For Tom Pohlman, taking the reins of Golden Nugget’s most recent property was like coming home. Though he spent years honing his leadership skills in the Las Vegas casino market, the vice president and general manager at Golden Nugget Atlantic City was pleased when he got the opportunity to move back East.
“I’m originally from Long Island, so this was a natural homecoming for me to be able to come back to the East Coast,” Pohlman says.
Pohlman relocated in February 2011, the day that Landry’s Inc. announced it had acquired Trump Entertainment’s struggling Trump Marina property in Atlantic City. The acquisition was one of several expansion projects overseen by Landry’s owner Tilman Fertitta, the colorful Texas billionaire who has built his company into one of the world’s leading restaurant, hospitality and entertainment brands.
Pohlman has learned a lot from Fertitta over the five years he has worked at the Golden Nugget properties. After graduating from University of
Nevada Las Vegas, Pohlman began his gaming career in 1998 in surveillance at Tropicana Las Vegas, working his way up to director of the department by 2001. In 2005 he went to work for MTR Gaming—owners of Binion’s and Speedway Casino—as corporate director of surveillance. Pohlman made the transition into operations at MTR, becoming director of operations and eventually assistant general manager. It was then that he came to the attention of Fertitta and the corporate family at Golden Nugget. The company owned two properties in Nevada, and Pohlman was appointed general manager for Golden Nugget Laughlin.
He worked in Laughlin for three and a half years before making the move to Atlantic City. He sees a distinct similarity in the two properties.
“I think Atlantic City and Laughlin have more similar characteristics in the market than Atlantic City and Vegas do,” Pohlman says. “We only had 300 rooms in Laughlin, and in Atlantic City we only have 730. So in terms of marketing we have to go after more locals and give people reasons to come to our property while they’re in town.”
Despite a similar “boutique-style” appeal, the casinos couldn’t have been more different. Trump Marina had been floundering for years and, in the shadow of the larger Borgata and Harrah’s properties, was on the verge of bankruptcy. That all changed when Landry’s took over and began a $150 million renovation that would last over a year.
“Everything on the property has been touched, the most dramatic being the façade,” Pohlman says. “People said the old Trump Marina looked like a hospital, but now when you pull up the exterior is completely brand new.”
Pohlman is clearly proud of the renovation the Atlantic City property has undergone. The public was invited to “Watch the Transformation,” turning what could have been an intrusive construction job into a clever marketing campaign. The response by customers has been overwhelmingly positive. The upgrades were personally overseen by Fertitta, whom Pohlman maintains is an inspiring leader.
“It’s amazing that he’s got so much going on but he knows exactly what’s happening in each one of his properties and restaurants,” Pohlman says.
Despite the setbacks Atlantic City has seen in recent years, from casino competition in neighboring states to the toll of Hurricane Sandy, Pohlman remains optimistic about Atlantic City and Golden Nugget’s place in the market. With the right blend of retail, restaurants and gaming, he believes the casino will become the premier boutique-style destination in the area. The property will concentrate on entertainment in the new year, opening a nightclub and bringing in some big names to the showroom, and also offering the types of festivals and special events that appeal to a local audience.
As for how he feels about his homecoming?
“It feels great to be back,” he says. “At first I was a little worried leaving the Vegas environment, but I’m not looking back.”