At recent G2Es, a ceremony has been held to induct new members into the American Gaming Association’s Gaming Hall of Fame. At the time I’m writing this, the 2021 class has not yet been announced, but I’m certain it will contain several very qualified honorees.
I was part of the selection committee for a few years and found the process to be very transparent. But truthfully, there is always some politics that influenced the decisions. For example, in the early 1990s, Steve Wynn was inducted into the Hall. A couple of years later, his arch-enemy Donald Trump was named to the group, and Wynn returned his honor. Later, he was re-inducted when the Donald suddenly became his fast friend.
But I’ve always thought that the Hall of Fame has missed the boat by not naming two guys who had major influences on gaming. I brought up these names each year during my association with the process, but somehow it never got done.
The first one is Howard Hughes. No one has ever influenced legal gaming with more impact than Hughes. Yes, he was quite weird, segregating himself on the blacked-out top floor of the Desert Inn back in the day. But he was not the Mob, and he forced regulators to allow corporate ownership of Nevada casinos, a move that led to the ouster of most organized crime ownership of casinos, and legitimatized gaming in the investment community.
The second name was Elvis Presley. While Las Vegas always had high-profile entertainers, it wasn’t until Elvis created one of the first “residencies” at the International Hotel that the public realized that entertainment in Las Vegas could really reach the next level. Even today, you can see Elvis impersonators all over town, sometimes running into them in the local supermarkets.
Supposedly there are several reasons this hasn’t happened yet, and it has to do with brands and images that are jealously guarded by the estates of both Hughes and Presley. But if you ask me, a Gaming Hall of Fame without these two trailblazers has some big holes to fill.
There are also some other people who have had a big impact on gaming who should also be recognized, but they aren’t marquee names.
Take Roy Student, for example. Student came to Vegas in the early 1970s and played a role in creating the first casino accounting and rating systems, pioneered server-based gaming, and was one of the first to recognize the potential for non-gaming revenue in the industry. He’s forgotten more about gaming than most of us know.
Or how about Gary Platt? Talk about putting butts into seats! Platt began his gaming career in the ’60s and has worked with casino designers and executives for years to create a comfortable and exciting experience for slot and table game players, diners—and almost everywhere you can sit in a casino with his innovative seating options. His role in the changing design of the casino floor over the years cannot be underestimated.
On the tribal gaming side, don’t mistake the big role that Sheila Morago has played in the relationship between tribes and state governments. One of the first leaders of the Arizona Indian Gaming Association and now with the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association, Morago has emphasized the symbiotic role the tribes play with the states, and her influence has been felt across Indian Country.
And of course, our hearts were broken last month when we heard of the passing of Mike Meczka, one of the leading market researchers in gaming. Meczka was a powerful influence in the way casinos market to players, and his passion for his craft was well known, as well as his kind personality. Even posthumously, he should be in any gaming hall of fame.
Very few people in the industry have experience in as many gaming disciplines as does Richard Schuetz. He’s been a casino executive, working with some of the most innovative gaming executives, worked for suppliers and then turned into a thoughtful regulator when he took positions in California and Bermuda. He’s evolved into the conscience of the industry. Let’s recognize his contribution to our business.
These are just a few of the influential people who should be recognized in the Gaming Hall of Fame. But I understand the limitations and even the politics of the award, so to those of us who know someone special, take the time to tell them and others what they mean to us.