was, after all, one of the leaders and I was a mere dealer—I was acknowledged and made to feel like he was truly engaged during the few opportunities I got to speak directly to him.
One of my more ardent co-workers—who not surprisingly is no longer in the industry—once tracked him down to the tennis courts, where Terry stopped his game and calmly discussed whatever issue was burning brightly at that time.
Later, as a journalist covering the industry, I did get to know him and always had the impression that my interviews were very important to him whenever we talked.
Terry always joked about how he “accidently” joined the industry when Caesars World recruited him as its CFO. He joined the company at a time its leaders, Clifford and Stuart Perlman, were denied a license in New Jersey, and eventually got forced out of the company, making people like Terry and Henry Gluck and Peter Boynton the faces of the company.
It was a fortuitous “accident” for the gaming industry, for sure. While I had long respected Terry, it wasn’t until he was appointed to the National Gambling Impact Study Commission in 1997 that his political skills became apparent to me. The commission was formed by several anti-gaming congressmen essentially to emasculate the casino industry. Terry was given a seat on the nine-member panel as a concession to the Nevada delegation, but he was largely outnumbered by those who would rubber-stamp what the anti-gambling fanatics hoped to accomplish. But along with UNITE HERE’s John Wilhelm—an equally classy and intelligent man in the rough-and-tumble world of union organizing—Terry was part of a one-two punch that kept the opposition off balance the entire life of the commission. By concentrating on the facts and presenting them with dignity and class, Terry and John—and former Nevada regulator Bill Bible—were able to help craft a credible and balanced report that is today still one of the best studies of the industry available.
Terry had an eye for talent as well. The staff he built in Atlantic City in those early days is legendary. Executives that came from the Caesars incubator at that time include Bill Weidner, Mark Juliano, Rob Goldstein, the late Steve Hyde, Gary Selesner and Audrey Oswell, just to name a few (with apologies to those I missed). And when you consider the extraordinary team he built at MGM Resorts, which is now running the company, there’s no doubt that Terry has forged a legacy in this industry that will last a long, long time.
It was during his time at MGM that Terry showed his compassion for those who might have a more difficult time reaching for the American dream that most of us have. By instituting MGM’s diversity initiative, Terry not only proved he was tuned in to the sometimes-forgotten members of our society but also that he was an astute businessman.
MGM annually spends millions on this initiative. I remember asking him how he could justify that expense. He told me that by making sure that women and minorities get jobs with his company and companies owned by those segments can do business with MGM, he was opening up new markets and appealing to new segments of the population, while, at the same time, doing what was right. That vision has proven to be one of the strengths of the company, achieving recognition and accolades from a wide spectrum of organizations.
Terry Lanni’s vision of a gaming industry that provides entertainment to its customers, jobs and careers for its employees and benefits for the communities where it is located is on its way to fruition. No, Lanni wasn’t the only one who had this vision, but he was one of the first. And he will always be remembered for making this a better industry and helping to make us all better people.