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The Younger Generation

This year's G2E was a changing of the guard when it comes to leadership in the casino industry.

The Younger Generation

There are always many takeaways from G2E, held last month at the Sands Expo Center in Las Vegas. It differs for everyone, particularly if you are focused on one segment of the industry or another. For me, this year was clearly a changing of the guard, so to speak, when it comes to leadership in the casino industry.

The impressive list of keynote speakers—mostly the “old guard” in gaming—was led by Las Vegas Sands Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson and Wynn Resorts Chairman and CEO Steve Wynn. Yet one day of the conference program was devoted to “millennials” and how to attract them to gaming—either online or offline.

And immersed as I was in the Emerging Leaders program at G2E (you’ll see the results of that immersion in our “40 Under 40” feature starting on page 20), it was encouraging to see such enthusiasm and excitement about having the chance to make their mark on the industry.

Steve Wynn is a remarkable speaker. He held more than 1,000 people spellbound for almost an hour as he extemporaneously spoke from the podium, claiming he “lost” the speech he had

written weeks before. But as a former Wynn employee at the original Golden Nugget in Atlantic City, I recognized his style to plead a lack of preparation and then blow you away with his seemingly off-the-wall observations.

I had the honor to interview Sheldon Adelson, who doesn’t really like to give speeches. So I drew up a list of questions, and they were all accepted by his team, even the tough ones on iGaming. My goal was to show his personality and vision for the business—and his humor, which was evident through most of the interview. But when I began to ask the iGaming questions, his passion for the subject became apparent. His arguments against iGaming don’t hold much water, so I wanted to demonstrate where his opposition comes from and why he holds his views. I hope that came across.

And when you add the State of the Industry keynotes with operators and manufacturers, you had a complete list of the “leaders” of the industry today. And most of them are approaching or north of 60. Wynn is over 70 and Adelson is over 80.

Now I try not to judge people by age, since I’m north of 60 myself. I know people can be productive well into their 80s.

But when it comes to a “succession plan” for the industry, there are always questions about where the “next” Wynn and Adelson are coming from (and Murren, Loveman and many others, for that matter).

The man on our cover this month could be one of those visionaries in line to take the place of these leaders. And I think it’s instructional that Sam Nazarian isn’t just a “gaming guy.” Nazarian cut his teeth in the hospitality industry, comprising hotels, nightclubs, restaurants and retail. Only recently has he come to the gaming industry. And his SLS is a crafty blending of all these disciplines, a possible model for gaming resorts of the future.

Future leaders of the industry are going to have to have similar diverse experience, because we’re seeing more and more that gaming is morphing into a wider industry that comprises all of those things. Nazarian will turn 40 next year, so maybe he’ll start to imagine a new and different future for gaming.

Geoff Freeman, the American Gaming Association CEO who was featured on last year’s 40 Under 40 cover, comes from the travel industry. He’s well-known now for stressing the link between gaming and travel, since many people have to travel to get to their casino destinations. It’s a linkage that can’t be denied.

Despite Adelson’s reservations and despite a slow start, iGaming is going to play a huge role in the future of the gaming industry. The most successful online casinos in New Jersey and Nevada have a natural connection to land-based casinos, even beyond the licensing stipulations that require a connection. Those casinos that combine online marketing with their land-based products have proven to be successful. And executives who understand that linkage will become more valuable as the years go on.

So while G2E 2014 wasn’t really a “passing of the torch” from one generation to the next, it demonstrated quite clearly that time is fast approaching and for those who are prepared, this can be a very exciting time of transition and growth.

Roger Gros is publisher of Global Gaming Business, the industry's leading gaming trade publication, and all its related publications. Prior to joining Global Gaming Business, Gros was president of Inlet Communications, an independent consulting firm. He was vice president of Casino Journal Publishing Group from 1984-2000, and held virtually every editorial title during his tenure. Gros was editor of Casino Journal, the National Gaming Summary and the Atlantic City Insider, and was the founding editor of Casino Player magazine. He was a co-founder of the American Gaming Summit and the Southern Gaming Summit conferences and trade shows. He is the author of the best-selling book, How to Win at Casino Gambling (Carlton Books, 1995), now in its fourth edition. Gros was named "Businessman of the Year" for 1998 by the Greater Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce, and received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Gaming Association in 2012.

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