Each year, the process to determine GGB’s 40 Under 40 attracts the best and the brightest in the casino industry. This year was no different.
Industry participants under the age of 40 can be nominated for the list by entering the Emerging Leaders program at G2E. That process begins in March or April, and is curated by several top-level executives in the industry. This year, the judges panel included Seth Schorr, chairman of 5th Street Gaming and the Downtown Grand; Kathy George, president of Firekeepers Casino Hotel in Michigan; and Julia Boguslawski, vice president of marketing for AGS.
Together, they choose five winners of the Emerging Leaders scholarship to G2E who are automatically entered into the 40 Under 40 list. The remaining 35 are chosen by the GGB Editorial Advisory Board. This year, more than 100 people were nominated for the Emerging Leaders scholarship.
The Emerging Leaders program was founded by The Innovation Group and launched in 2012. Nominees are selected and then granted access to the array of resources and connections that The Innovation Group has been building for more than 20 years.
That year, the company hosted the first Emerging Leaders networking event at Global Gaming Expo. In 2013, The Innovation Group, GGB, G2E and Reed Exhibitions joined forces to host the industry’s inaugural Emerging Leaders Scholarships program. The program has since provided scholarships to young professionals, and provided ongoing networking and career advancement opportunities that bring the Emerging Leaders closer to future senior-level and C-suite management positions.
“Emerging Leaders scholarship programs and events shine an important light on the more than 200 unique careers that the gaming industry provides, supporting the development of professionals who seek to advance their careers in the industry. The Innovation Group’s support of this effort is invaluable to the AGA and to gaming professionals across the country,” says Michael Soll, the president of the company.
2018 GGB’s 40 Under 40
- Tyler Bain, Executive Director of Relationship Marketing, Venetian and Palazzo
- Alex Bertone, Class II Specialist, Ainsworth Gaming Technologies
- Emmanuel Bezzell, Director of Gaming, RiverSpirit Casino Resort
- Ashley Burnside, Deputy Commissioner, Eastern Shawnee Gaming Commission
- Raquel Burton, Vice President of Compliance, Four Winds Casinos
- Daryl Bruce, Group Head of Electronic Table Games and Commercial, Crown Resorts Ltd.
- Adrian Cacuci, Senior Director and Treasurer, The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas
- Justin Carter, General Manager, Hollywood Casino, Resorts Casino Tunica and 1st Jackpot Casino Tunica
- Howard Copen, Corporate Director of Revenue Management, Boyd Gaming
- Melissa Cox, Vice President of Customer Relations and Marketing, Gaming Capital Group, LLC
- Mariah Dyer, Director of Human Resources, Silver Sevens Hotel & Casino – Affinity Gaming
- Kristin Francis, Manager of Community Relations, SaskGaming Corp.
- Murali Ganesan, Vice President, Systems Sales (West), Scientific Games
- Diana Golda, Senior Director of Quality Assurance, Gaming Laboratories International
- Michael J. Golub, Deputy Attorney General, New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement
- Alja Halleran, Director of Human Resources, Bellagio
- Caitlin Harte, Director of Product Marketing, Incredible Technologies
- Matthew Katz, CEO, CAMS
- Shannon Keel, General Manager, Akwesasne Mohawk Casino
- Siobhan Lane, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Gaming Operations, Aristocrat Technologies
- Amy Lawrence, Vice President of Regulatory Affairs and Associate General Counsel, AGS
- Lim Pei, Xuan Brenda Director, Casino Operations, Marina Bay Sands Pte Ltd.
- Michael Marino, Senior Vice President, Chief Experience Officer, Caesars Entertainment
- Thomas Crawfish Mathews, Assistant General Manager / Vice Chairman, Quapaw Casino / Quapaw Tribe
- Mike Mitten, Vice President of Table Games, Seneca Niagara Casino
- Ari Mizrachi, Vice President of Operations Optimization, Tangam Systems
- Kelly Myers, Licensing Manager, Cherokee Nation Gaming Commission; Chairwoman, Oklahoma Tribal Gaming Regulators Association
- Joseph Nayquonabe, CEO, Mille Lacs Corporate Ventures
- Skyelar Perkins, Cooperate Slot Director, Choctaw Casinos
- Queenette M. Pettiford, Commissioner and Chairwoman, Sycuan Gaming Commission
- Ryan Reddy, Vice President Video Lottery Terminal and Class II, International Game Technology
- Jennifer Rushton, Vice President, Business Development, UP Lottery and Gaming Pursuit
- Blake Sartini II, Senior Vice President of Distributed Gaming, Golden Entertainment Inc.
- Adam Siefert, Operations Manager, Gateway Casino Hanover
- Steve Sirianni, Vice President Slot Operations and Marketing, MGM Grand Las Vegas Hotel & Casino
- Mattias Stetz, Chief Operating Officer, Rush Street Interactive
- Martin van der Merwe, Manager, VIP Marketing Services, Carnival Corporation & PLC, Doral
- Parthena (Gina) Vorgiatzidis, Casino Marketing Analyst, Boyd Gaming
- Nicholas Weil, Head of Business Development-U.S. Lotteries, Inspired Entertainment, Inc.
- Seth Young, Director of Online Gaming, Foxwoods Resort Casino
10 Emerging Leader Profiles
Tyler Bain, Executive Director of Relationship Marketing, Venetian and Palazzo Las Vegas
A master’s degree in experimental psychology and statistics has served Tyler Bain well in his role as executive director of relationship marketing for the Venetian and the Palazzo.
“Psychological principles are at play everywhere in this industry,” Bain says. “The most obvious being that a slot machine is basically a 21st century version of a Skinner Box. Being in the industry for more than a decade, I am surprised that there are not more psychologists.”
Bain, who has spent his entire career with Las Vegas Sands, focused his energy on understanding customers’ individual motivations and desires in order to craft more relevant experiences. The statistics and experimental aspect tested every approach to marketing through an analytical framework, using such knowledge to create micro-segments of customers based on personalized experiences.
“I originally started as an analyst in direct marketing, and also did a short stint managing our gaming operations analytics group,” he says. “I also oversaw the loyalty program, partnership marketing, property marketing and email.”
Using analysis and business intelligence functions to leverage the casino database to drive profitability, Bain and his team developed a casino event and promotional strategy, seeing that programs are carried out and evaluating what worked and what didn’t.
“Additionally, I am working to find new ways to engage our guests through the use of technology as well as new gaming experiences,” he says. “I try to get people to join our loyalty program, get them to come back, provide them great experiences so they want to continue to visit in a way that is optimally profitable for the property.”
One of the things Bain loves about his job relates to the many varied elements that come into play. “I get to interact with so many different people on so many different levels that it definitely keeps every day feeling fresh.”
He’s learned from bosses who were experts in analytics, marketing and operations, just to name a few. “Being able to learn from them through direct interactions as well as watching the way they go about their daily functions has been an invaluable experience,” he says.
Bain says the industry is well-positioned for growth as long as innovation continues.
“I get very frustrated when I hear people talk about large swaths—women are interested in this type of experience, millennials don’t want this, for example,” Bain says. “Casinos have to do a better job of catering to the individual guest, based on their psychographic profile, past behavior and stated preferences. Even a single guest may come to Vegas at different points throughout the year and have different expectations.”
As for those getting into the industry, Bain has sage advice: know your customers. “Spend time with your guests,” he says. “You can’t provide great service, recommend experiences or try to get them to attend a marketing event until you truly understand them. And never be satisfied with the status quo.” —William Sokolic
Cracking the Learning Curve
Diana Golda, Senior Director of Quality Assurance, Gaming Laboratories International
Like many of us, Diana Golda did not plan to go into the gaming industry. After attending business administration school at the Stuart School of Business Administration, Golda’s first glimpse into the corporate grind was with an international distributor as an administrative assistant in New Jersey.
After parting ways with that company, she found another opportunity while interviewing for an administrative assistant position in gaming. Little did she know that “gaming” meant casinos and not game hunting. This position was with Gaming Laboratories International, LLC, and that interview was 17 years ago.
Golda was originally hired by GLI to compile certification reports, and with no industry knowledge or experience, it was a daunting task. Needless to say, she accomplished a great deal over the years, as she is now responsible for directing and overseeing quality assurance functions globally. However, this was not accomplished overnight. Her lack of industry knowledge, experience and even terminology were major hinderances to begin with. But her respect and appreciation of the organization’s culture made her eager and ambitious to do well. It was a company culture that fostered good work ethic and helped individuals strive for success.
GLI’s culture encourages the constant assessment of a team’s talent as it pertains to advancement opportunities, never shy to promote those who deserve it. Golda is the first to say that it was not all smooth sailing. Hard work and dedication were instrumental in achieving what she has. At the beginning, she vividly remembers going home each day with a splitting headache from trying to understand this industry. She worked extremely hard to flatten what is ultimately a steep learning curve in this industry, and to say it has paid off is an understatement.
As hard as Golda worked, she had help. Christine Gallo, vice president of compliance and quality assurance at GLI, was a tremendous help and leader along the way. It was Gallo who brought Golda to the compliance side of the business as a compliance analyst. This position led to her work closely with regulators, suppliers and operators to ensure product compliance. Not only did she ensure product compliance, but it required her to understand each of their needs in order to deliver consistent, accurate and customized certification reports.
Outside of the business world, Golda says her father was her true mentor. Though he worked in a completely different industry, she learned that dedication, loyalty and commitment were traits that brought success not only in business but in life. If these are applied to all facets of life, business success can also follow. She fondly recalls a time when her father took money out of his own salary to make sure his customers were happy and got what they were promised.
And though she has not had to take such measures in her own career, she says she knows that without the lessons learned from her father, she would not be where she is today. —Christopher Irwin
Michael J. Golub, Deputy Attorney General, New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement
Michael Golub joined the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement as a deputy attorney general just as online gaming came into play in the state. “This was great timing because I was on equal footing, experience-wise, with more seasoned deputy attorneys general,” he says.
Internet gaming constantly changes, with mergers, acquisitions and other issues arising almost every day.
Golub works in the Service Industry Licensing Section, which licenses and regulates all companies that seek to do business with the casinos, from non-gaming vendors to slot manufacturers and internet gaming operators.
“I primarily focus on licensing investigations,” he explains. “This involves directing investigations, reviewing complex financial documents, analyzing contracts and documents, taking sworn interviews and drafting recommendations.”
DGE Director David Rebuck and his deputy directors entrusted Golub to handle some of the biggest licensing investigations and most complex regulatory issues.
“They continue to put their faith in me and increase my responsibilities,” he says. “They have also served as sounding boards for me.”
The Wayne, New Jersey native also serves frequently as the lead attorney and contact person for outside counsel on investigations, responsible for ensuring appropriate documents get filed, issues resolved. There are special projects that require attention, like regulatory reform, briefing memos on policy issues, and Director’s Advisory Bulletins to explain DGE’s position to the public.
“A large portion of every day is spent receiving phone calls from industry personnel and trying to assist companies and attorneys in navigating the New Jersey gaming market,” says Golub, who is married to Amanda, a lawyer as well.
Every legal job a young attorney has builds for the future, he says. While at American University, Washington College of Law, he interned at the federal Department of Justice, and worked as a research assistant for Professors Ira Robbins and Paul Figley. Immediately prior to joining DGE in 2013, he served as an associate at a mid-sized insurance defense firm. For the 2011-12 court term, he worked as a law clerk for Judge Garry S. Rothstadt in New Jersey Superior Court, Passaic County.
“Rothstadt, Robbins and Figley were great teachers who forced me to think critically about legal issues and spent countless hours helping me improve my writing,” Golub says. “Working for the DOJ was an incredible opportunity to work on some of our nation’s most critical issues and provided me my first experience in government service.”
Atlantic City is on the mend, Golub says. The future will be even brighter when sports wagering is authorized nationally, he adds. “DGE has a vibrant partnership with the industry, ensuring that it has all the tools needed to achieve commercial success in an extremely competitive marketplace, while making certain operations are compliant with the requirements for integrity,” he says.
As the healing continues, the industry and its regulators will need new blood. Golub recommends those interested in this environment become an expert at something. “Whether you learn all the facts of a particular matter or master a certain policy or regulatory issue, you can make yourself invaluable to your bosses, who will come to you for information.”—William Sokolic
Amy Lawrence, Vice President, Regulatory Affairs and Associate General Counsel, AGS
As a child, Amy Lawrence spent hours with her father in the law library as he performed research geared toward putting mine safety and health administration regulations into the hands of every miner. Little did Lawrence know that even in those early years, she was being molded for her career as an adult.
After earning her accounting and philosophy degrees from Westminster College and a juris doctorate from the University of Utah Law School, Lawrence’s gaming start came in 2007 when she was hired as the director of SEC compliance at Shuffle Master. Although she hadn’t initially intended to work in the gaming industry, she soon noticed and was inspired by several common characteristics of her gaming colleagues: their passion for their work, their prowess, and their propensity for keeping the gaming industry highly ethical and disciplined.
The regulation component especially appealed to her, and as she continued her career path, Lawrence developed the goal to, instead of penalizing employees for non-compliance, empower them with the tools, education and knowledge base to know the compliance requirements.
Although Lawrence has benefited from a multitude of great mentors during her education, business and legal career, two in particular helped get her to where she is today. Claire
Svejkovsky, Shuffle Master’s head of compliance, persistently educated Lawrence on gaming compliance despite that it was not Lawrence’s area of responsibility. With a team-based professionalism, Svejkovsky took every employee willing to learn under her wing, regardless of whether they reported to her or not.
In 2016, Lawrence joined AGS as senior director of regulatory affairs and associate general counsel, and it was there where she met her other great career influence, Vic Gallo. After assigning Lawrence her first team, Gallo shared and encouraged her practical approach to compliance while working with other departments as a single team. He gave her the support and tools that she needed to grow, making time to remove any stumbling blocks on her end, encouraging her to share ideas, and offering his knowledge of gaming and compliance. Both Svejkovsky and Gallo are the kinds of business leaders that Lawrence strives to be.
Lawrence now maintains several professional goals for her company, department and team. She strives to keep compliance simple, having observed that overly complex rules are too hard to follow. She believes that individuals outside of the compliance department do not need to know the complexities of the rules; they only need to know their part, as well as who on the compliance team to contact for assistance.
Lawrence also seeks to integrate compliance into the culture of her company and into the very way that all employees do their jobs. She works to be as proactive as possible, getting approved product into licensed jurisdictions on the company’s timelines. Finally, she continues to maintain positive perceptions of the compliance team as a business partner, not as a department to avoid. “We are here to help them do their jobs, not the other way around,” she says.
Lawrence now leads a team of 15 people, and stands as one of the very few women in the industry holding leadership positions within compliance. Her passion, tenacious work ethic and relentless optimism have all contributed to her unique career achievements, and as for her experience and career lessons, she is eager to “pay it forward” in mentoring future Emerging Leaders of Gaming. —Marie Casias
Thomas Crawfish Mathews, Assistant General Manager, Quapaw Casino, and Vice Chairman, Quapaw Tribe
Thomas Crawfish Mathews launched his gaming career at the tender age of 18 at his tribe’s Quapaw Casino in Quapaw, Oklahoma. For the next several years, he worked in various departments from Oklahoma to New Mexico and back to Oklahoma.
“I worked for a year and a half dealing cards before moving on to Grand Lake Casino in Grove, Oklahoma, where I worked in off-track betting and the surveillance department,” he says. From there he took a position at the travel center for the Mescalero Apache Tribe in Ruidoso, New Mexico. He dealt table games and learned craps, roulette and poker.
Upon his return home to Quapaw, Mathews went from slot attendant to poker room manager to marketing director to assistant general manager. In January 2016, he was named casino tribal liaison.
“On a separate but more important note, I have the great honor of serving my tribe as the vice chairman of the business committee, a position I’ve held since 2011,” he says.
Every step on the ladder contributed to Mathews’ understanding of his profession.
“Having knowledge in many departments has allowed me to better understand our employees’ needs and how to help them be successful in their positions,” he says.
As with any rise in the industry, Mathews owes a lot to those who helped him along the way.
“The first knowledge I learned of the gaming industry came from my dad, J.R. Mathews,” he says. “He served as the president of the Quapaw Casino Gaming Board when I first started my career. For the past six years, I have really learned a lot from our tribal chairman, John Berrey. He guided me through several aspects of tribal government as it relates to the gaming industry. I would also like to give credit to Kirk Myrick, Jani Cummings and John Boyce, who have all helped me learn various aspects as well.”
In his current capacity, Mathews isn’t just limited to Quapaw Casino. He also works with management teams at Downstream Casino. “I’m always looking at new ways to make the customer experience better along with making it a better work environment for our team members,” says the father of five and husband of Tonya.
Mathews sees a new generation of gaming with easy access coming through mobile gaming devices. His advice to young people entering the casino world as a profession with the new generation: disagree and commit.
“Speak your opinion, but once the decision is made to do something, commit to that decision 100 percent, even if it wasn’t what you thought,” he says. “Because at the end of the day, everyone should have the same goal in mind, which is to be as successful as possible.” —William Sokolic
Bridging the Gap from Past to Present
Ari Mizrachi, Vice President of Operations Optimization, Tangam Systems
Already a 15-year veteran of the gaming industry, Ari Mizrachi is a seasoned executive who currently serves as the vice president of operations optimization at Tangam Systems. In this role, Mizrachi passionately leverages his extensive and broad industry experience to bridge the gap from the past—where management relied solely on operational expertise to make decisions—to the present, where the decision-making process has evolved to include a myriad of data sources and analytics.
“Our industry was built on relationships and ‘gut’ feel,” he says. “Though that is extremely valuable, it’s great to have data to support certain intuition.”
Mizrachi’s interest in the gaming industry began at an early age, when he would accompany his father and grandfather on trips to Atlantic City.
“The moment I walked onto the casino floor my first day, I knew this was the industry that I needed to work in,” he says. His first position at a casino was as a poker dealer for the Seminole tribe, moving to Foxwoods shortly thereafter.
In 2004, Mizrachi transitioned to management, supervising the poker room at Seminole Hard Rock, subsequently managing poker operations for the MGM Grand, the Las Vegas Hilton, the Venetian and Harrah’s Entertainment.
Seeking to broaden his management experience, Mizrachi moved to a position within the Harrah’s organization managing channel marketing for the Atlantic City region. In this role, he gained perspective on the link between the messaging that brings gaming guests to the casino and their behavior on the floor—as well as the data generated by casino systems and loyalty programs. Mizrachi continued broadening his knowledge base, serving as the senior director of table games and poker operations at Pennsylvania’s Parx Casino.
Mizrachi emphasizes that his career trajectory has been heavily influenced by former and current co-workers who he considers mentors. Mizrachi makes special mention of one former colleague, Mike May, vice president of table games at Pechanga.
“Mike taught me a ton in the three years we spent together,” says Mizrachi. “He taught me to take care of the folks interacting with the guests on a regular basis. If the folks on the front line are not engaged and happy, you will fail.”
Prior to entering the gaming industry, Mizrachi played professional jai alai for eight years. Despite a clear devotion to the industry he loves, Mizrachi’s primary focus is taking care of his family, noting that above all else, he wants “to be the best husband and father that I could possibly be.” —Anthony Mason
Kelly Myers, Licensing Manager, Cherokee Nation Gaming Commission, and Chairwoman, Oklahoma Tribal Gaming Regulators Association
Some might argue that Kelly Myers is exactly the type of person that tribal gaming needs in its most influential roles: educated, value-driven and committed to her family and the betterment of her community.
But for Myers, a member of the Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma, who serves as licensing manager for the Cherokee Nation Gaming Commission in Oklahoma, breaking into the world of casino gaming wasn’t even an afterthought during her formative years—she had never even set foot in a casino.
Rather, when she launched her career, she had her sights set on working her way up the corporate ladder as an accountant or an auditor. However, she became intrigued by gaming in the early 2000s when Oklahoma’s Class III compact negotiations had kicked into high gear and her native Iowa Tribe came calling to request that she put her skill set to use as a gaming auditor.
One thing led to another, and nearly a decade and a half later, Myers is still serving as a tribal gaming regulator—albeit now with the Cherokee Nation—and enjoying every minute of it, particularly as the tribe prepares to roll out new casinos and expansions locally.
“I feel grateful to work in Indian gaming here in Oklahoma,” she explains. “The Cherokee Nation is thriving and always expanding, and as a gaming commission, our goal is to work side by side with the operations to ensure compliance with all regulatory guidelines.”
In addition to her full-time duties with the Cherokee, Myers serves as chairwoman of the Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma Gaming Commission. She notes that this is an especially exciting time to be involved with her home tribe, as it just received a license from the Isle of Man and will soon be rolling out online gaming internationally.
“I am so proud to be a part of this history-making event with them,” she says.
Additionally, Myers serves as chairwoman of the Oklahoma Tribal Gaming Regulators Association and is on the board of the National Tribal Gaming Commission/Regulators.
By any measure, she views upholding the integrity of tribal gaming within the state and elsewhere as a critical responsibility.
“We have a good working relationship with other gaming commissions here in Oklahoma and in other states,” she says. “We share insights and information with each other because our goal is not to only protect the casinos we are regulating but also to protect Indian gaming.”
Despite all of those responsibilities, she makes being involved in her daughter’s life a top priority.
“I am still chasing my daughter’s dreams with her,” she says. “She makes me want to be a better mom, friend and co-worker. She always sees the positive things in everyone she meets, and reminds you daily to just enjoy what you have that day.”
Her daughter has taken up performing arts, and to support that interest, Myers now serves as regional director for Oklahoma Kids, a nonprofit talent entertainment association for children interested in singing, dancing and similar crafts. —Aaron Stanley
All in the Family
Blake Sartini II, Senior Vice President of Distributed Gaming, Golden Entertainment Inc.
If there is a royal family tree in gaming, the Fertitta/Sartini families would be it. And Blake Sartini II would be the crown prince. The son of Golden Entertainment founder and Chairman Blake Sartini and Delise Fertitta, the sister of Station Casinos leaders Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta, Sartini II has been raised in gaming.
“As far back as I can remember, gaming has always been around the family,” he says. “It’s always a topic of conversation anytime everybody’s around.”
When his father worked with the Fertitta brothers at Station Casinos, Sartini says the topics were usually casino-related, but when his father launched Golden Gaming (now Golden Entertainment) in 2001, it became more about bars and taverns, and distributed gaming (slot routes). While in college, he started on the ground floor.
“I worked on the slot route; I’d bartend at one of the taverns every summer,” he says. “So I was kind of ingrained in that, as early on as Golden Gaming got started. But I always had passion for the distributed side. I always liked the personal touch that the distributed side offered. And so, I always was gravitating more towards the distributed side.”
But first he had to get some experience. He worked for UFC, another Fertitta enterprise, for almost 18 months, based in London—getting his feet wet and meeting an influential boss, the company’s Chief Marketing Officer Bryan Johnston.
“He had a brilliant mind, and was always willing to offer so much knowledge to me,” Sartini says. “He got me started.”
But distributed gaming continued to beckon. He came back and worked his way up through the organization in various positions. Today, he leads the operations of more than 55 taverns and route operations in Nevada and Montana. But his focus is entirely on the customer and how Golden employees interact with them. And that starts with the bartender.
“We ask these people behind the bar to do so much for us, whether it be offering a great customer service experience, or making sure they’re pitching one of our beverage specials, or asking them to sign up a gamer sitting at the bar,” Sartini says. “So when we sit here in this office figuring out how can we get our guests engaged in many of the different aspects we’re developing, we immediately put it on the bar host and people behind the bar.
“So I have to remember what a burden that may be on their actual job. I try to put myself in their shoes, and understand that every time we add something more to their responsibilities, it takes away from the core of what we want them to do, which is to offer great gaming experience, great customer service experience, and to be a great bar host.”
Golden Entertainment has four basic tavern brands: PT’s, Sean Patrick’s, Sierra Gold and the recently opened SG Bar.
“They’re different price points, which is the biggest difference across the board,” he says. “We try to be everything to everybody, and the vehicle to do that is by the different brands.”
As the son of the chairman, Sartini had one obvious influencer, but he also cites CEO Steve Arcana, who has been with Golden Entertainment for 16 years and was with Station Casinos before that.
“He has always been in something of an awkward position, having to be my direct report,” he says. “I give him a lot of respect for not only handling that situation with such class, but also being able to offer inspiration and pointing me in the right direction.”
The future is bright not only for Sartini II but for the entire company. By the end of the year, the company will close on its purchase of American Casino Entertainment Properties, adding Stratosphere Las Vegas, Arizona Charlie’s Boulder, Arizona Charlie’s Decatur and the Aquarius Casino Resort to the company’s portfolio.
But for the present, Sartini wants to focus on his division.
“I look at distributive gaming as being the cutting edge of gaming, going forward,” he says. “It’s something that I think I can get ahead of everybody if I learn, and I get to know this inside out. This will provide a real path for myself.” —Roger Gros
Steve Sirianni, Vice President of Slot Operations and Marketing, MGM Grand Las Vegas
Steven Sirianni knows a thing or two about bootstrapping one’s way up the career ladder.
After taking a job as a front desk clerk at the Monte Carlo while a student at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas a decade and a half ago, Sirianni progressively worked his way up the MGM food chain to his current role as vice president of slot operations and marketing at the MGM Grand, with pit stops along the way at the Aria, Treasure Island and the Bellagio.
So what’s kept him in the industry thus far? The multifaceted and constantly evolving nature of the industry, whether it be finding new operational efficiencies, floor layouts, product offerings or marketing efforts, is more than enough to keep Sirianni showing up to work each day.
“It rarely gets boring, and every day is different,” he says.
His ascent highlights what is arguably one of the most unique and positive aspects of the casino gaming business: the upward career mobility that it affords to its labor force.
Sirianni attributes his success to the ever-important combination of hard work, an entrepreneurial spirit and a positive attitude.
“Work hard. Bring value. Do what others won’t do or haven’t done,” he says.
But like in any successful career, there is always a benefit to being in the right place at the right time—or what folks in the casino industry might consider to be “luck.”
“I’m thankful to be part of a larger company that supports internal growth, where any movement in leadership—which can be frequent when combined across a dozen-plus properties—often creates a domino effect and opportunity for upward mobility,” Sirianni explains.
But that’s not to say grinding one’s way up the food chain is an easy task or without frustration. Having patience, embracing the moment and enduring challenges can often be the best strategy, even if it seems less exciting than other available alternatives.
“The grass isn’t always greener,” he advises. “I’ve seen people get impatient too early in their careers, leave to another company, and want to come back.”
For younger professionals in the industry, Sirianni stresses the importance of being able to grow and change with the company:
“This is easy when you’re early in your career, since everything is new to you and you don’t know the difference. It becomes more difficult later when you feel you have a good system in place. But you need to keep your mind open and realize there are always other ways—and better ways—to do things.”
He adds that always looking for opportunities to make the business better, making your boss and colleagues look good and doing the right thing when no one is looking will always pay off in the long run.
Lastly, he emphasizes that the importance of building strong bridges—and not burning existing ones—cannot be overstated.
“Treat everyone with respect—they deserve it. You never know who will work for you and who you will work for.” —Aaron Stanley
Young & Restless
Seth Young, Director of Online Gaming, Foxwoods Resort Casino
For Seth Young, the entrepreneurial bug bit early. At age 13, he started an online business doing web hosting and web design.
“Having been a child of the internet,” he says, “I did a lot of growing up online. I found that I really enjoyed the legal side of online business, which was not settled as a matter of law, when I was younger. I’ve always been competitive, so business seemed like a good fit.”
Next up was law school, with a detour to the affiliate marketing business where Young learned his iGaming chops.
“One of the other things I really like about online as opposed to land-based is the idea that you can do more exciting and different things with an online platform, perhaps with a little less friction than putting it on a casino floor,” he says. “It remains to be seen, as the industry is kind of developing, but the rapid prototyping idea is very compelling to me.”
Now as the director of online gaming at Foxwoods, Young is experiencing life in a big organization for the first time.
“Having been on the other side of the proverbial table for so many years, understanding what it’s like inside a large organization is really interesting,” he says. “It’s different, of course. Sometimes it can be bureaucratic and political, and I think you have to do the best you can to break down those walls, and educate the stakeholders within your organization about what this is, why it works, and make your business case.”
He says Foxwoods has been a good landing point for him.
“They’ve been innovating for a long time,” he says. “Not just online. This is relatively a new iteration of their business. But, the good thing about that is that if you make a compelling business case, and you have a good reason, and it’s well thought-out, it’s fairly straightforward to implement new things at that place.”
As with anyone who becomes successful, Young has had many role models and people who influenced him through the years.
“I’ve been lucky to interact with a lot of people throughout the decade-plus that I’ve been involved in gaming,” he says. “They are the greatest people for me so far, in terms of being friends, and in terms of helping steer me in the right direction. One is a guy named Bill Scigliano, who’s a long-term gaming consultant. He’s been very good to me. At Foxwoods, Brian Charette is our VP of information systems. He’s been the longest-running executive at Foxwoods. And he is just an unbelievable person.
“And our CEO, Felix Rappaport, is a legend, right? He’s led some of the biggest resorts in gaming. He’s a fantastic guy to work for. We also have a terrific tribal council, who are really involved, and obviously, really interested in seeing Foxwoods continue to thrive. So as far as mentorship goes, I would say the people that I’m working with now are probably going to be the best influences I’ve ever had, moving forward.” —Roger Gros