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Ruling Passion

Dawn Clayton, General Manager, Thunder Valley Casino Resort

In 2023, Dawn Clayton will have to clear some shelf space, just for new plaques and awards.

The general manager of Thunder Valley Casino Resort has been recognized as one of California’s top business leaders by Forbes, was recently named Bentley Price Associates’ Best of the Best in Executive Operations, and concurrently joined GGB Magazine’s People to Watch list.

Such recognition reflects the esteem in which Clayton is held in her industry and community. But she’s quick to share the applause with the United Auburn Indian Community, which operates the luxury resort in Lincoln, and more than 2,600 “exceptional team members.”

Clayton began her career in 1985, as a craps dealer in Atlantic City. At the time, there were few women in the pits, “and even less in higher-level positions, up to and including C-level leadership positions.

“To say that breaking into the industry on the gaming floor was challenging is an understatement,” she says. “But value reveals itself, and I was committed to working as hard as possible to be recognized and ultimately considered for promotions.”

To make it happen, she worked up to seven days a week, took on jobs that others spurned, and accepted the least desirable shifts as part of her “passion for continual learning.”

Opportunity followed at resorts in West Virginia and Indiana before she joined Thunder Valley, first as vice president of casino operations, then assistant general manager, and finally, general manager.

Under her leadership, the tribal resort has refurbished existing hotel rooms and suites, added more than 100 new accommodations, introduced an ultra-lounge, opened new dining options, and launched new bingo and poker rooms, the latter with payouts as high as $1 million. Each of the projects came in on schedule and within budget; each enhances the luster of the AAA four-diamond resort near Sacramento.

Recalling the obstacles in her own career, Clayton champions women and minorities in the workplace, urging them “to believe in themselves and know that advancement in this industry is possible and achievable.

“Great strides have been made for women in leadership,” she adds, “but there’s much more to do, and I want to play a role in ensuring that they’re able to climb the corporate ladder if they opt to do so. Their voice matters, and statistics prove that diversity of thought and perspective makes an organization much more effective.”

Clayton’s is a 24/7 job, but she makes time for several nonprofits, including the Female Leadership and Mentor Exchange (FLAME), and PRIDE Industries, which creates employment for people with disabilities (an in-house laundry at Thunder Valley is fully staffed by PRIDE recruits).

She encourages anyone who would follow her path “to be a continual learner: determined, resilient, strategic, results-oriented, team-centric and ethical. One of the standards I hold for myself is to conduct myself in such a way that my integrity can never be called into question. I want to be known for creating value for the owners, stakeholders and team members alike. I believe the adage, ‘To whom much is given, much is required.’”

In 2023, Thunder Valley will mark its 20th anniversary and also open a new $100 million concert arena, the Venue, with headliners the Eagles, Bruno Mars and Santana: just two reasons Clayton will be celebrating. She believes the best is yet to come.

“Working for the United Auburn Indian Community alongside the amazing Thunder Valley team has been the highlight of my career,” she says. “The plans we have to add to the footprint in the next three, five, 10 years are just as exciting as the initial 20 years have been.”

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