Casino Enterprise Management celebrates the 10 women chosen as winners of the 2013 Great Women of Gaming Awards, now in its ninth year. We are honored to share the stories of these talented professionals who embody the term “Great Women of Gaming,” and we hope the tales of how these women rose through the ranks of the gaming industry to become the leaders they are today inspire you as much as they inspire us.
Winners were selected as Proven Leaders or 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, hold a position of director or higher and have demonstrated exceptional achievement in at least three of the following areas: 1) ability to go above and beyond job responsibilities; 2) commitment to company and co-workers; 3) contributions to the industry as a whole; 4) commitment to mentoring; and 5) strong overall life balance.
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, having demonstrated exceptional achievement in at least three of the following areas: 1) ability to go above and beyond job responsibilities; 2) commitment to company and co-workers; 3) contributions to the industry as a whole; 4) commitment to mentoring; and 5) strong overall life balance.
The 2013 Proven Leader winners are Christine Bordeaux, vice president of R&D, electronic games and technical compliance, Bally Technologies; Wendy Hamilton, general manager, SugarHouse Casino; Joanne Iverson, president, Iverson Gaming Systems; Katie Lever, general counsel and senior vice president of legal and compliance, Bally Technologies; and Kim Ward, director of public and community affairs, Twin River Casino.
The 2013 Rising Star winners are Julia Boguslawski, vice president of corporate marketing, Bally Technologies; Randi Kolesar, director of slot marketing, Wynn Las Vegas; Annabelle Lee, marketing manager, Konami Gaming Inc.; Angela Sears, advertising supervisor, Spirit Mountain Casino; and Leigh Whitaker, vice president of communications, SugarHouse Casino.
“We are excited for each of the winners this year and are honored to give them the recognition they deserve. It’s been our pleasure to honor the Great Women of Gaming each year, and we look forward to next year’s awards,” said Peter Mead, publisher of Casino Enterprise Management magazine. “The awards this year fielded an extraordinary group of talented and accomplished nominees, and we salute them all. Having such a deserving field of candidates bodes well for women in gaming and for the gaming industry as a whole.”
The judging committee, which is composed of former Great Women of Gaming recipients and other industry leaders, faced the unenviable task of evaluating a group of extremely worthy nominees for this year’s awards. “It must have been a challenge for the judges, given the caliber of candidates this year, but they did an outstanding job and we thank them for the time and effort they devoted to this endeavor,” Mead said.
Judges this year were Staci Alonso Columbo, senior vice president of marketing and chief marketing officer, Station Casinos; Dona Cassese, president, Your Marketing Group; Tracy Cohen, director of Europe, Association of Gaming Equipment Manufacturers, and marketing manager, TCSJOHNHUXLEY; Christie Eickelman, vice president of marketing, Gaming Laboratories International; Tammy Farley, principal and co-founder of The Rainmaker Group; Sheila Morago, executive director, Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association; Debra Nutton, executive vice president of casino operations, Wynn Las Vegas; Laura Olson-Reyes, senior director of corporate marketing and communications, Bally Technologies; Valerie Red-Horse, president, Red-Horse Financial Group and Red-Horse Native Productions Inc.; and Kelly Shaw, vice president of system sales and marketing, Aristocrat Technologies.
On the following pages, we reveal the inspiring and motivating stories behind the 2013 Great Women of Gaming. We invite you to read on as we share the journeys of these talented professionals as they followed their personal and professional goals to get where they are today.
Vice President of R&D Electronic Games
Christine Bordeaux is no stranger to leadership in the workplace. After all, she has been demonstrating leadership qualities since she was a 16-year-old high school student working her first job at a McDonald’s in Tucson, Ariz.
By the time she turned 18, Bordeaux, winner of a 2013 Great Women of Gaming Proven Leader Award, was managing the fast-food restaurant. As a single mother, she worked two jobs while finishing her bachelor’s degree. Three months prior to receiving her degree in Management Information Systems, she was already managing a team at a company providing technical support for Microsoft products. Her career skyrocketed after that, with Bordeaux holding technical positions with the Nevada Gaming Control Board, Rocket Gaming Systems, Aristocrat Technologies, SHFL entertainment and, most recently, Bally Technologies, where she is Vice President of R&D Electronic Games.
“I have been in leadership/management positions in one form or another since I started working at the age of 16. It came naturally to me and evolved as I grew in my career,” Bordeaux said. “I came into gaming by chance and found a diverse, challenging and rewarding home.”
Bordeaux said the professional accomplishment she is most proud of is “creating opportunities for people by supporting their development, championing their causes and watching them grow.”
That’s no surprise to Craig Dalebout, judging by his letter recommending Bordeaux, citing her ability to inspire loyalty, impact those she leads and maintain long-lasting and positive relationships as “the mark of a true leader.”
“As long as I have known Christine, she has had one single goal— to always seek a win-win solution to any challenge,” said Dalebout, a senior audit manager at Gaming Laboratories International who previously worked with Bordeaux at the Nevada Gaming Control Board. “I’ve seen this in her role as a regulator, and I’ve seen this same philosophy demonstrated continually in her various roles in the industry.”
Travis Foley, BMM Testlabs Executive Vice President, Americas, noted in his recommendation that many with industry roles similar to those that Bordeaux has held are content with the status quo when working through regulatory processes and requirements. Not so with Bordeaux. “Christine has never been satisfied with being content. She has always respectfully questioned requirements or processes in order to improve them or to achieve the best results for her employer. This has also benefited the industry as a whole since changes made through her efforts have allowed the rest of the industry to benefit as well.”
In his recommendation, Walt Stowe, now vice president of compliance with Pinnacle Entertainment, recalled how he was struck by Bordeaux’s poise and confidence during an interview for a director of product compliance position at Aristocrat Technologies. Despite Bordeaux’s limited experience, Stowe hired her. “It soon became clear that I had made the right decision. Christine quickly learned the requirements of her challenging role and began to significantly contribute to the mission of the compliance department.”
Bordeaux listed “the opportunity to work within the field of technology and build career experience” as what attracted her to the gaming industry. But the industry aspect she enjoys most is simply “the people.”
“In one form or another, we have all worked together throughout our professional careers in the gaming industry. It is like a working family with a reunion every G2E,” she said. “In my professional career, I have been afforded great opportunity to work with extraordinary people in all aspects of the gaming industry: the private side in gaming equipment manufacture, in public government as a gaming regulator with the Nevada Gaming Control Board and with Tribal regulators creating and revising minimum internal control standards for Class II gaming operations.”
During her 13 years in the industry, Bordeaux has compiled an impressive record of achievement. She joined Bally in 2013 when the company merged with SHFL, where she held the same title she holds now. In that role, Bordeaux directs research and development activities for Bally’s Electronic Table Systems (ETS) and Electronic Gaming Machine (EGM) product lines.
At SHFL, Bordeaux was responsible for launching the company’s EGM product line in North America, achieving the first approval and installation in just two months. She also started SHFL’s first Las Vegas-based game design studio. Among many other accomplishments was her leadership in enabling Aristocrat’s cashless wagering system, OASIS™, to become the first Technical Standard 3 compliant system to receive Nevada regulatory approval, and in getting regulations approved to allow Mr. Cashman™ game technology in New Jersey.
While such professional achievements are rewarding, the personal accomplishment she is most proud of is “being a single mother working two jobs while completing my bachelor’s degree.”
These days Bordeaux carefully balances her professional growth with her family’s needs. “Three months after starting in the gaming industry I got married and as my family grew my career went from specialist to manager and then director,” she said. “I’ve overcome professional challenges by having a great family who keeps me grounded, happy and fulfilled.”
Asked for advice to women thinking about a gaming career, Bordeaux said, “If you’re knowledgeable, creative and willing to listen, learn and innovate, you have the opportunity to succeed in the gaming industry, regardless of your gender.”
Moving forward, Bordeaux’s goals are “to remain active and challenged within the international gaming community.”
Not only does Wendy Hamilton come from a casino whose own team members have voted it a “Best Place to Work” through the Philadelphia Business Journal three years in a row and “Top Workplace” from Philly.com also three years in a row, she also received the Philadelphia RowHome Magazine’s Blue Sapphire Award for community service in 2013. She received the “Woman Who Empowers Us” award in 2014 from 95.7 BEN FM in Philadelphia.
Hamilton has been the general manager of SugarHouse Casino since it opened in 2010, and came to SugarHouse with an already stellar background. She has a bachelor’s degree in pre-med and marine biology from Duke University and an MBA in finance from St. Joseph’s University. Her career background is equally impressive, having started as a hotel guest service representative with Harrah’s, and progressing to assistant general manager at Caesars Atlantic City, and then general manager of the former Philadelphia Park Casino, now known as the Parx Casino, for which she oversaw the opening.
Despite her successes, Hamilton didn’t set out to work in gaming. She has spent the last 20 years working in the industry she joined by chance while looking for her “real job.” Hamilton said of her successes, “I … have had crazy luck finding great opportunities. A lot of leaders looked out for me along the way. Opening SugarHouse four years ago, from a vacant lot, has drawn on everything I ever learned from every co-worker and leader with whom I ever worked.”
Hamilton’s learning didn’t end with her schooling or even when she opened SugarHouse Casino. She learns from “every smart person [she] can corner for 10 minutes.” And her recommendation to women looking to enter the gaming industry is simple: “Work smart, ask questions, create value, and when a door opens, walk through it. Learn everything you can.”
Hamilton doesn’t depend only on her own knowledge. She relies on her team, which she describes as smart, talented and diverse. “If you study the folks around you and try to think outside whatever their official title is, you will find hugely valuable skills they can contribute to projects that might, at first glance, seem disconnected from their official role in the organization.” She speaks highly of her team and is genuinely proud of their accomplishments and their camaraderie.
At SugarHouse, Hamilton oversees 1,100 team members, and with the upcoming expansion, that number will rise to 1,700. Greg Carlin, SugarHouse Casino’s CEO, has no qualms about her ability to make this an easy transition. “Given Wendy’s current commitment to building a strong employee culture, I am confident she’ll be able to make these additional team members feel like family right away,” Carlin said, citing her “endearing personality” as her most notable characteristic. In fact, Wendy’s personal slogan, “WooHoo!”, has even become a trademark line among the SugarHouse team.
Another of Hamilton’s important responsibilities is her community involvement. In 2011, SugarHouse signed on as title sponsor for Philadelphia’s annual New Year’s Day Mummers Parade, one of the U.S.’s oldest folk traditions. “Under Wendy’s watch, it is reassuring to know that one of the most iconic traditions of our city won’t fade into history,” said Vincent R. Giannini, VP and general manager of PHL17, the channel that airs the Mummers Parade every year. Hamilton continues to support the Mummers organization throughout the whole year, attending galas and hosting the Mummers Ride for Cancer at SugarHouse Casino.
Although Hamilton’s work keeps her busy, she finds time to serve on the board for the Police Athletic League and is a member of the Philadelphia Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. Under her guidance, SugarHouse has also been a key supporter for Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in Philadelphia.
One challenge facing the gaming industry, Wendy thinks, is that people don’t always understand the value that a casino can bring to a community. With a motto of “What’s good for Philadelphia, is good for SugarHouse,” Philly’s casino operates in a way that is mutually beneficial for its surrounding communities. “We are career factories, charitable giving leaders and neighborhood development engines. We are among the most highly regulated industries and employ some of the most tediously licensed employees in commerce,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton’s future career goals are centered on SugarHouse’s upcoming expansion, due to open in 2015. This expansion includes several new restaurants and bars, event space with a waterfront view and an expanded gaming floor, which will include a 30-table poker room—the first in the city.
Hamilton’s favorite way to spend time is with her 6-year-old son, who is known to say, “Mom, I need you to focus.” She is also a PADI-certified Rescue Diver and runs 30 miles per week. If she hadn’t gotten involved in the gaming industry, Hamilton said she would be “running a fishing charter in Key West. Seriously.”
With such a powerful resume and a great deal of energy, it’s easy to see why Hamilton has earned such a name for herself in the industry. She worked hard to create an employee culture that has team members happy and, as Hamilton said, “When you’re making money and everyone’s having fun doing it, yours are high class problems!”
Joanne W. Iverson
Iverson Gaming Systems
As many Olympians know, the true spirit of the games is not in victory but in the effort to achieve greatness. It is passion like this that has helped Joanne Wright Iverson succeed time and again in the face of challenges. After starting her career as a systems programmer, she is now the founder and president of Iverson Gaming Systems, which offers innovative gaming management solutions.
Having started her company in 1996 as a newcomer to the gaming industry, Iverson is thrilled to be honored as a Proven Leader. “To be recognized as a Great Woman of Gaming at this stage in my company’s development is greatly appreciated considering the tremendous effort it took to get this far.” Now, after serving 18 years as president of Iverson Gaming Systems, it is clear she knows what it means to be a leader in the gaming industry.
Iverson’s path to leadership can be traced to her early involvement in the sport of rowing. While she was just learning to row, she dreamed of competing in the Olympics before women were even allowed to row in the Olympic Games. But little things like rules weren’t going to deter her for long. Iverson co-founded the National Women’s Rowing Association (NWRA), and in 1976 she led the first U.S. Olympic Women’s Rowing Team to the Montreal Games as manager.
During this time, Iverson worked as a secretary at Unisys Corporation before a system programming training class caught her attention. She contacted the head of the programming department about joining the class but was told she needed a math degree to attend. Instead she developed an executable program after a detailed study of the Univac 1050, and was able to attend the class and begin her work as a systems programmer.
Ten years later, Iverson became the vice president of electronic funds transfer operations at Girard Bank in Philadelphia. At Girard, she was responsible for developing and installing the first ATM system in Philadelphia, as well as an early bank-by-phone service.
In 1984, Iverson founded her own company, Iverson Associates, Inc. (IAI), which developed custom software applications for the new PC market. Making the transition between her IT career and managing her own firm was one of the biggest career challenges Iverson faced. She explained, “I had to develop new skills and acquire experience by doing.” Overcoming these challenges proved fruitful, as it drew Iverson into the gaming industry.
“My first company was hired to do software development for a casino in the Bahamas. This exposure to the gaming industry piqued my interest such that I spent a year investigating the industry,” she said.
With this newfound interest, Iverson Gaming Systems was founded in 1996. Iverson uses her experience in systems programming, electronic funds transfer and custom software development to focus on information management solutions for the gaming industry. Demonstrating creative innovation, her banking experience led her to envision a different way to capture slot activity and led to the development of a wireless slot and player tracking system that uses power-line data transmission to communicate between slot machines. The SLOTMaster Slot and Player Tracking system has since been implemented in more than 100 cruise ships worldwide.
A key qualification of a Proven Leader is commitment to mentoring. As Matthew Brown, director of business development at Iverson Gaming Systems, noted, “Joanne has the gift of recognizing nascent talent, fostering that talent, encouraging it, challenging it and selflessly guiding it to its fruition so that it makes everyone else around her shine … She is the President of two companies and a boat club, but she still makes time to have thoughtful one-on-one conversations with young adults to teach them, train them and challenge them.”
Susan Hufnagel recalls Iverson’s dedication to mentorship when they met in 1980 working together at Girard Bank. Now vice president of Iverson Gaming Systems, she remembers how Iverson encouraged her audit department. “She arranged for several of the department members, including me, to attend the same class people hired to work in the Data Center attended. After completing the class, I was promoted to IT Auditor with a staff of three … [Iverson] could draw on her own experience as a programmer to help us advance our careers.”
Despite her busy schedule, Iverson maintains several personal interests. She is an avid reader and is a published author of the book An Obsession with Rings: How Rowing Became an Olympic Sport for Women. She is the president of the Vesper Boat Club in Philadelphia and still rows to this day. Asked about her future goals, Iverson said she plans to “continue growing my company and to write my next and greatest book.” She is also five years into martial arts training and working toward her black belt.
In true Olympic spirit, Iverson said her favorite aspect of the gaming industry is, “The constant challenge.” Iverson’s accomplishments more than demonstrate her prowess as an industry leader and innovator, and her drive, determination and passion remain as strong as they were when she dreamed of rowing in the Olympics. As Brown said, “She absolutely believes that nothing is impossible, and she has retained her zest for life despite the setbacks and disappointments that are unavoidable in business and life in general. She exudes a strong, positive and lively spirit.”
General Counsel and Senior Vice President of Legal and Compliance
For going on 13 years, Katie Lever has carved a stellar reputation as general counsel for a number of diverse public gaming companies, gaining respect for her mastery of gaming law and passion for mentoring.
Now general counsel and senior vice president of legal and compliance at Bally Technologies, Lever is a winner of a 2013 Great Women of Gaming Proven Leader award, the latest in a string of accolades she has earned for her remarkable work in the industry.
Lever came to Bally from SHFL entertainment, which was acquired by the company in November 2013. As SHFL’s executive vice president and general counsel, Lever played a key role during the $1.3 billion acquisition, and was asked to become general counsel at Bally. She is responsible for legal and regulatory matters related to Bally’s multifaceted operations, including management of its legal, intellectual property and compliance departments.
While at SHFL entertainment, Lever gained a reputation for her tenacious defense of SHFL’s intellectual property.
“One of Katie’s greatest strengths was understanding that intellectual property was one of our most valuable assets,” former SHFL CEO and now Scientific Games CEO Gavin Isaacs said in recommending her for Great Women of Gaming honors. “She and her team worked to shut down dozens of sites that were illegally using SHFL’s games. At one point, nine of 11 top online games used material SHFL had patented.”
Lever was invaluable to SHFL in providing strategic legal advice, Isaacs said. Beyond her aggressive defense of SHFL’s intellectual property, Lever “has become known for her online gaming knowledge, which is increasingly important as online gaming expands in the United States,” he said.
As recognition of her work against intellectual property infringement, she was recently named to Gaming Intelligence’s Hot 50 of 2014 list for Legal & Regulation. Nevada Business magazine named her one of its Power Women for 2014, while VEGAS INC. magazine named her one of its Women to Watch in 2012.
Before going to SHFL entertainment, Lever was the first general counsel and executive vice president of Global Cash Access, where she led pre- and post-IPO creation of a legal and compliance function for the gaming industry’s largest cash access provider.
Prior to Global Cash Access, Lever was a partner with the Las Vegas law firm Schreck Brignone (now Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck), where she practiced transactional, commercial and corporate law for many of the largest gaming operators.
Law firm shareholder Frank Schreck said Lever has established herself as a premier general counsel. “Katie has an incredible ability to not only learn but to obtain a high level of professional expertise in a very diverse and complex number of subject matters which were necessary to satisfy the requirements of being a general counsel to public companies,” Schreck said in recommending her for the award.
For her part, Lever said she never thought about making a long-term career in gaming.
“Like many of us, I fell into the gaming industry. I moved to Las Vegas in early 2001 after practicing in Vancouver for about seven years, thinking that it would be a relatively short-term stay,” Lever said.
She said she was “incredibly lucky” to land at Schreck Brignone. “Not only did I make some of my closest lifelong friends at the firm, but it also launched me into a new and challenging career, which in my wildest dreams, I couldn’t have dreamed of.”
The firm’s partners gave her the opportunity to work as counsel on some of the most exciting deals at that time, including the IPO of Wynn Resorts and the merger of Caesars Entertainment and Harrah’s.
“Gaming law adds an entirely different complexity to all M&A and being the ‘gaming expert’ on these transactions was extraordinary and completely addictive, so much so that the short-term stay has turned into 13 years and counting,” she said. “This industry provides never-ending and unique experiences that are always too intriguing to pass up. I remain challenged by my job every day, which is just one of the things I love about it.”
While the profession and its accolades are rewarding, it is another, more personal, achievement that strikes a chord with Lever.
“I’m deeply proud of following in my mother’s footsteps. She moved to my home city of Vancouver from London in her early 20s, not knowing anyone and over the decades became a force to be reckoned with in terms of her dedication to her community and volunteerism,” Lever said. “While there is no one that can ever be the woman my mother is, I’m proud that I started out fresh both in this industry and in Las Vegas, not knowing anyone, and over the last decade have found my own way to give back to my new home and industry by doing things such as leading the development of the Global Gaming Network … being an officer of the International Association of Gaming Advisors (IAGA) and fundraising for other favorite organizations.”
Lever said she has been “amazingly blessed” with mentors and advocates.
“Throughout my career, and particularly during transitional periods, my mentors have provided me with feedback that has truly helped me push far beyond my comfort zone, while time and time again my advocates have helped me forge relationships that have been essential in my ultimately moving into life-changing positions,” she said. “I am committed to playing these roles for others as they move through their careers in our industry.”
Director of Public and Community Affairs
Twin River Casino
Speak to anyone of Kim Ward and they will speak of her passion, professionalism and her willingness to go above and beyond what is expected of her. When asked what it meant to be honored as a Great Woman of Gaming Proven Leader, she also showed her gracious appreciation. “Just to be nominated by my colleagues is quite an honor, winning is unfathomable given the vast number of women who were submitted for this award.”
Ward graduated from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst in 1994. She is now the director of public and community affairs for Twin River Casino in Lincoln, R.I. Like many others however, Ward went over several hurdles to achieve the success she has now. Right out of college, she started waitressing before moving on to a job in graphic design. Soon after, she accepted a part-time job at Lincoln Park, the predecessor to Twin River Casino. Ward began her path to success in the gaming industry here. “The executive team recruited me to start the graphics department for their in-house Marketing department. I jumped at the chance and started right away, which began my ascension up the corporate ladder,” she explained.
One of Ward’s greatest strengths is her diversity of experience. She is able to take on countless differing responsibilities with ease, making her invaluable to the company. In her advice to women aspiring for careers in the gaming industry, Ward said, “The best advice I can give is to never limit yourself to one job; the more diverse your job duties range, the more valuable you are to your company and peers.”
Ward found this wisdom useful in the in the face of career challenges, such as when Lincoln Park was sold to Twin River Casino. Her position was eliminated, and she was given the choice to leave or stay on in a different career path. Showing the dedication and commitment for which she has come to be known, Ward chose to change career paths and stay on with the company. It didn’t take long for her hard work and perseverance to be noticed, and she was soon promoted and remained a valuable asset to the company.
As the current director of public and community affairs, Ward’s responsibilities range far beyond her title. Her 16 years with the company have seen her involved in almost every aspect of its transformation. According to Twin River Casino Vice President and General Manager Craig Sculos, “Kim has been at the forefront of a seemingly endless array of ongoing duties and special projects: media relations, facility operations, public relations, marketing, graphic design, event management, community liaison, strategic planning, construction design, social media, charitable endeavors [and] problem gaming.”
One of Ward’s proudest accomplishments was her role in the passage of the 2012 table game referendum to allow table games at the Rhode Island venue. Ward was responsible for the outreach and education of the Lincoln community on the importance of these referendums to the casino. With a combination of on-the-ground campaigning, keeping the local Town Council well-informed and her exceptionally positive relationship with the Lincoln community, the measure passed at both the town and state level with more than 70 percent of the local vote. Mark Russo, a Rhode Island attorney who has worked with Ward for eight years, commented, “Kim’s efforts with Twin River’s host community also underscores her contributions to the industry as a whole … As a result, the credibility and standing of the gaming industry in the State of Rhode Island is at an all-time high.”
Ward has also been instrumental in developing the Twin River Casino’s charitable program that has raised millions of dollars for community organizations. Her management of the Rhody 5K Road Race impressed Race Director Dave McGillivray, who commented, “Never having managed a road race before, Kim was undaunted and simply stepped up and performed like [a] pro from day one. Her commitment to the cause, her attention to detail and her willingness to not only embrace, but to own, this task was indeed impressive.”
The Tomorrow Fund, a nonprofit organization providing daily support to children with cancer and their families, is one of the charities that has benefited from Ward’s fundraising skills. According to Executive Director Barbara Ducharme, “ Kim generously volunteered her time, energy and expertise, going well beyond her job responsibilities, to create the largest and most significant community charity event, raising more than $800,000 for The Tomorrow Fund in the process.”
For someone as talented and skilled as Ward, it is no surprise that her favorite aspect of the gaming industry is its diversity. She said, “I’m fortunate in my position that every day is different. I never get bored.” In addition to her well-documented dedication to her job and community, she still has time for her family, friends and personal pursuits.
As for future career goals, Ward had only this to say: “Currently my company has only male VPs … certainly would be nice to add a female to the mix.”
Vice President Corporate Marketing
While the gaming industry historically has been a male-dominated world, 2013 Great Women of Gaming Rising Star Julia Boguslawski believes the industry offers much to women and vice versa.
“I think contrary to popular belief, gaming is a great industry for women. This industry is actually very relationship-driven, and women typically excel in that area,” said Boguslawski, vice president of corporate marketing for Bally Technologies. “On the supplier side, it’s all about listening to your customers and responding to their needs, another trait that tends to come naturally for women.”
Boguslawski started her career at CNL Hotels & Resorts, Inc., first as a senior business analyst and then as manager of investor relations. She joined SHFL entertainment as the company’s director of investor relations in 2008 and two years later was promoted as the company’s vice president of investor relations and corporate communication, the youngest vice president at SHFL. She joined Bally Technologies in 2013 as part of the company’s acquisition of SHFL, and in her current position oversees Bally’s global marketing operations.
Roger Snow, senior vice president of table and utility products for Bally Technologies, first met Boguslawski when she took the job as director of investor relations when they both worked for SHFL entertainment. “It was obvious to me that she was there to make a difference. Or die trying,” he said in a letter recommending her for the award.
“The gaming industry takes to outsiders the way the street gangs or the Amish do: They’re skeptical. You have to prove that you’re not just some wannabe, that you’re actually in this for the right reasons. And from the beginning, I was one of the doubters,” he said.
That was before their first “investor run” to Boston, New York, Baltimore and San Diego. “Julia just blew me away. From airport to airport, building to building, meeting to meeting, she was relentless and tireless. She knew everything about Shuffle Master, its history and its products, and its vision for the future,” he said. “She spoke with passion and articulation, humor and sincerity. These investors and analysts, who, keep in mind, earn their living by sniffing bullshit from bouquets, cross-examined her like a prosecutor in a John Grisham novel. And while she was passing their boisterous interrogations, she was passing my silent initiation as well.”
Boguslawski does not just excel at her job, he said, but also gives of herself as well, to both charitable and mentoring efforts. “She is generous with her time, perhaps to a fault, and always willing to offer words of encouragement or mentorship to those who seek them out.”
In a similar letter, Brad Boyer, gaming and leisure analyst with Stifel, Nicolaus & Company Inc., said Boguslawski took the time to educate him about SHFL and the broader gaming industry. He praised Boguslawski’s “broad-reaching passion for the gaming industry, enthusiasm for the underlying businesses she serves, commitment to furthering the professional development of her colleagues, and the ferocity with which she approaches her day-to-day responsibilities.”
Boguslawski said she was attracted to the gaming industry because it centers so heavily on entertainment and because “some of the world’s sharpest business minds are involved in this sector so you have the opportunity to observe and learn from the best of the best.”
She also noted she’s not just an observer of gaming; she plays table games, video poker and slots and bets on sports, proudly toting more than 20 different player cards. “I think it’s essential to immerse yourself in the experience if you work in this industry, especially on the supplier side where one of our key objectives is to create compelling content,” she said. “Having the player perspective allows me to wear a different hat when discussing industry trends and enables me to think differently about product marketing.”
One of her biggest career challenges came when Bally acquired SHFL and her role expanded. “Although at a high level there are more similarities than differences between messaging to investors and messaging to customers, there are many facets of marketing that are fairly new to me,” she said.
“It’s a challenge not to be an ‘expert’ on day one. I want to know all of the answers, have all the internal relationships in place and come up with good solutions, but that doesn’t happen overnight,” she said.
The great news is, “I don’t need to be an expert,” she said. “I have an incredible team of professionals who are experts in their respective areas. Rather than focusing on trying to know everything, my focus is to ensure my entire team is empowered to make decisions and has the support it needs to be successful.”
On that note, Boguslawski said that nearly all of her professional successes are the result of great teamwork. “If you’re building a team, hire hard and manage easy. Look for character, work ethic and passion—everything else can be learned.”
Boguslawski also feels strongly about mentoring and mentoring programs. She uses a professional coach and has had strong female mentors, including fellow 2013 Great Women of Gaming winner Katie Lever. “She is often my sounding board and confidante,” Boguslawski said.
In her personal life, Boguslawski said one of her proudest achievements is being involved in the life of her fiancé’s 10-year-old daughter over the last five years. “I have absolutely loved being part of her life, watching her grow and trying to set a good example for her,” Boguslawski said.
Last, but not least, Boguslawski has found passion to be the single greatest advantage anyone can have professionally. “Passion breeds a continuous-improvement mindset because you never want to stop learning and growing,” she said. “It’s authentically caring about the success and longevity of your company. When you have passion for what you do, it never feels like you’re working.”
Director of Slot Marketing
Wynn Las Vegas
Randi Kolesar, director of slot marketing for Wynn Las Vegas, has come a long way since her summers detasseling corn in Minnesota. With nine years of experience in the gaming industry, Kolesar is an excellent example of what it takes to be one of the 2013 Great Women of Gaming’s Rising Stars.
Kolesar graduated from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration. While still at UNLV, she interviewed for Bellagio’s Management Associate Program (MAP) and, if not for the recruiter’s recommendation that she consider slot operations, could have chosen hotel operations instead. “Her pitch was that [slot operations] was an ever-evolving department and really focused on technology. It’s funny now, because it’s those reasons that I find most attractive in the gaming industry, still to this day,” Kolesar said.
Accepted to Bellagio’s MAP Program directly after graduation, Kolesar worked as a slot supervisor on the casino floor. From there, she worked for a year for MGM Resorts International in its loyalty marketing department, assisting in the installation of patron management systems in the company’s Mandalay Bay and Monte Carlo properties. Her time in the loyalty program was no doubt helpful as she now oversees Wynn’s “Red Card” loyalty club. She spent another year working for MGM as part of its marketing team for CityCenter Residential.
For a short time, Kolesar left the casino industry to work for Coldwell Banker Premier Reality as the director of special projects and events. In this position, she was required to conduct technology training, manage online marketing and plan events. It was this experience that made her such a strong candidate for her next position with MGM. Despite not being trained in human resources, she rejoined MGM as part of their Finance Shared Services Center and was involved in training and developing new employees. “As a relatively new division of our company, we were suffering from a lack of culture, a lack of formal training and relatively high turnover. Randi established programs and a culture to ensure that staff knew what was expected of them and what was happening in the Center. She gave us discipline in the areas of recruiting, onboarding and training,” MGM Resorts Senior Vice President Rick Arpin said.
Kolesar worked for the company’s Finance Shared Services Center for nearly three years, before she was approached by Wynn Resorts with an opportunity to return to marketing. “I jumped at the chance to join the Wynn team and get back into a marketing role,” Kolesar said. “Almost two years later, I’m still here and really love what I do and especially love working for Wynn.”
That love for her company is part of what inspired Debi Nutton, executive vice president of casino operations at Wynn Las Vegas, to nominate Kolesar for the award. Kolesar makes herself available to her co-workers and employees whenever she is needed and is at the casino regardless of what day of the week it is.
Kolesar is a strong mentor to her team. “[She] has a team of Slot Hosts who continually look to her for mentorship. She has the uncanny ability to balance many tasks at once … and still leave at the end of the day with a bright smile on her face,” Nutton said. Kolesar makes certain her employees have the information they need to do their jobs efficiently and effectively.
Kolesar credits a personal mentor for helping her in her career. Although this mentor does not work in the gaming industry, Kolesar said, “She’s not scared to challenge me and push me to operate outside my normal comfort zone.” She is also able to call upon many previous bosses for mentoring should she need it.
Beyond her work at the casino, Kolesar keeps herself busy with her young daughter; her proudest personal accomplishment is “Being a mother to a happy and healthy six year old.” She makes certain that she and her employees are able to work hard and still have time to spend with their families.
“[Kolesar] is that strikingly elegant, put-together woman who makes you think, ‘I don’t know how she does it.’ As a single mother and career woman, you wonder how she manages to juggle all her hats and even fit in a spin class with her workload and home life,” Kat Salazar, executive casino host at Wynn Las Vegas, said.
Kolesar’s advice for women planning to enter the gaming industry, or any industry, is to understand the company. “Know what’s expected of you and how they [the leadership team] operate. It’s challenging to know what to improve or where to improve if you truly don’t understand the business you’re working for. It’s just as important to understand your colleagues and employees. Figure out the best way to communicate and interact with them effectively.”
Gaming Marketing Manager
The daughter of first-generation Americans, Konami Gaming Marketing Manager Annabelle Lee counts her experience growing up in a family immersed in two cultures as one of the most important influences in her life.
“I am extremely dedicated to my family, and that has helped make me the person I am today. The same personal dedication I have applied to my work, I have shown in helping my family over the years,” said Lee, a Las Vegas native who is proud of her family’s Korean heritage. “This provides me the strength to deal with new situations and overcome those challenges, knowing that I will have the support of my family, and that’s why I appreciate where I work that much more. It has become my professional family.”
Lee said she was “humbled and honored” upon learning she had been named a 2013 Great Women of Gaming Rising Star. “It was a surprise for me to even be nominated, and to be recognized gives me a certain satisfaction that what I am doing has impact to the industry in at least some basic regard,” she said.
Lee joined Konami Gaming in September 2007 as a marketing coordinator and is now marketing manager. Her responsibilities include marketing strategy, management of the company’s trade show presence worldwide, execution of advertising and PR strategies, and games and systems sales support.
Within the company, Lee’s dedication to her work has not gone unrecognized. She was selected in 2010 to the Konami President’s Club and graduated in 2013 from the Konami Leadership Academy.
And within her Konami Gaming professional family are many admirers of Lee and her work.
“Annabelle has all the traits and qualities that signal success in the hospitality industry. She is smart, quick on her feet, dedicated, gregarious and confident,” Thomas Jingoli, senior vice president and chief operating officer, wrote in a letter recommending Lee for the award.
“She genuinely loves being around people and takes great pleasure in both assisting and hosting them,” Jingoli said. “‘People Person’ is an often overused term, but one that matters in a big way in our industry. Annabelle is a people person in the truest and best sense of the words. She is my go-to Team Member at Konami when I need anything, there is no task that she cannot handle.”
Vice President of Marketing Matt Reback said Lee was instrumental in shaping the signature aesthetic of Konami’s trade show booths. “She played a key role in the design of Konami’s booths so that they created a forum to display and demonstrate our games and systems products in an environment that was unmistakably Konami,” Reback said in his recommendation.
Reback also praised Lee’s active role representing Konami with the Association of Gaming Equipment Manufacturers (AGEM). “Annabelle consistently demonstrates her loyalty to Konami, however she recognizes when issues confronting the industry as a whole need to be debated through a manufacturer-agnostic organization such as AGEM.”
Ross O’Hanley, vice president of North American sales, said Lee has “worked tirelessly on the company’s behalf to promote our brand and present it in the best light possible for our domestic and international business divisions.”
“It was Annabelle who came up with the idea of differentiating our [G2E] booth from the competition by focusing on the customer experience rather than just showcasing our games and system,” O’Hanley said in his recommendation.
While her trade show work gives her industry visibility, Lee said she derives the most satisfaction from her behind-the-scenes efforts “planning events, building marketing campaigns and coordinating all the little things that we do to put the Konami touch on our marketing launches.”
“When a great campaign works, our branding is at its best or a trade show presents our product in an amazing light, it provides additional motivation for me to raise the bar and always push for a greater result,” she said.
While noting she has had many mentors over the years, she singles out her Konami managers. “We find a way to encourage each other to do better, and the advice I have received over the years from my managers has taught me more than I ever imagined I could learn about the industry and marketing.”
Lee said she continues to be drawn to the gaming industry’s ever-evolving nature. “We are fundamentally an entertainment industry, and the opportunity to market products to new segments and ultimately drive satisfaction for players is really exciting,” she said. “We must find way to expand our influence to target people of a younger generation who are spending money in clubs or other entertainment but not on the gaming floor.”
Asked her advice to other women interested in a gaming career, Lee offered these words: “Work hard. Be passionate about what you do. Keep fighting to overcome any challenge, and you can achieve your goals.”
Looking to her own future, Lee said she remains passionate about marketing.
“As Konami has grown, so has our marketing team and I look forward to learning more from this expanding group,” said Lee, who holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration and marketing from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “We are doing exciting things, and I am glad to be a part of it and making more of an impact in the industry.”
Spirit Mountain Casino
As the advertising supervisor for Spirit Mountain Casino in Grand Ronde, Ore., Angela Sears isn’t content to simply manage her department and let others do all the work. Having started with Spirit Mountain Casino as a table games dealer in 1996, she worked her way up through the company and now oversees her five-member Advertising Department team and supports the other departments of the casino with enthusiasm.
When asked what it means to her to receive the Rising Star, it’s easy to see the enthusiasm and attitude for which Sears has become known. “I’m honored to be selected as one of the Rising Stars for the 2013 Great Women of Gaming. It really was an unexpected, yet pleasant, surprise. I never thought of myself as someone who stands out in an industry that is filled with great leaders and contributors to the profession,” Sears said.
In 1995, Sears played blackjack at Spirit Mountain Casino’s grand opening. While playing, she realized it would be fun to be a dealer, and a year later she was, after attending the casino’s dealer school. Sears worked briefly at Cliff Castle Casino in Camp Verde, Ariz., and Casino Arizona in Scottsdale, Ariz., as a poker dealer from 1999 to 2001, but found her way back to Spirit Mountain Casino in early 2001 as a table games dealer again.
Even then, her enthusiasm for the gaming industry was noticeable. “As a dealer, I thought I had the best job ever! Where else was I going to play games all day and get paid well to do it?” Sears said. She spent six years dealing table games after which she decided it was time to continue her education.
Sears received her B.S. in journalism and communications with an emphasis in advertising and public relations, and a minor in communications from the University of Oregon while still working at Spirit Mountain Casino as first a floor supervisor and then a pit supervisor. She worked for a year in the public affairs office for the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, but in 2008 returned yet again to Spirit Mountain Casino, where she worked as a marketing coordinator.
Part of her job as marketing coordinator required her to work with public relations and sponsorships. “While it may sound glamorous to be involved in sponsorships, the work often entails long hours outdoors under the sun, dealing with long lines of people,” said Randy Dugger, Spirit Mountain Casino general manager. “I have seen Angie at numerous events, smiling, answering questions … and then back at work the next morning with a smile and the same sense of eagerness.” Although sponsorships might be a lot of work, Sears said she enjoys the challenges associated with events and promotions. It was, after all, the entertainment and excitement that first drew her to the gaming industry.
This attitude certainly helped her overcome what Sears calls her biggest career challenge. She was promoted to advertising supervisor during a significant restructuring of the marketing department. “I was given an opportunity to step up and manage the advertising team when morale was low and people were concerned with the recent changes to the department … I believe that involving my team and giving them ownership allowed us to move forward and has made us [a] stronger team today,” Sears said.
Angela LaBarbera, Spirit Mountain Casino’s advertising manager, praises Sears’ willingness to learn, calling her “one of the most prolific individuals I have ever worked with.” Not only does she manage her own team, she contributes in marketing, player development and guest services. Sears dedicates her time to helping her team come up with new ideas and has been involved with some of Spirit Mountain Casino’s most innovative marketing ideas.
Sears credits Denise Harvey from the Tribal Council for the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde as a mentor who helped her become who she is today. “Denise always believed in me and encouraged me to believe in myself. Denise’s support and inspiration has helped me to get where I am today within my career,” Sears said. Harvey helped Sears gain experience within both the table games and marketing departments in the gaming industry while she was still in school.
As for her future goals, Sears plans to continue down the path she is already on, working in the gaming industry. She is still continuing her education by taking online classes in casino marketing and casino management to one day reach an executive-level position within marketing or casino management.
Sears’ advice to women aspiring to join the gaming industry is to branch out. “Talk to people in other departments and learn as much as you can from them. It’s helpful to have a broad understanding of casino operations, regardless of your position. If you can, you should go beyond your own casino walls to learn from other professionals throughout the industry.” Sears followed her own advice and has received great recognition within Spirit Mountain Casino. If she continues on the same path, there’s no telling how far she could go.
Vice President of Communications
Philadelphia native Leigh Whitaker, vice president of communications for SugarHouse Casino in Philadelphia, is the casino’s spokesperson for media and communications and works with the community and local politicians. In complement to this role, she oversees the casino’s charity programs. A winner of a CEM 2013 Great Women of Gaming Rising Star award, Whitaker has also been singled out by other organizations, being named as one of the 101 Top Emerging Connectors by Philadelphia Leadership Inc., as one of the 10 Under 40 to Watch by The Philadelphia Tribune and one of the Next Generation of Women Leaders by Women Making a Difference Incorporated.
Prior to joining SugarHouse Casino, Whitaker graduated from Temple University’s Beasley School of Law in 2001, and then worked for Darrell L. Clarke, currently president of Philadelphia City Council, as a legislative aide and staff attorney and the School District of Philadelphia as deputy chief of staff. It was while working for the school district that Whitaker faced her biggest career challenge. “We lost more students than I can count to gun violence. I’ve never been able to come to grips with the fact that not every student could be saved,” she said. As part of her charity work for SugarHouse Casino, she assisted in the creation of the Penn Treaty Special Services District (PTSSD), which strives to improve the quality of life for those living in the neighborhoods near SugarHouse.
Whitaker has been with SugarHouse Casino since the beginning. She was the eighth overall employee of the casino, before even the initial construction. Part of her job during her early time with the casino was to work with the community members, some of whom did not want a casino in what had been a vacant lot. Whitaker credits her time with Clarke and the school district for teaching her the skills she needed to gain the support of the community.
Whitaker says the excitement drew her to the gaming industry. She enjoys her daily interactions with the SugarHouse team. “Despite having no direct reports, she knows most of our 1,100 employees by name and is a valuable resource and influence for dozens of them. She is often called on by me or a peer to help moderate a difficult conversation; her contributions on this front are invaluable,” said SugarHouse Casino General Manager Wendy Hamilton.
One of the things Whitaker is best known for at SugarHouse is her contributions to the casino’s charity work. The PTSSD works to make physical improvements and provide financial support to the communities. “With Leigh’s help, SugarHouse Casino has aided in revitalizing a formerly abandoned stretch of Philadelphia’s Delaware River waterfront,” Tim Breslin, Penn Treaty Special Services District vice chairperson, said. SugarHouse Casino donates $500,000 annually to the PTSSD to help them with the improvements and has contributed more than $2.1 million through 2014.
SugarHouse Casino and its employees donate turkeys every Thanksgiving to provide for those in need. In the past four years, with Whitaker’s encouragement, SugarHouse has donated more than 1,000 turkeys. She also hosts the annual “Neighborhood Appreciation Party,” where the casino’s neighbors are invited to an event with free food and entertainment.
In September 2010, SugarHouse Casino opened for two days prior to the open date for operational test days. Whitaker worked with four non-profit organizations from Philadelphia, and all proceeds from the test date were divided equally among the companies.
It is this very same charity work that Whitaker marks as her proudest professional accomplishment. “We maintain a productive and open dialogue for everyone’s benefit. We support many causes and organizations that are important to the city, and by extension, important to us … We’ve always said that we would be a good corporate citizen and a good neighbor. I’m proud to say that we honor that commitment every single day,” Whitaker said.
Whitaker’s inspiration to improve is her mother, who turns 65 this year. “She works full-time, owns a number of properties that she is continuously improving, makes time for her friends and family, and is very active in her church … I want to show her that I don’t take for granted all the sacrifices she made for me (especially after my dad died) to get an education and make my way in the world,” Whitaker explained. Her father died just before her 13th birthday, as she was entering high school.
The personal accomplishment Whitaker is most proud of is working two jobs while an undergraduate student and still managing to graduate on time, with honors. She said she had always dreamed of being a college professor or a doctor, had she not joined the gaming industry. When asked what advice she would give to young women looking to enter the gaming industry in a professional career, she said, “Work hard. Build relationships. Be positive. Stay true to you. Find a way to say yes. Be accountable.”
Whitaker is clearly a well-loved member of SugarHouse Casino. Hamilton referred to her as the unofficial mayor of SugarHouse and said, “Leigh is an absolute gem. She is among the top 1 percent of executives I have ever had the pleasure to work with. I never want to operate SugarHouse without her!”