The new program being developed by the American Gaming Association’s Global Gaming Women to provide mentors for young women entering the gaming industry is admirable and necessary. When young people can learn from and be encouraged by experienced executives, it gives them a leg up on competition as they climb their career ladder.
While I never had any “formal” mentor, I certainly had folks along the way who helped me, shaped my views on the industry and the world, and provided me with examples to emulate.
I remember a man who I consider my first mentor in the gaming business, Mark Reifer. He was a writer for the magazine that employed me as editor. We covered the gaming industry in Atlantic City during a time when the state gleefully took the tax revenue from the city’s casinos while it was tightening the screws, making it increasingly harder to do business.
Reifer, a former speechwriter for New Jersey politicians, taught me how to know my audience, for he knew his inside and out. Each month, he would turn in a 4,000-5,000-word opinion article that would be so dense, I could barely get through it. And when it came to editing it, just to fit the space allotted, it was impossible. Reifer would weave his logic so effectively, if you took out one sentence, the entire thing would collapse on itself.
When I argued that no one was reading it, he told me he didn’t care. He said he had about a dozen people who read every word and those were the people he was trying to reach. And he was right. Each month, I’d get a call from at least half those people complaining about what he said, which was exactly the reaction he was trying to elicit.
But “mentor” is a word that has a wide meaning in my personal experience. I consider people like the famous Steve Wynn a mentor, as well as a guy named Arnie Shehadi, who last I heard was running a small casino in Laos. Attorney Bob Faiss, the late casino executive/educator Shannon Bybee and the also deceased former New Jersey Casino Control Commission member Pat Dodd also fall into that category.
But there is one person who will always have my gratitude for being my mentor and encouraging me when times in my life were tough: Frank Fahrenkopf. Never would I have thought that my path would cross with such a powerful and influential figure in American history, much less develop a warm and enduring friendship.
I got to know Frank pretty well when I was covering the National Gambling Impact Study Commission (NGISC) in the late 1990s. He had just become the CEO of the AGA, and we both followed the commission across the country through all the various sites it visited. Frank explained the strategy of the AGA, and how just telling the truth about the gaming industry would deflate all the criticism that it was getting at the hearings.
Later, when I left my job at my original magazine, he encouraged me to launch another and promised that it would become the voice of the AGA. And with his last column this month, we are honored to have had his words grace our pages for the past 10-plus years.
His faith in Global Gaming Business was unshakeable, and we considered it a mission to spread the good word about the gaming industry throughout our existence.
Frank also recruited me to become a consultant to the Global Gaming Expo conference program. He wanted G2E to become the center of the universe when it came to information and education about the gaming industry. I like to think I played a small role in making that happen, because most certainly today, G2E has the best and most comprehensive conference program in the business.
But finally, what I hope I learned from Frank that has served me well is a diplomacy that enabled him to reach across the aisle at important times in U.S. history and the history of the casino industry. I always try to approach each issue, each interview, and each controversy with an open mind and a composure that will allow me to convey the truth.
Ironically, that’s a different message than I got from Reifer. One of those dozen people he was aiming for was former Culinary boss John Wilhelm, a member of the NGISC, who read every word and would not speak to me because I worked for Reifer’s magazine.
So as a mentee, you have to understand what applies to you. And Frank’s wit and wisdom was easy to take.