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Learning From Lanni

Terry Lanni's contribution to the gaming industry will be long-lasting

Terry Lanni’s death this July led to an outpouring of respect from across the spectrum of the gaming industry. The dozens of statements issued and eulogies written tell of a life well-lived. His accomplishments as a business leader, corporate philanthropist, husband and father have been well chronicled over the past weeks and months, but it is important to reflect on what we can learn from the way Terry conducted his business and his vision for the entire industry.

In the five decades I have been involved in the gaming industry, I have had the privilege of working with most of its true giants. Terry Lanni was one of those giants. Perhaps more than anyone I’ve known, Terry could be at the same time tough and collegial, a leader and a listener, respected and respectful.

Terry had many successes over his illustrious career, but it was his work over the last two decades that solidified his legacy as a historic figure in our industry. It is during this period that his vision for the future of his company (MGM Mirage, now MGM Resorts International) and the future of the gaming industry bore its greatest fruit.

Terry was instrumental in 1995, along with gaming executives such as Bill Boyd from Boyd Gaming, Chuck Mathewson from IGT, Phil Satre of Harrah’s Entertainment, Steve Wynn of Mirage Resorts and others, in the creation of the American Gaming Association. He was an early and enthusiastic advocate for bringing the industry together to deal with common opportunities and challenges. Terry knew that the expansion and growth of the industry would create political, legislative and regulatory challenges that would require the efforts of a united industry. That proved to be true in spades (to use a card analogy) when, just over a year after the AGA was created, the National Gambling Impact Study Commission (NGISC) was formed.

In my opinion, the growth of our industry over the last 15 years would not have happened as quickly or, perhaps, not at all, had Terry Lanni not been a member of that commission.

John Wilhelm, president of the labor union UNITE HERE, captured the importance of Terry’s style and personality during the deliberations of the NGISC in a quote I read recently in the Las Vegas Business Press. Wilhelm said of Terry’s role on the NGISC, on which they both served in the 1990s, that “Terry was the perfect representative for the industry because he was the antithesis of the then-prevailing stereotype of a gaming executive. His intelligence, sophistication, his ability to listen and his unfailing courtesy disarmed the more anti-gaming members of the commission.”

John went on to credit Terry’s participation in that commission for being “in no small measure responsible for the fact that the commission, contrary to expectations, agreed to a unanimous report that did not undermine our industry nor provide the basis, as some intended, for federal taxation.” I completely concur with John.

For those who may have forgotten, it is worth remembering that the NGISC was a very real threat to our industry. We had just experienced a tremendous period of expansion—expansion that, frankly, outpaced the nation’s understanding of the social and economic impacts of gaming. In that environment, the moralists who vehemently opposed and still oppose gaming were having substantial success perpetuating a host of negative myths. Nearly two decades later, those myths have, for the most part, been laid to rest, so it can be easy to forget the credibility they were given in the early and mid-1990s. Thanks to the work as commission members of Terry, John Wilhelm and Bill Bible, then chairman of the Nevada Gaming Control Board, the results of the study proved to be the beginning of the marginalization of the anti-gaming movement and a major contributor to the continued growth of gaming across the nation.

It was thanks to the commitment and selflessness of leaders such as Terry that the AGA and the industry were prepared to deal with the threat the NGISC represented. It took vision to see beyond the short term—a good lesson for an industry that must always be vigilant.

Terry’s vision extended far beyond the idea of a united industry. As someone who has worked in the political arena for most of my life, I had the greatest respect for Terry’s understanding of the political process and its impact on his business and our industry. He certainly was not alone among his peers in that respect, but he was among the first to see beyond the board room and, as there is little hope the role of politics will get smaller in our lives, all corporate executives would be wise to follow his lead.

We could also learn from Terry’s strong sense of corporate altruism and philanthropy. He was widely recognized as a leader committed to diversity in business. He established the industry’s first formal diversity and inclusion program, and MGM Resorts International’s diversity programs continue to win awards from a range of national groups. Terry led MGM to be a major partner in a local school’s empowerment program and also started the MGM Academic Excellence Scholarship Endowment, the MGM Hites Foundation Scholarship Awards and MGM Resorts Foundation, an employee-giving charity.

I began by tying Terry’s legacy to the last two decades. It is no coincidence that period coincides with the coming of age of the gaming industry. By coming of age, I mean becoming an accepted part of the nation’s economic fabric. That has come about for many reasons, but among them are through the efforts and personal charisma of leaders such as Terry. His vision is not complete. Some of the old stereotypes still persist, but they will soon be gone if we continue down the path that Terry helped blaze.

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