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Female Persuasion

The role of women in gaming industry has reached new levels of expertise and respect

Female Persuasion

The #MeToo movement has brought down high-profile men across society. From Harvey Weinstein to Charlie Rose to Kevin Spacey to Al Franken, almost every business and discipline has been hit with accusations and confirmations of atrocious behavior.

The gaming industry was not immune either. Steve Wynn, arguably the most recognizable figure in the business, was quickly forced to resign and sell all his interest in the company that he started, when multiple allegations were made.

While this behavior is reprehensible and most believe perpetrators got what they deserved, the silver lining in that cloud has been the elevation of the status of women in the industry at all levels. Wynn Resorts now has four women on its board of directors, as does MGM Resorts. The most any gaming company had as recently as early 2017 was one.

The role of women in the industry is changing as well. There are many more C-suite-level women in roles that traditionally went to men—finance, operations, food-and-beverage and more. There’s a burgeoning effort to mentor women to bring them up through the ranks and not have to experience the discrimination and abuse that the pioneer women of the industry were forced to endure.

It’s for that reason GGB takes pride in presenting the second edition of profiles of powerful women, describing their path to success and advice for those who aspire.

The profiles we offer here are proof that the women executives of today are succeeding with the same formula that once applied only to men—hard work, dedication, education and connections. These women acknowledge the help and vision that showed them the way and reach out on a daily basis to other women to assist them in their career development.

The women profiled in this issue were chosen by the board of directors of Global Gaming Women, an organization founded by the American Gaming Association and now independent, with a mission to support the development and success of women in the international gaming industry through education, mentorship and networking opportunities. For more information on Global Gaming Women, visit GlobalGamingWomen.org.

 


By the Numbers
Chelle Adams, Chief Financial Officer, Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas

As chief financial officer of the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, Chelle Adams says she gets to connect the dots within her organization, as she oversees the many facets of the company’s finance department.

“I do love that there are no typical days,” she says. “There’s always something new and challenging going on.”

Her department handles general ledger, accounts payable, accounts receivable, billing, development, payroll, revenue audit, tax and treasury and many other areas, as well as the development and implementation of accounting and financial reporting policies and procedures.

Adams joined Cosmopolitan in 2012 as chief internal auditor. She also served as vice president of finance and corporate controller, and became CFO in 2015, following the acquisition of Cosmopolitan by Blackstone Group.

“There are a lot of opportunities that are here and a lot of changes over the last several years since Blackstone purchased us,” she says. “I love that since we are the corporate office, we’re able to identify opportunities and act on those, and bring that value to the organization directly—whether it’s revenue generation or expense control or any of the efficiencies and opportunities that we’re seeing.”

While working in public accounting for several years, Adams says she was exposed to many different industries, but gravitated to gaming and hospitality. Before joining Cosmopolitan, Adams was the partner-in-charge of the hospitality and gaming industry group of public accounting firm RubinBrown in St. Louis.

Adams, who grew up in Oklahoma, received a bachelor of science in accounting at Truman State University in Missouri and is a certified public accountant. She credits her success in the gaming industry with being “blessed” with mentors along the way.

“I think the biggest thing that I’ve learned is they’ve helped me push outside my comfort zone,” she says. “That’s why I believe I am where I am today. They’ve been key as far as my growth and development from the standpoint of having somebody to talk to who understands the challenges and being able to bounce ideas off of.”

Serving others is important to Adams. She is on the executive board of Safe Nest, the largest nonprofit in Nevada dedicated to domestic violence issues. Mentoring others is one of the parts of her job as CFO that she loves most.

“I’ve been a mentor to mentees outside of finance, which has been fascinating for me because I get to learn also about some of the challenges that they have, whether it’s in table games or within the slot department,” Adams says.

There are many opportunities in the gaming industry, she says, but success depends on being curious, constantly learning, asking questions and building relationships.

“It’s just a matter of understanding what those opportunities are, finding out about them and putting yourself out there,” Adams says. Erica Sweeney

 

 


Skill Diversity
Felicia Gassen, Association Director, Global Gaming Women

Felicia Gassen says her entry into the gaming industry happened “tangentially.”

Originally from San Francisco, Gassen moved to Las Vegas in 1999. “I felt like it was the Wild West where gaming was everything,” she says, adding that it took some time for her to fully embrace the industry.

Now, as association director of Global Gaming Women, a role she took over in December 2017, she seems to have found her niche.

Gassen says she enjoys helping carry out GGW’s mission to provide mentoring, education and networking to women in the industry through a variety of programs. Most women in gaming, from those working in the casino cage to the front line to the senior level, don’t usually get a roadmap for their roles or how to advance their careers—that’s where the nonprofit GGW comes in.

“I get a front-row seat to the inner workings of the gaming industry,” she says. “I get to hear about how women succeeded, how they made their presence known. And, I get to be mentored, as well, by my board of directors. I’m so very fortunate.”

Gassen began her career in the field of science. After studying integrative biology and entomology at the University of California, Berkeley, she worked in research and grant management at the University of California, San Francisco.

“That’s where I knew that I liked working in the nonprofit sphere,” she says. “I like bringing people together, and that’s where I excelled.”

She worked in public relations while living in Oregon and went back to school, earning a bachelor of fine arts from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Gassen worked in marketing, advertising and brand development before joining GGW.

“I’ve got this kind of bizarre skill set, but it’s a perfect skill set for this particular job (at GGW),” she says. “Bringing together, facilitating, understanding the different kinds of roles that people may play—it’s really like the perfect storm of skills. That’s how I got here. It’s kind of like alchemy. I mix everything all together, and it works.”

Outside of supporting women in gaming, Gassen is passionate about the arts. She says her grandfather got her interested in photography at a young age, and so she supports a program at Marjorie Barrick Museum at UNLV that brings public school students into the museum.

When it comes to success in the gaming industry or any other endeavor, Gassen urges women to listen to themselves, ask for what they want and believe in themselves.

“We just want to help women in the gaming industry around the world develop professionally,” she explains. “That’s really what GGW’s mission is, and I support that mission wholeheartedly.” Erica Sweeney

 


She’s Got Game
Tina Kilmer, Vice President, Product Compliance, Scientific Games

It’s Tina Kilmer’s business to stay ahead of the game.

As vice president of product compliance for Scientific Games, Kilmer leads a 37-person international team to ensure that the company’s products and systems pass muster with regulators in jurisdictions around the world.

A former executive engineer and project manager for Dow Chemical and Argonne National Laboratory, Kilmer moved from the Midwest to Las Vegas in 1999, hoping the climate would help ease her son’s respiratory problems. Then, “fate intervened.” A friend who worked at Bally Technologies told her about a job there. That was the start of a 20-year gaming career.

Kilmer and her team oversee systems and products from the early concept stage through development. She describes her leadership style as supportive, collaborative, yet “tenacious.”

“A good leader listens and empowers individuals to do their best, encouraging everyone to make decisions, trust their instincts and expand outside their comfort zones. That’s the way we grow.”

She extends that generosity to the industry and community at large. As a founding member of Global Gaming Women, “I strive to embody its mission to support, inspire, and influence the development of women in the gaming industry,” Kilmer says. “Helping future leaders navigate their careers and passions is important for me individually; I think it’s our duty.”

She also supports multiple philanthropic efforts including Dress for Success of Southern Nevada, the Shade Tree women’s shelter in Las Vegas, Noah’s Animal House, St. Jude’s Ranch for Children in Boulder City and community food banks.

In 2016, when Kilmer received the Patty Becker Pay It Forward Award, Scientific Games executive Derik Mooberry hailed her as “a dynamic and treasured asset of our team” and “a powerful advocate for our industry, women in technology, and the community.”

What does Kilmer foresee for the industry in general and Scientific Games in particular?

“As games evolve, we expect to see convergence on and off the floor with integrated digital solutions and systems that make it possible for players to play anywhere, any time, and even in real time,” she says. “Whether we’re developing land-based games, mobile digital games or new sports opportunities, our goal remains the same: to develop innovative and engaging games players love.”

With a ringside seat “at the forefront of cutting-edge technology and innovation,” she says Scientific Games is “about what’s new and what’s next in the gaming industry. We’re very focused on providing cardless and cashless solutions powered by iVIEW 4, enhancing our digital offerings, and reimagining the casino of the future. Very importantly, we’re excited to bring OpenBet to help our customers capture the once-in-a-lifetime sports betting opportunity in the United States. It’s a very exciting time for us.”

To industry up-and-comers who would follow in her path, she offers this advice: “Follow your passion. Trust your intuition. Inspire and be inspired. And learn and share willingly.” Marjorie Preston

 


No Place like Home
Katie Lever, Chief Legal Counsel, The Drew Las Vegas

From her Las Vegas home, Katie Lever can see a new resort complex going up on the Strip’s north end.

Rising at the site of the former Fontainebleau, which foundered during the recession, the Drew Las Vegas is symbolic of the city’s dogged resilience and remarkable turnaround. It won’t open until late 2020, but Lever, the property’s chief legal counsel, is already preparing to celebrate.

“I lived in Las Vegas for 18 years and spent the entirety of it in the shadow of that property,” she says. “I’ve always wanted to see it come to fruition.”

Lever was serving as general counsel and executive vice president at Baha Mar in Nassau when she was recruited by Drew CEO John Unwin. She calls it “the perfect opportunity to be a part of a project that’s so important for the community.”

A Vancouver native, Lever came to Vegas in 2001, joining the law firm Brownstein Farber Hyatt Schreck. “I was lucky to end up on Frank Schreck’s doorstep—there was no better doorstep to fall through. I fell into the industry, then fell in love with it.”

She anticipated staying a year, tops. “Then at some point, something inextricably changed. A switch got flipped, and Vegas was home.”

From there, she sped through the ranks, becoming EVP and general counsel for Global Cash Access (and helping bring that product to an emerging jurisdiction called Macau). A “deal junkie at heart,” she has the bona fides to prove it. In 2013, Lever oversaw the $1.3 billion acquisition of SHFL Entertainment by Bally Technologies, and a year later presided over the legal team for the $5.3 billion acquisition of Bally by Scientific Games. Along the way, she helped build greater protections around SHFL’s intellectual property portfolio, “creating some new laws around that and some new business opportunities in the online space.”

She went on to open Baha Mar in Nassau, but seized the opportunity to return home. Lever is now steeping herself in the business of the Drew, and getting to know her associates “from top to bottom.”

“To be a good in-house practitioner, you have to know your business, and that takes being engaged with the people running it,” she notes. “You have to understand everybody’s role, whether it’s the guy on overnight shift running the surveillance department or the person in the C suite sitting at the very top of the food chain. That requires that you get out and talk to people.”

Asked what she considers the top leadership trait, Lever doesn’t hesitate. “It may sound funny, but for me it’s a willingness to be the first one in the room to put up your hand and say, ‘I have no idea what we’re talking about right now.’ That can take courage, but it’s impossible for one person to know it all. I consider myself a lifelong learner.”

It’s “an exciting time for Las Vegas,” she says, with an abundance of attractions—the new Smith Center, new sports teams and more—beyond and in addition to the city’s fabled casinos. And then there’s the Drew, which will offer almost 4,000 rooms and more than 500,000 square feet of meeting and convention space plus gaming, nightlife, retail and dining. The soaring mirror-clad complex will feature the Strip’s first JW Marriott, with the potential to tap into 100 million Marriott Rewards members.

“I totally beat the drum for Las Vegas, and this is going to be an enormous benefit,” she says. “I can’t wait for that.” Marjorie Preston

 


The 360-Degree View
Helen MacMillan, Founder and Principal, All-In Gaming & Hospitality Advisory Group Inc.

In 2015, when Helen MacMillan started a consulting group for the gaming industry, she established three rules:

No. 1. Operate lean. “My business includes an employee of one—me. But the group itself includes 12 advisers, all experts in their fields, who are subcontracted by me. So the overhead isn’t passed on to the client.”

No. 2. The report is just a launch pad. “We have to take the report and make it actionable. For clients, that’s where the value is.”

No. 3. Live up to the company name—All-In—with immersion in the business at hand. “Ninety-nine percent of the time when I’ve worked with consultants, they were talking about my business and sitting in New York. Being on-site, being there, is very important.”

A Nova Scotia native, MacMillan got into gaming through marketing and advertising, and eventually moved in-house at a Caesars Entertainment casino, later acquired by the Great Canadian Gaming Corp. Rising through the ranks, she ultimately oversaw strategic and tactical marketing for 14 casinos across the country.

Though the jurisdictions varied, one thing was constant (and sometimes undervalued): the link between the customer experience and the bottom line. MacMillan kept it in mind when she became regional vice president and general manager of Casino Nova Scotia.

“We did some programs I’m very proud of, nice legacy stuff like creating a tight relationship with the LGBTQ community and a really solid relationship with the business community,” she says. “It can take a few years to see results from a business standpoint, but when you have a vision and your different stakeholders let you take a gamble, if you will, that’s very rewarding.”

Along the way, “out of necessity,” she founded Women of Canadian Gaming as a resource and forum for women in the industry, “because there weren’t always a lot of women in boardrooms.” She then joined Global Gaming Women, “to connect all the dots.”

With an advisory panel that includes experts in compliance, customer relations, business analytics, Asian player development and more, All-In has diagnosed and prescribed solutions for everything from thorny government relations to tired slot floors to lackluster F&B lineups. Bringing in a new, younger customer base is “an industry-wide issue,” says MacMillan. Again, being there, face-to-face with operators, guests and front-line employees, is the only way she works.

Three years in, MacMillan’s group is still Canadian-focused, but scoping out international opportunities “to see if we can assist with some of our expertise in countries and states that are expanding gaming and looking at the Canadian model. The great example is MGM, which recently purchased a responsible gambling program from one of the provinces in Canada. So we’re not there yet, but the outreach is happening.”

She’s also come up with a few more rules: “Do good work. Work with good people. And always over-deliver.” Marjorie Preston

 


All in a Day’s Work
Ann Simmons Nicholson, Founder and President, the Simmons Group

Ask me for the time,” says Ann Simmons Nicholson, “and I’ll tell you how to build a watch.”

That ability—to take apart, overhaul and reconstruct complex parts so they run like clockwork—has made Nicholson a leader in the fields of human resources and talent management.

The founder and president of the Simmons Group has been called upon to oversee HR for businesses as they open, close, expand and consolidate. In the case of mergers and acquisitions, she’s helped to integrate clashing cultures so they mesh. She’s consulted on staffing from hire to retire. Her client roster includes Konami, Aristocrat, Scientific Games, MGM, Caesars, Station Casinos and numerous tribal gaming operations.

Everything about the workplace is in a state of flux, she says: the ways people work, the places they work, the tools they use. The old rules no longer apply. Younger employees in particular have different career expectations and are less tolerant of hierarchies. Navigating this shifting landscape is easier, says Nicholson, for those who “focus on relationships. The rest will take care of itself.”

Her success in HR comes from a strong business background. In her 20s, working for a fast food chain and a convenience store chain, she was responsible for just about everything: operations, management, marketing, training. She learned the alphabets—IPO, KPI, and especially P&L—but given the choice, decided to work on the people side. In the 1990s, Nicholson joined Grand Casinos as a director of training and helped open four properties in three years. She was living in Kinder, Louisiana when the company bought the Stratosphere in Las Vegas.

“I worked New Year’s Eve night in Kinder until 2 a.m.,” Nicholson recalls, “then flew to Las Vegas in time to watch New Year’s Day football.”

She founded her own company in 2000, and has watched the employment scene change almost beyond recognition. With low unemployment, she notes, “everybody who wants to or can work has a job.” That makes it a buyer’s market, in a sense: millennials can move from job to job until they find what they need. Part of what they need is cutting-edge technologies and ongoing recognition. Other personal currencies may include flex time or a cooler job title, and more money is great, too. For companies that don’t adapt, Nicholson cites the magazine Fast Company: “Those companies won’t exist in five years.”

“I never assume that what I knew yesterday will apply today,” she says. “We’re no longer a manufacturing economy; we’re a service economy, and people are our primary resource. It keeps coming back to people, underscored by a solid understanding of key performance indicators and the ability to read the dashboards.”

One example sums it up. Nicholson recalls a young employee who had what, to him, seemed like a huge problem.

“He was clearly in the creative department, dressed in flip-flops with purple hair. The CEO walked by and this individual, looking very distressed, said, ‘Yo, dude, we’re out of Monster in the vending machine. Your picture is on the wall; can you do something?’”

The CEO didn’t hop to it, but he did direct the employee to someone who would. Welcome to the new workplace. For a guided tour, see Ann Simmons Nicholson. Marjorie Preston

 


Breaking New Ground
Karla Perez, Vice President of Gaming, Sysco

Twice in her career, working in sales for two major corporations, Karla Perez has been called upon to launch dedicated gaming segments. At uniform giant Cintas, Perez says she was “a guinea pig in casino-land” under then-president Bill Goetz.

“I had accounts in hospitality, hospitals and casinos, but I always gravitated toward casinos because they’re so much fun,” she says. “So they tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘Do you want to focus on a gaming portfolio?’ I wasn’t sure I was ready for the challenge, and I was a little scared at first. But I said yes, and it’s the best thing that could have happened to me.”

When Goetz migrated to international food company Sysco, he recruited her to follow, once again to develop a gaming portfolio. “When I came on board,” says Perez, “it was just me. Now I have three people directly reporting to me, and we’re actively looking to hire more. So when I talk about a startup, we’re definitely starting from the ground up. But we’re growing.”

Based in Las Vegas, Perez manages tribal and commercial gaming from East Coast to West, with some forays into international markets. As the 54th largest company in the U.S. with 74 operating companies, “there is probably not a casino we don’t support today in some fashion,” says Perez. “Our reach in the U.S. and our ability to cover every state and every major city is unparalleled. And we all work hand in hand.”

An Okie by birth, Perez grew up “one of the few Hispanics” in the Sooner State, and “loved it, living among real people with great sincerity. I grew up with those values.” She was the first on her father’s side to earn a college degree—majoring in both marketing and international business—and envisioned herself traveling the world. Having a family clipped her wings somewhat. “I realized it was maybe not the best things for me to travel so much. So I concentrated on the marketing side.” But she still is “on a plane all the time,” having visited 46 states and Puerto Rico.

Asked for the secret to her success, she replies, “I firmly believe in surrounding myself with the right people, people with the skills and expertise I don’t have. The team I’ve hired is incredible, and we get great support from leadership. It starts with that investment from our CEO, Tom Bene, and senior executives, including my boss Roger Smith. All of them support me and believe in our initiatives.”

She passes that kind of support down the line. “I believe wholeheartedly that it’s our responsibility to give back and help guide and mentor, to help younger generations move ahead faster and smarter, and land in the positions they deserve.”

She lives by two creeds: “One is be humble. Know that no one is better or worse than you. Two, have a strong work ethic. There’s

really no such a thing as an 8-to-5 job; sometimes you just have to get things done.

“If you have that humility and work ethic, you’ll be successful. Also, don’t be shy. Reach out to mentors. Ask questions. Have an insatiable quest for knowledge.”

A resident of Phoenix, Perez says she could not take care of business at Sysco without the help of husband Victor Larragoite, who has assumed a greater role on the home front with kids Konor, Madison and Bennett. And when she’s not on the job, one of her favorite pastimes is to play “Call of Duty” with the kids.

“Is it mindless? Absolutely,” she says. “But it brings out the competitor in me. I just love a good challenge.” Marjorie Preston

 


Hard Rock’s Got Talent
Meaghan Ryan, Vice President of Global Talent and Team Member Relations, Seminole Hard Rock Support Services

Meaghan Ryan always wanted to work in hospitality, but when she found her way to the gaming industry, she says it “just gets into your blood.”

“Working for casinos, it just added a whole other element where there’s honestly never a dull moment,” says Ryan, vice president of global talent and team member relations for Seminole Hard Rock Support Services.

“I’ve learned so much, and I’ve met some amazing people, and I truly feel like you get five years of experience in one year of working for a casino, just because there’s so many different aspects to it.”

In her role, Ryan handles recruitment and employee relations for the organization. In her four years with the company, she says no two days are ever the same, but she likes that it keeps her on her toes.

“I love my job because I feel like I have the ability to change people’s lives and help people personally and professionally,” she says.

A native of Orlando, Florida, Ryan received a bachelor’s degree in human resources from Florida State University. While working for a timeshare company, she was transferred to Las Vegas and later joined Caesars Entertainment. She served on the talent acquisition team at the corporate office, and then as human resources manager for Harrah’s New Orleans. Ryan also helped recruit and hire 1,700 employees for the opening of Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati (now, the Jack Cincinnati Casino) and was later named vice president of HR for the property.

“I never would have gotten here if I didn’t have people that believed in me and supported me and helped me become a better person and a better leader,” Ryan says—and, she takes any opportunity she can to pay it forward.

Ryan was part of the team that launched Women of Seminole Gaming, a networking, mentorship and educational program for women in the organization. She is also co-chair of the education committee for Global Gaming Women and serves on the board of Junior Achievement of South Florida.

“I think the funny thing about gaming and casinos is that a lot of people think it’s such a large industry, and there’s just so many options, but if you talk to anybody that’s been in gaming for a while, you realize that you’re really only one degree separated from anybody in the industry,” she says.

Ryan urges anyone entering the HR field in gaming to remember that their mission is to help people do their jobs well so they can provide a service to guests. She also encourages newcomers to step out of their comfort zones whenever possible, ask for advice, find a mentor, and, most of all, have fun.

“I think that’s what sometimes people forget,” Ryan says. “We’re so busy caught up in the day-to-day that we forget to have fun ourselves. We forget to look around and realize what great experience we’re getting while we’re at it.” Erica Sweeney

 


‘The Way, Not the Wall’
Martha Sabol, Co-chair, Gaming Practice, Greenberg Traurig LLP

Martha Sabol’s career didn’t follow a predictable, point A-to-point-B course. But she has no doubt that the more circuitous route led her to the right destination.

The Concord, New Hampshire native had achieved notable success in management and sales at both Aramark and ServiceMaster when she jumped track to enroll in Loyola University Chicago School of Law. What others might view as an abrupt transition, Sabol calls “a natural next step in my business career. I always enjoyed the legal aspects of contract negotiations and using the law to help advance business ventures.”

She first “fell into” gaming as assistant general counsel and then general counsel for Hyatt Gaming. “I came to know the entire business and the unique intricacies of the gaming industry in the U.S. as well as internationally.”

She had one complaint, and it sparked a lightbulb moment: “I was frustrated by the fact that we were required to work with different law firms every time we entered a new jurisdiction. I thought working with one international law firm with a global gaming practice would be the best way to serve clients.”

In 2007, when she joined Greenberg Traurig, “that was the vision I shared, and 11-plus years later, here we are. We’ve built a global gaming practice that can serve all of the legal needs of our gaming clients.” Sabol is now partner and co-chair of the firm’s gaming practice.

Miami-based GT has some 2,000 lawyers in 38 offices around the world, all with an entrepreneurial bent, Sabol says. That means she can tap legal experts in many disciplines and multiple jurisdictions at almost a moment’s notice. “We invariably have talented lawyers on the ground who are studying what’s happening in government and are able to advise on new expansion opportunities or initiatives,” she says. “In an industry as competitive as ours, clients demand that we’re not only informed about new developments but that we have the foresight to advise them on trends and best practices as the landscape is shifting. Our team approach works well to support the global nature of the practice.”

Asked what she enjoys most about her work, Sabol says, “Every day is a new adventure. My clients have become my friends, so I get to work with friends—to help them solve problems and to plan and execute their next ventures.”

Her motto in life and work is, “Be the ‘grease,’ meaning, be the way and not the wall. It’s our job to figure out how to get things done. We need to be creative while following the strict regulatory guidelines in place in the gaming industry.”

Looking back, Sabol says, she always envisioned herself in the business arena in a dynamic, entrepreneurial role.

“Perhaps I didn’t take as straight a path as others may have taken,” she says, “but my aspirations have come true.” —Marjorie Preston

 


The Turning Point
Ellen Whittemore, Executive Vice President and General Counsel, Wynn Resorts

It’s been a turbulent year for Wynn Resorts. In February, gaming legend and company founder Steve Wynn resigned amid allegations of sexual misconduct. He was followed by several longstanding board members, and one of the company’s key executives, Kim Sinatra.

Enter Ellen Whittemore, who replaced Sinatra as general counsel and also assumed the role of executive vice president. With 30 years in the industry, most recently with Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, Whittemore believes she was tapped for the role by CEO Matt Maddox because of her history as a gaming regulatory lawyer.

“Both Matt and Kim, who encouraged me to consider the position, appreciated that my approach to the practice of gaming law is not adversarial and that it is a true partnership with gaming regulators,” she says. At this company, at this time, that stance could not be more vital.

Whittemore applauds the addition of three more women—Dee Dee Myers, Betsy Atkins and Wendy Webb—to the board of directors, but notes that Wynn is already “first in class for the number of women at the top of the organization. Certainly my appointment shows that commitment, and the company has established additional training programs that help women to excel in their careers. I’m not coming into this situation to make changes in that regard, but to support already-established projects and policies.”

A native of northern Nevada, Whittemore calls herself “a gaming lawyer by accident.” In 1986, working for then-Attorney General Brian McKay, she was appointed a deputy AG in the gaming division, and soon was involved in litigation regarding the landmark Stardust investigation, which dealt a decisive blow against mob infiltration in casinos. She was part of probes into alleged rigged slot payouts and cheating schemes in casinos, and was involved in proceedings to put people on the list of excluded persons, colloquially known as the “Black Book.”

Eventually, she left to spend more time with her growing family. But her retirement was short-lived. Soon Whittemore was recruited to join Lionel Sawyer & Collins, run by former Nevada Governor Grant Sawyer and Bob Faiss, “one of the deans of the gaming bar.”

At that point, she exercised some hard-won influence, and declined to take the job unless she could work a flexible schedule (an unusual perk at the time). “I wouldn’t have been allowed to do that,” Whittemore observes, “if I hadn’t had that expertise in gaming law.”

During her 30-year career, she served as MGM’s gaming regulatory attorney, working with giants of the business like Kirk Kerkorian and Terry Lanni. That experience, she says, will be an advantage as she moves inside.

Needless to add, Whittemore joins Wynn Resorts at a pivotal moment, as the firm deals with the fallout from the scandal, works to complete its multibillion-dollar Massachusetts resort, works to maintain its pre-eminent position in Macau, and considers vying for one of the first integrated resort licenses in Japan. The new executive hopes to be “in the thick of it all.”

“I’m looking forward to working with the legal team at Wynn Resorts and at the properties, and with exceptional executives like (CEO and President) Matt Maddox and (CFO and Treasurer) Craig Billings,” Whittemore says. “I hope to learn from them and hopefully be impactful with my own expertise. That’s my goal—short-term and long-term.”

In spite of the tumult, she says, “it’s an exciting time to join the Wynn Resorts family. The company has taken extraordinary steps to ensure the confidence of employees and regulators. I look forward to assisting in that effort, turning the page on a new chapter and seeing what additional great projects we can create for the benefit of the employees and stakeholders.

“I’m quite excited for the opportunity.” —Marjorie Preston