In his formative years, Blake Katsnelson, general manager of Gila River Resorts & Casinos-Santan Mountain, fondly recalls his visits to the bustling casinos of Las Vegas.
The dazzling lights, iconic soundscapes and clinking of slot machines left an undeniable impression on him. He reminisces about a time when he stood by, covertly engaging in betting activities under his grandfather’s discreet guidance. This cherished memory may have subconsciously paved the way for his eventual career path.
Over the past 15 years, Katsnelson has been an integral part of the gaming industry, commencing his journey as players club supervisor in 2008. He has continued to evolve his career at Gila River as director of marketing, and general manager at Lone Butte Casino, which eventually led him to his current role as general manager of the recently opened Santan Mountain Casino.
About 10 years into his career at Gila River, Katsnelson made a pivotal decision that altered the trajectory of his professional journey. Having primarily been immersed in the field of marketing, he transitioned to operations—a move he had not initially envisioned but came to value immensely—enabling him to gain a comprehensive understanding of all facets of the casino industry.
This transition proved especially consequential when he spearheaded the opening of Santan Mountain Casino, undoubtedly the pinnacle of his career. When discussing the new casino, his passion for the industry is evident, as he is quick to point out that none of this would have been possible without the team around him. He gives full credit to those he works with, stating that if not for them, a successful opening would not have been possible.
Achieving this level of accomplishment was no easy feat for Katsnelson, especially in an industry deeply entrenched with seasoned professionals boasting decades of experience. This competitive environment made it challenging to establish one’s reputation and gain the needed experience, a predicament with which Katsnelson was all too familiar.
However, he comes from a family of drive, a personality trait he identifies as the key to his success. From a young age, his grandfather, an immigrant who came to America with very little resources, instilled in him that if you focus and put your mind to something, you can accomplish anything. Simply put, hard work pays off, and it certainly has for Katsnelson.
Beyond the influence of his grandfather, Katsnelson acknowledges his success as a result of mentorship from Kenneth Manuel, CEO of Gila River Gaming Enterprises. Katsnelson attributes his ascent to Manuel’s exemplary leadership skills and capacity to inspire and extract the best from individuals, a skill set that Katsnelson himself has diligently cultivated over the years.
Katsnelson finds himself in a position to mentor young and emerging professionals, akin to the guidance he has received. This is a source of great pride for him, as he strives to impart not only the values instilled by his grandfather but also the qualities and insights he has developed from his own mentors.
Looking ahead, Katsnelson is committed to his role as the GM of Santan Mountain Casino. He looks forward to advancing a strong and thriving workplace environment for both himself and his team.