Decades ago, a woman running one of the largest companies in gaming was unheard of. But today, it’s a reality. In an industry predominately populated by men, women must stand out, work hard and stick to their guns. From CEOs and presidents, to directors, VPs and even one of the first female dealers on the Strip, these are the trail-blazing women of gaming.
The 2009 Great Women of Gaming winners are truly inspirational—and their stories captivated us and our judges. So much so that for the first year ever, we have 11 women honored for the awards due to a deadlock decision.
Now in its fifth year, the awards are broken down into two categories: Proven Leaders and Rising Stars. To qualify as a Proven Leader, candidates must have worked in the gaming industry for a minimum of 10 years and have been in their current position for at least one year. They must also work for a gaming industry company and hold a position of director of higher. To qualify as a Rising Star, candidates must have worked in the gaming industry for a minimum of three years and have been in their current position for at least one year. They must also work for a gaming industry company and hold a position of manager or higher. Candidates in each category needed to demonstrate exceptional achievement in at least three of the following areas: ability to go above and beyond job responsibilities; commitment to company and co-workers; contributions to the industry as a whole; commitment to mentoring; and strong overall life balance.
The judging committee tasked with the difficult job of making a decision on our winners from all the nominees was made up of former Great Women of Gaming award winners and other industry leaders. They included: Cath Burns, VP of Asia Pacific/Managing Director, Bally Technologies; Dona Cassese, Creative Director of Global Marketing Communications and Operations, Aristocrat Americas; Tracey Chernay, Senior VP of Sales and Marketing, TransAct Technologies; Christie Eickelman, Director of Worldwide Marketing, Gaming Laboratories International; Libby Francisco, COO, Tohono O’odam Nation; Sheila Morago, Executive Director, Arizona Indian Gaming Commission; Jennifer Roberts, Attorney At Law-Associate Attorney, Lionel Sawyer & Collins; Linda Roe, VP of Business Development, Thalden•Boyd•Emery Architects; Kate Spilde, Managing Director, Center for California Native Nations; and Claudia Winkler, President, GHI Solutions.
And so, we announce the 11 women who we have deemed to be our 2009 Great Women of Gaming award winners.
The six women honored as Proven Leaders are: Patty Coaley, Director of Organizational Development, Excalibur Hotel & Casino; Linda Devine, Senior Vice President of Marketing, Barona Resort & Casino; Tina Kilmer, Vice President of Product Compliance, Bally Technologies; Toni Martinez, Vice President of Western Region Sales, International Game Technology; Lorraine Nevins, Director of Slot Operations, Mohegan Sun Casino; and Debra Nutton, Senior Vice President, Casino Operations, MGM Grand.
The 2009 Great Women of Gaming Rising Stars are: Madilenia B. Chavarillo, Executive Director of Gaming Operations, Sky Ute Casino Resort; Patti S. Hart, Chief Executive Officer, President, International Game Technology; Elaine A. Hodgson, Chief Executive Officer, President, Incredible Technologies; Melonie D. Johnson, Vice President of Finance, Harrah’s Entertainment; and Denyse S. Moore, Senior Director, Client Services West, Bally Technologies.
Read on to find out more about these amazing women and what each of them has done to better the gaming industry. They’ve learned valuable lessons on their journey to the top, so read on to benefit from their challenges, accomplishments and advice.
Director of Organizational Development
Excalibur Hotel & Casino
Learning about Patty Coaley’s life growing up makes it no surprise that she ended up at one of Vegas’ most fun casinos on the Strip—Excalibur.
A Las Vegas local from age 4, her father played keyboards for many performers coming through town, and having celebrities in her living room rehearsing became her norm. Coaley later became a performer herself, dancing in Bally’s showgirl lineup, Jubilee! while earning her undergrad and master’s degrees at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
After graduation, Coaley stumbled upon an opening for a publicist at Excalibur—which she got—hence her entry into the gaming industry. She says the people are the best part of her job. “I’m lucky to be at Excalibur, surrounded by some of the greatest people I have ever met and some of the greatest in the industry.”
Coaley worked her way up the ranks, from publicist to marketing manager to marketing director. But when she went through MGM Mirage’s Diversity program, it was clear that this was her calling. “As soon as I graduated, I told my company that teaching Diversity—giving back to the company that I felt had given me a life-changing event—was what I wanted to do,” she explains. “That dedication to giving back and doing the right thing is what I am most proud of and what I think led to this award.”
Renée West, president and COO of Mandalay Bay, also speaks to Coaley’s involvement in the program: “When Excalibur took the bold step to develop its own in-house trainers for three-day Diversity Champion Workshops, Patty was the first to step up and volunteer. While maintaining her existing workload, both at the castle (Excalibur) and at home, she plunged into an intensive training program that takes the average person up to two years to complete. Patty finished with honors in six months.” And now she is one of the program’s trainers and promoters.
Coaley says she’s very happy with what she’s doing now—changing the world one Diversity class at a time. “Seeing the moment when students in Diversity class suddenly have that light go on inside them, and you realize they ‘get it.’ I know that what we teach is life-changing, and seeing that moment happen is very gratifying and inspirational.”
But that’s not where Coaley’s community spirit stops. She gives back by representing Excalibur at St. Vincent’s Thanksgiving dinner, the Paul Culley Empowerment School and MGM’s Voice Foundation. She also served as co-director of Golden Rainbow, a nonprofit group that raises money for southern Nevadans living with HIV/AIDS.
“When I think of Patty, I am reminded of someone who exemplifies what we stand for as a company: honesty, integrity and dedication to excellence,” Melanie Walker, vice president of human resources at Excalibur, shares.
Coaley’s professional and community efforts were recently recognized by the Moms in Business Network when she was nominated for Working Mother of the Year.
And that is what she says is her biggest personal challenge. “Balancing a full-time home career with two kids and a full-time work career is hard, and to help keep the balance, you have to develop a hard line of separation between the two worlds, where your work career exists during work hours and your family career exists every other minute.”
Perhaps what kept Coaley on the path toward greatness are two of her mentors, both women. “First, would be Fluff Lecoque, the company manager of Jubilee!,” she explains. “She has been in the Las Vegas entertainment industry since the 1940s, and she taught me focus and discipline at the young age of 18. Second would be Renée West, the president of Mandalay Bay, who taught me the meaning of leadership and the importance of character.”
One more thing in Coaley’s repertoire is photography. She took many photos of her son’s sports events, and turned her passion for it into a home business. On the job, she plays director for Excalibur’s photo shoots, and the studio she works with speaks highly of her work and attitude. “She always has a smile on her face and leads us through the details with absolute ease,” Sharon Sampsel and Greg Preston say. “No matter where we are in the hotel, she is constantly passing employees that greet her with obvious affection. It didn’t matter whether these people were housekeepers, valet guys or dealers—Patty knows everyone in the castle.”
When it comes to what Coaley would like to see in the future for our industry, she says it’s success. “This industry has seen some of its toughest challenges in today’s economic environment, so, first and foremost, I would like to see us rebound as the destination of choice for that much-needed getaway from everyday life,” she says. “However, it will take us patience, and a good, long-term strategy, to get our city back in the groove. I believe we will succeed, due to our city’s unique brand of fun. Ten years from now, people will long for the ‘good old days,’ and Las Vegas will provide that timeless experience that will bring people back again and again.”
The advice Coaley would you give aspiring women in the gaming industry is: “Be true to yourself, work hard, and expect the best from, and for, yourself.” AH
Senior Vice President of Marketing
Barona Resort & Casino
Calling Linda Devine a “successful woman” is an exceptional understatement. As the Senior Vice President of Marketing at Barona Resort & Casino, she has taken the ideas of team development and marketing innovation to new levels, all while winning an impressive amount of awards for the casino. But she won’t tell you that. And that is why Devine has been chosen as one of the 2009 Proven Leaders for the Great Women of Gaming.
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a marketing minor from San Diego State University, Devine began her career working at several highly respected San Diego advertising and marketing agencies, such as O’Shaughnessy-Parr, Kenneth C. Smith Advertising and Roni Hicks & Associates. She was also the marketing director for Grossmont Center.
Devine’s professional background has been predominantly focused on retail marketing, but that didn’t stop her from jumping into a new challenge as director of marketing for Barona in 1994. “Gaming was new in San Diego, and I thought it would be really fun,” Devine commented. “I especially liked the fact that I was getting in on the ground floor.”
And where she started was about as close to the ground floor as you can get—in a new casino with a marketing staff of only two.
While Devine was growing her team, she was also growing the presence of Barona in the California gaming market and beyond. “All of her efforts have played an instrumental role in the growth and development of Barona—from a small, relatively unknown casino in 1994 to the leader in the industry,” said Don Speer, chairman and founder of VCAT, and a man who Devine counts a mentor and one of her strongest supporters.
Though she was starting small, Devine didn’t let that hold her back from shooting for the stars—the country music stars, that is. As a result of her passion and determination, she secured the legendary Kenny Rogers as a spokesman for Barona. This was the first time a tribal casino had used a celebrity in their marketing, and one of Devine’s first campaigns there.
And throughout her 16 years at Barona, Devine has continued to develop exciting campaigns to complement every stage of the casino’s development. From the opening of the new resort, restaurants and environmental initiatives, to the implementation of TITO, Barona’s elevated presence in the region and nation is a testament to Devine’s leadership and vision. She’s also responsible for the current “Loose Troop” and “Manufacturer’s Best” campaigns.
The most recent shift for all areas of the industry has been toward new digital marketing incentives. And Devine has been at the forefront of that movement, spearheading online expansion that includes the launch of the Barona blog, dedicated promotions for the website and a major social media presence.
Even though Devine keeps current with marketing trends, she does so with an editing eye. “Just because it’s out there and it’s new, doesn’t mean you need to do it,” she explained. “You need to be strategic about it and do what makes sense from a business standpoint. But I like the fact that it’s really fast paced. There’s never a boring moment. You can come up with ideas today and then make them happen tomorrow.”
And the way Devine “makes things happen” seems to be working, as Barona has been recognized with many advertising and marketing honors such as a Romero Award, AGA Communications Award, Gaming Voice Awards and more. One of the most significant achievements, though, has been Barona’s receipt of the J.D. Power and Associates award for “Highest in Customer Satisfaction” of Southern California casinos for the past two years.
Devine was involved in these accolades due in large part to her ability to cultivate a team mentality in her department, with concern for her colleagues and a diplomatic and creative approach to problem solving.
Dennis Conrad, president and chief strategist of Raving Consulting Company and a longtime colleague of Devine’s said: “Linda is a leader who makes you feel that ‘we are all in this together,’ and that your role is just as important as hers, no matter what the task or the goal.”
Devine is also a leader away from the casino, and has been involved at a decision-making level in a variety of nonprofit organizations, such as The Foundation for Women, MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), the Advertising Club of San Diego and the San Diego Blood Bank. She is also a recipient of the San Diego YWCA’s Tribute to Women in Industry (TWIN) Award.
Though Devine is passionate about her work, she admits that passion sometimes results in a lack of balance in her life and that she needs to allow more time for a personal life with family and friends.
The once-looming glass ceiling can now perhaps be considered a latched skylight. And while opening it for herself, Devine has never forgotten that her valued team is a part of her successes.
“When you look at Linda Devine’s massive contributions to the gaming industry, you won’t find them listed under ‘Linda Devine,’ but under ‘Barona,’” Conrad noted. “And make no doubt, Barona’s industry-leading reputation and history as a true innovator have Linda’s fingerprints prominent throughout. Just ask any Barona senior executive. But don’t ask Linda, because she has humbly chosen to have those accolades fall upon her Barona team and the Barona tribe.”
This attitude has earned her the respect of many throughout both Barona and the gaming industry as a whole.
Conrad commented: “I wish more men were like her.” TH
Vice President of Product Compliance
Tina Kilmer says “You could have knocked me over with a proverbial feather,” about receiving the Great Women of Gaming award. But to others, this win is no surprise. As James Maida, president of Gaming Laboratories International, put it, “It is time to let the spotlight shine, for a brief moment on her, even though she may not think she deserves such recognition.”
Throughout the industry, Kilmer is known as a humble, hard worker who will go the extra mile without complaining.
Kilmer has been with Bally Technologies for eight years. She has held a variety of leadership roles in product compliance and engineering and was promoted to vice president of product compliance three years ago. Before Bally, Kilmer worked at Aristocrat Technologies and Harrah’s Entertainment. Prior to entering the world of gaming, Kilmer worked in program management and electrical engineering for Argonne National Laboratory and Dow Chemical USA. Kilmer has been registered as a professional engineer since 1987.
The move to the gaming industry started when Kilmer was living in the Midwest and looking at moving south as a possible solution to her son’s respiratory problem. “A friend called with a possible opportunity in the gaming industry for someone with my experience and background. He thought I was a perfect fit. An interview followed and, as it happened, he was right.”
In Kilmer’s current role, she and her team are responsible for ensuring Bally’s games are approved in a timely manner in about 300 jurisdictions. Kilmer says she is proud of her work, especially the role she played in building a talented product compliance team. She explains, “The unique relationships and initiatives our team has created have assisted our company to expand our business into new markets, both domestically and internationally.”
Maida says, in working with Kilmer, he sees her commitment to quality and honest communication with regulators and her own team members. Maida explains: “She consistently has ‘a seat at the table,’ called upon to work on high-level, critical policy. Without question, she is one of the highest-ranking, most talented technical compliance people in the industry today.”
Gavin Isaacs, chief operating officer at Bally, says Kilmer makes amazing impacts on the teams she leads, while serving as a mentor to a number of Bally’s employees. “Her warm-hearted spirit and soft-spoken, yet confident style, has garnered respect and admiration among colleagues and subordinates alike.”
The collection of dynamic and fascinating people in the industry is what keeps Kilmer in the game. She loves that in this industry, there is never a dull moment. One of the challenges that kept Kilmer on her toes came early in her gaming career, as she transitioned from a government position to the gaming industry. Government work followed a single set of rules and regulations, whereas gaming introduced her to a world in which diverse jurisdictions encompass multiple regulations and requirements. Kilmer says, “Every career has inherent trials and some, at first, can seem insurmountable. Dissecting the information, exploring alternative solutions with team members, and knowing when and who to ask for guidance are keys to success. Often, the more difficult challenges result in the most satisfying accomplishments.”
The toughest personal challenge Kilmer has faced is tied to her biggest personal accomplishment thus far. Kilmer’s son had health issues that required out-of-the-box solutions. “Facing the challenges of raising a special-needs child is truly a gift with each successive milestone. I can’t describe how much the attaining of each of their goals means to us.” Kilmer is married with four children. She says building a strong and loving family is what she is most proud of.
Kilmer’s family members were her first mentors in life. Her parents and grandparents gave her responsibilities and set their expectations high. “We worked at the family businesses, as my grandmother and parents did before me. Before we were allowed to drive a car, we had to learn to fix it first.”
Kilmer takes time now to mentor women who are starting their careers. She serves on the Society of Women Engineers and mentors young female engineering students.
Kilmer does have some advice for women reaching for their goals in gaming. First, trust your intuition and don’t take things at face value. One of Kilmer’s first professional assignments took her walking through a power plant toward a construction project she was to manage. She recalls: “A truckload of construction workers drove past me, peppering me with a barrage of catcalls and wolf whistles. When I arrived at the site, my team was already there—the same workers who had passed me in the truck! I introduced myself to the team and instead of being insulted or angry, I simply thanked them for their ‘warm welcome.’ ”
Kilmer is now looking forward to helping Bally enter new markets and introduce new technology to operators and players.
As the economy recovers, and gaming grows, she looks forward to new jurisdictions opening to gaming. She also wants to see current gaming operations continue to expand and implement more sophisticated technology. “Technology that enables casinos to better market, promote, reward and communicate to players will become even more vital.”
Parting words Kilmer would like the industry to keep in mind as the future unfolds are: “Hold true to your core values. Inspire and be inspired. Learn and share willingly. Be grateful for all of life’s blessings.” SKC
Vice President of Western Region Sales
International Game Technology
Toni Martinez thinks of her management style as a coach, being vice president of western region sales for IGT. She joined the team 21 years ago and continues to make plans for the future of the industry.
Martinez was born and raised in Denver, Colo. She went into the hospitality industry in Las Vegas in 1985. In 1989, she accepted a job offer and became an account executive for route sales at EDT, a subsidiary of IGT. When IGT acquired EDT in 1991, Martinez became account executive for riverboat and dockside gaming jurisdictions. She has also served as national account manager and liaison for IGT distributors and as director of eastern region sales.
Martinez is often on the road for work. She now covers the west, south and central regions of the United States. Taking on the changing market in Mexico is one of Martinez’s most recent challenges. She is responsible for all sales of Class III gaming devices, lottery products, Class II gaming devices and recurring revenue products.
Chief Operating Officer at IGT, Eric Tom, says Martinez consistently goes above and beyond for the company. One example is her recent efforts in the budding Mexico market. “Toni spent time in Mexico City rebuilding and hiring a new management team, and has been very involved with the office and customers ever since.” Tom adds, “On her own time, she will fly down to make sure our office and customers are getting the support and advice they need.”
Martinez has enjoyed growing in the industry alongside people who started with her, as slot techs for example, and are now industry leaders. She is excited by the industry’s growth and the growth of the people who make the industry great. “It’s about relationships in this industry and from a sales perspective that’s something I very much enjoy.”
This team mentality comes from Martinez’s childhood. In high school, she went to state competitions with her basketball, volleyball and softball teams. She played softball as an adult and now enjoys golfing. Martinez says her dad used to tell her that, “Two heads are better than one and no man is an island. He was right!” She adds, “I like to win and I like to make touchdowns and I like to have a team with me to go there.”
When it comes to customer service, Martinez says it is all about listening to the customer and learning. “It’s being that customer support person that helps them get to where they want to be.”
One of the most memorable challenges Martinez faced professionally, was being a part of one of the first companies in the industry to come out with bill validators. She explains, manufacturers knew it was going to work but the customers weren’t always so sure. The reward came as the technology proved itself valuable. Martinez says it was exciting to, “work with the customer, to be there for them and actually have it be a win-win for the operator and their players.”
Martinez is also very active outside of her work. She received the Women of Achievement Award from the Nevada Women’s Fund and is a member of the Latin Chamber of Commerce.
The personal accomplishment Martinez is most proud of is taking care of her mother who has Alzheimer’s disease. Martinez, her sister and her parents followed one another out to Las Vegas and remain a close family. She and her sister have been caretakers for their mother for the last five years since their father passed. They alternate nights to care for their mother and have a full-time caretaker during the day. She explains: “I never believed I would have the patience to stop and take the time to really understand and deal with the illness. It has been a tumultuous journey that brought out many emotions and insight I never knew existed prior to dealing with my mom’s illness.”
Martinez says her mother and sister are two of the women in her life that she has always looked up to. Martinez never had a strong female mentor in the gaming business, so she often looked to the women in her family. “My mom and my sister have always been the backbone that held things together and demonstrated strong qualities which I believe helped shape me.”
Ron Rivera, senior vice president of U.S. sales for IGT, strongly believes in Martinez. He says he’s had the privilege of serving as Martinez’s boss for 19 years and has watched her rise above expectations in many areas, including her commitment to the members of her team. “Toni sees the best in people and recognized their potential. She focuses on people’s strengths and how they can best contribute to the company. There are several individuals that Toni has worked with, adapting to their particular style of learning, helping these individuals develop personally and professionally. Some of these people are contributing in executive roles at IGT today.”
Martinez says women aspiring toward a professional career in gaming should learn the industry, ask questions, pick their desired area and “go for it!”
Martinez looks forward to continuing to reach for and exceed her personal and professional goals. “I believe it is important to have good work ethics, never to take anything for granted, to treat everyone like you want to be treated, and to enjoy what you do and live life to the fullest.” She also wants to continue with IGT, being a driving force in the next technological phase of the industry. She says, “We want to be on the leading edge of technology—that’s our goal.” SKC
Director of Slot Operations
Mohegan Sun Casino
Lorraine Nevins’ passion for her job, co-workers, and community is evident. Though her own accomplishments on the job are impressive, she still credits the whole team. With a solid base given to her from her parents and a mentor watching out for her, it’s no wonder that this woman is so accomplished.
Nevins grew up in New York City, where she stayed until the age of 20. Her parents owned a salon business, where she was exposed to the pride and dedication that they had for that endeavor. “I learned a lot about how I wanted to conduct myself, based on their example,” she said.
She then moved on to many successful ventures in several non-gaming industries including being a builder, land developer, restaurant owner and operator, and a real estate broker. In 1992, she entered the gaming industry as a slot attendant at Trump Plaza in Atlantic City. She moved on to slot shift manager at Grand Palais riverboat in New Orleans, ultimately landing at Mohegan Sun as director of slot operations where she oversees 300-plus employees—an interesting feat for someone who had never played a slot machine before.
“I was at a point in my life where I wanted to reinvent myself, challenge myself and be able to move into a direction that was going to be fast-paced as well as rewarding,” she said. “The casino industry looked like a perfect fit.”
And those at Mohegan Sun would probably agree, as Nevins has worked to institute policies in the best interests of everyone at the property. One of these would be a toke rate—or a shared pool of tips—for the slot attendants.
Nevins truly values and cares for every team member, which is evident in her response to what she likes best about the gaming industry. “I love to see good people being able to show their value and be rewarded for it. I love the ability to mentor people and help them to be able to reach heights that they didn’t know were possible. Days can be filled with laughter, and the outcome of a meeting can be a worthwhile exchange of ideas where everybody felt respected and valued.”
Nevins credits the strong corporate culture at Mohegan Sun as a guiding principle for the way she does business and deals with people. The property is routinely recognized as having exemplary slot service, which is likely also in part to Nevins’ own hard work.
But despite all the good in our industry, she’d like to see it move in a more hospitality-centric focus. “I would love to see the levels of service rise above what it is today, creating an atmosphere where other industries look to ours to try to figure out how we are doing what we do, and trying to emulate it,” she commented. “I would love to see the advances in technology come in and remove some of the tasks that get in our way of blowing away our customers. There’s so many ways that we can improve our offerings; we just have to stay focused on the idea of hospitality and entertainment being delivered in a world-class setting.”
One of the people in Nevins’ life who serves as a mentor is Frank Neborsky, vice president of slot operations at Mohegan Sun, whom she met when she started as a slot attendant. “He noticed the work that I was doing, and he noticed the attention to detail that I approach tasks with,” she explained. Neborsky invited Nevins to develop two new riverboat casinos in Louisiana, which she accepted. When Neborsky moved to Connecticut to start a new casino in Uncasville, he again offered her the chance to further her career. “I moved to New England, started working for the Mohegan Sun, and I continue to learn from him to this day,” she said.
And the knowledge Nevins gleaned from Neborsky is put to use in her own role as a leader. Of Nevins, Neborsky said: “As director, Lorraine has been able to train and mentor her staff to the pinnacle of their abilities. No task is ever too large or too small for Lorraine. No matter what she does, Lorraine approaches her responsibilities, her work and her life with unyielding dedication and devotion for perfection.”
When it comes to Nevins’ non-work life, the personal accomplishment closest to her heart is also one of the biggest challenges she faces today—her family. “I am most proud of the influence that I have had over my children,” she said. “They are both strong and capable leaders within their community. Most important, however, is that they are both, good, kind and compassionate parents to their own children.” On the other hand, she struggles with the distance from her family. “Living in New England and having family spread out from New York to California to Florida makes things personally hard. Modern communication tools can make it a little easier, but nothing really replaces quality time with your family.”
Nevins responded to her award with surprise. She said: “Mohegan Sun makes an award like this happen. This was a group effort, for which I have been nominated and awarded. It did not happen because of me; it happened because of the element of teamwork that exists within Mohegan Sun. Hard work can get you noticed, but having great people around you will always make you better if you let it. Being respected by your peers is an honor that cannot be described in words, simply felt in your heart.”
Nevins is inspired by watching a project’s life. “I love to see resolution,” she explained. “I love to be able to watch something unfold and develop, take shape and form. This is true in both my professional life, as well as my personal endeavors. There is a great sense of accomplishment that comes with doing a job well. I believe that that pride—that feeling of accomplishment—is the thing that separates good results from great results.”
And good women from great women. AH
Senior Vice President, Casino Operations
Atrue trail-blazer for women working on the casino floor and in the management office, Debra Nutton is a leader with heart, determination and thick skin. She started her gaming career with a nursing degree in 1979.
Nutton was among the first female craps dealers in Las Vegas. Times are so different now, she says. Back then, dealers didn’t really have rights. “You really tried hard, is all I can say, you really tried hard not to complain or do anything because you had to set the stage for everyone else, and the attitude for dealers then was ‘dummy up and deal.’ ”
Nutton liked the excitement and challenging atmosphere of the gaming floor and stayed in the business because she didn’t want to let anyone get the best of her. She states: “Unless I love you, you can’t get me, so bring it on. Because I knew none of it made sense and they had so many rules for women that were different than men.” For example, no two women were allowed to work at the same table. “It kind of gives you the strength for whatever life gives you, career-wise at least,” she says.
It took work to gain respect from men in the industry as Nutton broke ground by earning leadership positions throughout the 1980s. She spent eight years at the former Sands Hotel as a dealer, floor supervisor and pit manager, and worked at other various properties. She says the key to being accepted by men in the business was being content with little accomplishments each day. Nutton vividly remembers a turning point in her career. She was working as the first female supervisor at a Vegas casino in the dice pit. It was a busy day—one of the times dealers want smart supervisors. The craps dealer looked at her and said, “I’m glad you’re here.”
In 1989, Nutton joined MGM Mirage. She is now the senior vice president of casino operations at MGM Grand. In her position, Nutton is responsible for all table games, poker, race and sports book operations. She has a team of more than 1,000 employees, manages a payroll budget of more than $43 million and revenues of $300 to $350 million annually.
John Shigley, executive vice president of operations at MGM Grand, says he is consistently impressed by Nutton’s ability to be proactive in employee relations. She helped design and implement a dealers website, Tabletalk, which allows casino employees 24-hour access to schedules, policies, job openings and feedback. Nutton’s colleagues also applaud her for having a positive attitude that serves her well when dealing with casino guests.
Nutton attributes her success to being honest 100 percent of the time. London Swinney, executive director of casino operations at New York, New York, says although the casino industry is notorious for gossip and controversy, not a single person has ever had a bad thing to say to her about Nutton. “Not only was there nothing bad said; there were numerous inspiring stories from her former co-workers.”
Nutton makes it her own, personal job to be a mentor to women at her company. She never had a female mentor and figured out how to make her way on her own. “I decided I was going to be a female 100 percent. I was going to wear a pink dress if I wanted to; I was going to talk about my son.”
Along the way, Nutton learned a few things she wants other women to know. First, she says, you don’t have to try to be one of the guys to be successful. “Be a female and embrace that, and be a mother and do that. And then, embrace each other and be each other’s advocate and push for the other females to do well, because we aren’t each other’s competition. If we help each other, then really the sky is the limit.”
To practice what she preaches, Nutton plans trips and parties for all the female shift managers and pit managers at MGM Mirage. She explains: “Unless we do what men do, unless we go golfing on Sunday and we become a good group, instead of a group that works against each other, then we’ll always, always hit that glass ceiling.”
Determination to break boundaries isn’t the only thing that keeps Nutton working hard. She will continue to improve because the people she works with expect it of her. “Their careers are starting or they’re in the middle somewhere. They expect me to not give up.”
Nutton rightfully boasts about two accomplishments she reached recently at the age of 50; she went back to school and earned a degree in business and ran a half marathon. But her biggest personal accomplishment in life is her family. Nutton’s son is 23 and she says she can’t wait to watch him grow into a successful adult.
Ten years from now, Nutton hopes the gaming industry is more involved with the community. She is active in community volunteer programs including those that assist in cancer research and support education opportunities for at-risk children. She encourages her staff to get involved in local schools. Nutton’s expectations for herself and for females are now expanding to the industry as a whole. “We could do so much more, but we only live up to what’s expected of us, which wasn’t much. So I want what’s expected of us in the community to be so much more, so that we can have so much more of a voice in the community.” SKC
Madilenia B. Chavarillo
Executive Director of Gaming Operations
Sky Ute Casino Resort
Madilenia B. Chavarillo is an inspiring example of how strong roots and a quiet determination can make a difference in an industry often known on “the outside” for its frivolity. And these traits have carried her through 17 successful years in gaming at the Sky Ute Casino Resort in Ignacio, Colo.
Though she was born in New Mexico, Chavarillo has spent most of her life in the Ignacio area, having been raised there with her three siblings. It was there that she gained the foundation that would carry her through an education away from home and a quick return to her Southern Ute tribal community. Chavarillo is proud to name her parents, Randy and Marlene Baker, as two of her most influential mentors.
“They’ve definitely instilled some strong values in me, and have always taught me that honesty is the best practice, and having respect for everyone and believing in yourself will carry you through anything,” Chavarillo explained. “And just those simple things have brought me a long way.”
That journey started when Chavarillo went back to Albuquerque, N.M., where she lived during her childhood years, to attend the University of New Mexico. There, she focused on business coursework with the hopes of someday owning her own business. Though she left New Mexico early, being hired at Sky Ute in 1993, she continued to pursue her education, something she lists as one of her most significant personal achievements.
By interleaving her studies with her work at the casino, Chavarillo eventually earned a dual bachelor’s degree in business and human resource management from the University of New Mexico in 2000. She stated: “It’s not always easy to sacrifice valuable time with family and friends to remain focused, but having that vision and that commitment to just do what you know needs to be done makes you a better person overall.” Always striving to reach the next level, Chavarillo is planning to work toward a master’s degree in the near future.
“It is rare to find an individual that has the right blend of industry knowledge and maturity to continue to grow to almost unlimited potential,” said Matt Olin, General Manager and COO of Sky Ute Casino Resort.
Just like working her way through higher education, Chavarillo worked her way up the ladder in the casino. She started on the front line as a slot floor attendant and immediately became noticed for her thoughtfulness, respect and commitment to self-improvement.
After completing her degree, Chavarillo returned to the casino to become an intern in slot management. She later was promoted through to slot technical manager, the executive director of slot operations and eventually her current position as the executive director of gaming operations for the past two years.
Diversity and a fast pace have kept Chavarillo interested in the ever-evolving gaming industry. The job has also kept her on her toes, which she considers to be a good thing. “It’s never boring,” Chavarillo said. “You cannot work in the gaming industry and expect it to remain the status quo. There’s excitement in all the areas, like technology, for one. Gaming is an adult playground, and you just always have to shoot for the excitement.”
But the industry hasn’t been without its challenges for Chavarillo, who had to cultivate her self-confidence as she moved up to positions of greater importance. She also had to prove herself as a Native American woman in the industry, while representing both her casino and her tribe among “the big boys.” And she succeeded through her commitment, hard work and pride in giving her best effort. “Perseverance is the key to overcoming your challenges,” Chavarillo said.
“The gaming industry from the outside looks easy, but those of us in it know how challenging it can be,” said James R. Hardman Jr., assistant director of slot operations at Sky Ute Casino Resort. “Madilenia has taken to the industry as though she was born to it.”
Being a part of a small tribal community is very important for Chavarillo, and she feels a responsibility to contribute to her people—the Southern Utes. She uses her free time to act as a mentor to other tribal members, including the youth, teaching them about the importance of making education a priority and keeping themselves fit and healthy. “I’m just trying to advocate for a better lifestyle and to always hold family values close,” she said. “I wouldn’t be where I’m at in my career without the support and guidance of my family and close friends. The Southern Ute Tribe offers great opportunities for those who want to pursue higher education. I try to promote this to those tribal members who are interested.”
Chavarillo also remains very humble, and was surprised to find herself named as a Rising Star. “I have always admired such hard-working women in the gaming industry, but I never thought I’d be recognized among them. I am truly honored to receive such a prestigious award,” she said. “It’s not an easy industry. You will have roadblocks and hurdles put before you, but take them one at a time. Believe in yourself and have the faith.”
That faith has paid off, and at work she is known for both her teamwork and leadership skills, and always working to her fullest potential. And she does it all with a smile on her face and a helpful attitude, perhaps due to her positive life philosophy. Chavarillo commented: “We’re not guaranteed a tomorrow, so live each day to the fullest. Be happy, have an open mind, a kind heart and always have laughter.” TH
Patti S. Hart
Chief Executive Officer and President
International Game Technology
Patti Hart says she’s not a very interesting person. However, our industry knows that Hart, CEO and president of IGT, is an extremely intriguing and amazing woman. She is, after all, the head of a major, publicly-traded company in the gaming space.
Hart grew up near Chicago, in a family of blue collar workers. Hart thinks of herself as “the common person,” who made her way up in the business world by working hard, taking responsibility and delivering results. Hart sees her family as one of the greatest gifts in her life. She says: “It’s a great reminder for me that not everyone is caught up in the same things that CEOs are caught up in. And you have to remind yourself of that every day. My employees live lives more like my family than they live lives like me.”
Hart has already landed a position at the top. She became CEO and president at IGT in April 2009, after serving as a member of the company’s board of directors since 2006. Hart’s love of entertainment and technology brought her to gaming.
Hart has more than 20 years of operational and executive experience in the telecommunications and consumer broadband industries. She has also been an active member of more than 10 corporate boards of directors. Hart has continuously brought lessons learned from one industry to the next. Hart says: “Each time I’m adding another layer to my experience and intuition. I do think it does take a level of courage and confidence to make that change and make yourself vulnerable again.”
In her short time at IGT, Hart has re-energized the company from top to bottom by creating an environment of accountability, open communication and managing against set goals and objectives. She has addressed weaknesses in debt maturities, focused on creative resources and building more compelling game content, made herself available to all 5,000 IGT employees, and met with leadership of all major U.S. and international customers and significant shareholders of IGT.
Hart has also put a new media organization in place at IGT. She says you can expect to see a lot more work from IGT in that space in the coming year. She strongly believes gaming professionals and players are spending their time using social applications in their daily life, and that social and new media are the communication platforms of the future. “Any company that isn’t using social media as a way to talk to their employees, shareholders, customers and end users, I think is missing a huge opportunity,” she says.
The professional accomplishment Hart is most proud of is the development of people she has worked with so far. Hart says, “For me, one of the greatest feelings is to see someone take on the next challenge and to have them come back and say, ‘You know that advice you gave me? It is still ringing in my ear.’ ”
On a personal level, Hart is proud of the time she has been able to dedicate to her family amidst her booming career. Hart is married and has a 24-year-old son. She took a break from working full time outside of the home twice in her son’s life so she could be with him before he entered school and as he was leaving college. “I took a step back and said, being a mom has to be a priority right now,” she explains.
Hart’s service to the community is impressive. She has served on the Illinois Task Force for Literacy and holds a board of visitors position at Duke University’s Public Policy School. A proponent of the arts, Hart has served on the Southern Methodist University Meadows Art School board and has long held a seat on the board of the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago.
Hart says she has to thank the good and patient role models she looked to early in her career: “People that really took the time to teach me, and let me make mistakes and coach me and challenge me. That’s been really helpful.” Now she looks to Philip Satre, chairman of the board at IGT, and calls him the “consummate role model” for his leadership skills, knowledge, experience and willingness to share it all.
Satre says Hart is unquestionably a star. “I can think of few women in gaming who have left such a large imprint on a major company in the industry in so little time.”
Hart does have female peers now, but wishes she had a female mentor. She believes this is changing as more women in the business—including her—are making a conscious effort to look for women working their way up and spend time with them.
Her advice for other women in gaming is: “When you make a decision to assume responsibility at whatever level, just be prepared for that, it’s not as easy, having it all. Being a mom, being a wife, being a daughter, being a boss and being an employee and all of that. It’s really not so easy.” Hart says you must make sacrifices and reset your priorities on a regular basis.
Looking forward, Hart’s motivation comes from working to upgrade the level of service for customers and provide a clearer path for work for employees. “You hear a theme in my life that I’m really about delighting and delivering to people,” Hart explains.
On days that she needs a little extra motivation, she stops in at one of IGT’s customer’s casinos. “Seeing our products at work and watching the guests enjoy our products is a great source of energy for me, and it puts things into perspective,” she notes. SKC
Elaine A. Hodgson
Chief Executive Officer and President
Elaine Hodgson left the world of biochemistry for an exciting career in gaming and never looked back. Now, she is the co-owner and founder of Incredible Technologies, which is currently working to get the word out about its first slot machine products.
Hodgson has served as president and CEO of Incredible Technologies since its inception in 1985. The company began as a $150,000 basement start-up and is now the largest U.S. manufacturer of coin-operated amusement games, including the wildly popular Golden Tee® Golf franchise.
Hodgson graduated from Purdue University with a degree in biochemistry and went on to work as an industrial chemist for NASA at the Kennedy Space Center. Later, she moved into game programming at Marvin Glass and Associates, where she worked for a variety of well-known clients including Bally-Midway. She tells the story of the transition lightheartedly. Hodgson went to lunch with her ex-husband and his boss one day: “And the guy gave me a job. So, it was a big decision, because I had my degree in biochemistry and chemistry and I was thinking, why should I do this? I thought I would learn programming and go back to chemistry with it. But once I got in the industry I never wanted to leave it.” Hodgson says she found the biochemistry work she was doing quite boring. But gaming, she says, is fun and exciting because of the people and the blend of science and art.
Almost five years ago, Hodgson’s company decided to add slot machines to their product line. The funding for the new venture came from the company’s own money saved from its coin-op success. Hodgson says she really appreciates the operators in casino gaming: “(They have) a good handle on their business. We’re really looking forward to learning from them and understanding what they know.”
Hogdson believes she is being recognized as a Rising Star in gaming because of her bravery to lead her company into a new venture during a difficult economic cycle. “It’s not very common for a new company to be entering into the manufacturing end, or making slot machines. It’s a very big leap; it’s a big risk.”
Hodgson says: “The Great Women of Gaming award is a great honor. I want to live up, now, to the fact that we were singled out and prove that it wasn’t a bad choice.”
Times have not always been so great for Hodgson and Incredible Technologies. She recalls one of the most challenging times in her professional life was when she had to lay off employees in the early 1990s. “It’s one thing to let someone go because they’re not performing; it’s another thing to let someone go when they are performing but you can’t pay them. It was very emotionally wrenching for me.” The company did come out of the tough financial time and Hodgson learned to always try to have something for a rainy day. She says it was also a lesson in perseverance. “You don’t know until you do it, who you are in a sense, until you face a crisis, and so I’m proud to say that we did stick it out, and we did persevere and we did everything we could to make it work.”
Hodgson’s biggest personal challenge has also affected her at work. Hodgson and her ex-husband co-founded Incredible Technologies 25 years ago when they were married. When they later divorced and Hodgson remarried, they made a conscious effort not to let their personal lives impact their company and their employees. It was actually an effort made by three people, since Hodgson’s husband also works at Incredible Technologies as the vice president of product development. Hodgson says it’s amazing because everybody is working well together now.
Hodgson has three children who she says are her biggest joy and accomplishment. She values time spent with her family and instills the same attitude in her employees. Scott Morrison, vice president of marketing at Incredible Technologies comments, “The family-oriented work environment that Elaine provides, along with her personal empathy and confidence in her staff, serve as a strong motivator for creative thinking and innovation at every level.”
An athlete and a risk taker, Hodgson enjoys running, skiing and scuba diving and will be taking to the skies solo this fall when her flying lessons take her to new heights.
Hodgson didn’t always think she could take on the world and master so many different skills. Her first and only female mentor, her 7th grade math teacher, taught her that women could be more than she had ever imagined. “I had aptitude for math and she made me see that women could be anything; this I was not getting at home.”
To aspiring female gaming industry leaders, Hodgson says: “Utilize every talent that you have to get where you’re going. Don’t have any inhibitions to what you can accomplish, don’t be stereotyped into anything. Just don’t let anything stop you.”
A sense of accomplishment and reaching goals is what drives Hodgson to continually improve personally and professionally. Mainly, she wants the best for her employees. “I really want to give them a company that they really want to work for, and that they want to grow,” she says. “It’s my family, I feel responsible, I want them to have a good career and a good means to raise their family.”
Hodgson hopes to create a good reputation for her company, with good customer service in place, while making casino gaming even more entertaining than it already is. “I’m ambitious and wanting to make a difference in this industry,” she says. SKC
Melonie D. Johnson
Vice President of Finance
Melonie Johnson is all about the challenge. For herself, it’s the challenge of growing up, the challenge of doing her best professionally and the challenge of taking risks. For her children, co-workers and those she mentors, it’s about challenging them to do and be better.
This attitude has paid off! Johnson has amassed experience in several widely different industries: banking, oil and gas, theme parks and gaming. “I feel like all the work … has led me to the place where I am now professionally,” she says. “I feel like I’m a member of a group of elite, successful, professional women at this point.” Johnson now sits as vice president of finance for Harrah’s Entertainment in the Mid-South region.
Her success comes from inauspicious beginnings, though. Growing up in small-town Lacombe, La., Johnson was one of four children and was the first in her family to go to college. Her go-getter attitude was formed early, under the watchful eyes of her parents. “My parents were strict. They had rules… But they provided love, structure, discipline, guidance, and they taught us about pride and being able to accomplish anything if we wanted it bad enough and worked hard enough for it. Whether I was a ditch-digger or a Yale professor, it didn’t matter to my family as long as I was happy and successful and I was doing it to the best of my ability.”
Starting out professionally, she used the resources available to her to learn and grow. “Whenever there was a new industry in town, I wanted to challenge myself and see if I could get hired there in the finance department,” she explains. “At one point, the oil and gas company I was working for filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. I found out Harrah’s was coming to New Orleans and I did some networking and got the name of the HR director, and set up a meet and greet.” Johnson did her homework, landed the job, and has been hooked ever since.
Dealing with bankruptcy, she says, has been her hardest professional challenge. Although it was tough, she used it as a learning opportunity. “I had to manage with minimal staffing and that afforded me the opportunity to learn how to do more with less.” In 2006, after working for a theme park in New Orleans—which also went through bankruptcy—Johnson came back to Harrah’s in the position she holds now.
She believes development is the professional accomplishment that was most influential in her receiving the award. “I do believe in identifying talent and nurturing it, watching that person grow, and when the opportunity presents itself, developing them into greater opportunities,” she explains, which is also evident in Johnson’s commitment to community service and mentoring.
She serves on the board of directors for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Memphis and participates in the company-sponsored HERO employee volunteer program that benefits local community organizations. “The reason I wanted to do Big Brothers Big Sisters is that our future depends upon our kids. If we don’t invest in our kids today, the future just falls apart. I’m passionate about helping someone who’s at a disadvantage because I remember what it can be like,” she says.
A big proponent of education and awareness, she says: “If we can educate our kids and expose them to different things, we’ve won half the battle right there. There are so many kids who don’t have choices.”
Johnson lives by the idea that failure is not an option—and that success comes by working hard. She’s had a few mentors in her life, one being her high school bookkeeping teacher. “The reason I think I went to college and majored in accounting was because of Mrs. Fields. She made me feel like I could do anything. One of her famous sayings was ‘That’s your little red wagon, honey, and you can either push it or pull it.’ ”
Johnson has transferred this attitude to her own management style. She encourages her team to learn all they can and go out into the operations.
Her hands-on credo is something she lives herself during down time at work. “The gaming industry is great. It’s exciting. If I’m at my desk and on a break and I want to do something, I walk the gaming floor. I talk to customers, I talk to employees. It’s just fun.”
The advice Johnson would give to aspiring women looking to get into the industry is to lay the proper foundation and network. “The proper foundation means the correct educational background, desire, drive and passion. You can’t be afraid to make mistakes and you can’t be afraid to take on challenges or risks. In this industry, we are risk takers. But we’ve got to make sure we have the correct assumption and we’ve done our homework. We don’t just jump out in the deep end unprepared; we take a swimming lesson first.”
Which has proven to be a recipe for success for herself. AH
Denyse S. Moore
Senior Director, Client Services West
Denyse Moore’s work ethic and passion for gaming has carried her through 11 years of work in the industry, and she hopes we’ll see her in a position at the top in 11 more years.
Moore began her career in gaming in 1999 as a senior consultant for the accounting firm Arthur Andersen. She worked on a project that involved implementing a Bally system, and eventually joined the Bally Technologies team in 2002. Originally, Moore’s career goal was to be a university president, so she left college to take what she thought was a two-year break to gain real-world experience. She never looked back. Moore says: “I’m here, I love interacting with customers, doing system conversions, being involved in opening a new casino. All of that, is something I really enjoy.”
Moore’s career at Bally began as a training manager. She was promoted to director of training and is now senior director of client services west for the company’s system division. “It’s a pretty big role, and I’m very proud and honored to be given the opportunity to be successful in that role,” Moore says.
Moore manages a department of more than 35 employees and shares responsibility for meeting client services revenue targets. Her department provides around-the-clock customer service and support and executes new casino-systems implementations, replacements, upgrades and add-ons. Additionally, Moore recently managed a number of high-profile systems installations that resulted in several quarters of record revenues for the company’s systems division.
Moore says the biggest challenge she’s faced on the job was during the time she held the role of training director. The challenge was getting people to buy into the idea that new Bally employees need to go through an internal training process. However, once this process was established, it greatly increased the ability of Bally’s training resources to add value to the investment made by Bally’s customers.
Ramesh Srinivasan, executive vice president of systems at Bally, says one of Moore’s most significant accomplishments during her time at Bally has been the establishment of a revenue-generating customer training center for the wide variety of systems products. “Her team of professional trainers provides our valued customers with the most comprehensive training experience in the gaming industry,” Srinivasan said.
The reason for Moore’s success, she believes, is hard work and dedication. “I’ve worked very hard, and have put in a lot of hours; I have passion for the products at Bally.” She feels thankful for the opportunities she has had at Bally and hopes to continue improving, succeeding and progressing upward professionally.
In her current role, Moore provides advice and feedback for her colleagues and employees. Sridhar Laveti, vice president of client management at Bally Technologies, shares similar responsibilities and challenges with Moore. Laveti says, “I find her wise counsel to be invaluable; especially as it regards to mentoring new employees and providing guidance and advice on a variety of issues.”
Moore has always been a goal-oriented person, starting with her days as student body president in both high school and college. Moore was determined to get a full scholarship to college, and she did. “I tell myself, this is what I want, and most of the time, I’ll accomplish it,” Moore explains.
Moore’s parents instilled this work ethic in her early on. She grew up in Portland, Ore., watching them work hard for what they wanted. Her parents were a mixed-race couple who married in 1964. “To hear about all of the struggles that they went through to be where they are at, to make sure that we had the best possible opportunities growing up, especially as mixed kids, is just amazing.” Moore says she would not be where she is at in life today if it wasn’t for her parents—her role models.
When Moore first entered the business world, she found a mentor she still looks to for professional guidance, Lisa Versace. The two women met at Arthur Andersen. Moore says it was great watching Versace work and seeing how she handled certain things. “She taught me so much about what the business world really is, and she actually was the one who brought me onto the Boyd project, which got my career started in gaming.”
Moore currently lives in Reno, Nev., with her husband. She has two step-children and enjoys camping, boating, boxing, running and traveling. Moore also has an English Bulldog named Qweenie. “I’m an animal person, and I love my dog; she is the love of my life. This is the big joke at Bally—they always say she comes before my husband.”
This summer, Moore’s love of animals turned into a new volunteer activity. She is volunteering one weekend a month at a local animal shelter that facilitates adoptions. She and her husband also volunteer at the Reno Gospel Mission homeless shelter. They cook meals for about 300 people.
Moore says accomplishing new goals she sets for herself is what keeps her motivated. She is continuously inspired by seeing other women in the industry reach leadership positions and succeed.
To other women hoping to accomplish their goals in gaming, Moore says, “Don’t be afraid to get out there, give suggestions and be involved in making change within your company … because that’s important.” Next, she says, be flexible on the job: “Willingness to do what it takes for the company is really what gets people ahead, and that’s key.” SKC