For nearly a decade, Casino Enterprise Management has had the privilege of bringing recognition and honor to the legions of talented women professionals in the gaming industry through our Great Women of Gaming Awards. Over the years, we have found no shortage of worthy individuals for consideration for this honor. In fact, we have been continually amazed at the quality and continuity of extremely talented, extremely qualified women nominees.
And in this, our 10th annual edition of the competition, we were not disappointed. In fact, an extremely strong field of candidates made for an intense competition resulting in several ties. As a result, CEM is proud to honor not 10, but 13 winners of the 2014 Great Women of Gaming Awards.
“We are thrilled to recognize and honor these talented and deserving individuals as 2014 Great Women of Gaming winners,” CEM Managing Editor Marian Green said. “They join a long list of women who have been recognized by these awards over the last decade. And like those honored previously, the 2014 winners have demonstrated outstanding professionalism, perseverance, drive, commitment and mentorship.”
Moreover, Casino Enterprise Management applauds all of the women nominated for the awards. “Each has a unique story to tell of merit and dedication to the gaming industry,” Green said, “and all deserve our kudos and respect for their accomplishments.”
Winners were selected as Proven Leaders or Rising Stars. 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.
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 2014 Proven Leader winners are Jill Alexander, senior director, corporate communications, Isle of Capri Corp.; Gail Beloff, senior director of client services, Scientific Games; Simone Harrison, senior vice president, Lottery Group, Scientific Games; Michelle Pena, director of gaming, Caesars Entertainment; Ginny Shanks, executive vice president and chief administrative officer, Pinnacle Entertainment; Stephany Tuttle, director of tribal lottery systems, Snoqualmie Casino; and Connie Waitner, assistant general manager, Little River Casino Resort.
The 2014 Rising Star winners are Tamara Goff, principal and director of marketing, Hnedak Bobo Group; Joanna Hadley, general manager, Grand Lake Casino; Marie Hagerman, senior manager, interactive compliance, Scientific Games; Harper Ko, deputy general counsel, Scientific Games; Megan McGuiness, owner, McGuinness Media and Marketing; and Meagan Miller, controller, Isle Casino Hotel Waterloo.
“Each year our judges face the unenviable task of selecting winners from a field of incredibly accomplished and worthy professionals,” Green said. “The ties in this competition serve to underscore the deep well of talented women in the gaming industry and the great importance the industry places upon ensuring opportunities for women to grow and excel in their professional lives.”
The competition’s judges also deserve praise for their hard work, Green said. This year’s judging committee included Dona Cassese, owner, The Marketing Group; Tracy Cohen, director of Europe, Association of Gaming Equipment Manufacturers (AGEM), and marketing manager, TCSJOHNHUXLEY; Christie Eickelman, vice president of marketing, Gaming Laboratories International; Valerie Red-Horse Mohl, president, Red-Horse Financial Group; Sheila Morago, executive director, Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association; Laura Olson-Reyes, executive director, Community and Corporate Relations, Scientific Games; and Kelly Shaw, vice president, Systems and Games Sales, Aristocrat Technologies.
On the following pages, CEM celebrates the talented professionals selected this year as winners of the 2014 Great Women of Gaming Awards. We are honored to share their stories, 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.
Senior Director, Corporate Communications
Isle of Capri Corp.
Ten years ago, Jill Alexander was living in Mobile, Ala., and saw an ad in PRWeek for a director of corporate communication in Biloxi, Miss. Several weeks later, she accepted the position. Looking back on her career since then, Alexander said, “The past 10 years have been a constant whirlwind of learning and growing. Initially learning about the gaming industry and growing by applying my PR skills.”
Today Alexander is in her 10th year as the senior director, corporate communications for Isle of Capri Casinos, Inc. In this role, she is responsible for directing national public relations and issues management efforts across 15 casino properties throughout the U.S.; establishing and maintaining working relationships with media outlets nationally and regionally; and handling issues management, crisis communication, media relations, employee communications and community relations.
Alexander was first attracted to the gaming industry because she was looking for a corporate communications position and gaming allowed her to expand upon her travel and tourism expertise. Now, Alexander said, she likes that she never has two days the same. “I love the challenge of juggling many different balls in the air at any one time. From internal communications to media relations or community relations to crisis communication, I wear all of these hats at the same time.”
Alexander comes from a background in journalism with a bachelor’s degree from State University College of New York at Buffalo and a master’s degree in communication from the University of South Alabama. Her path to Isle of Capri Casinos led her through New York City and a chemical plant in the Deep South, where she intentionally spent some time in a burning building as a volunteer public information officer for the local fire department.
At Isle of Capri Casinos, Alexander has worked closely with management teams at all 15 properties, as well as department heads at the corporate offices to ensure smooth and effective communication across all internal and external channels. In her time with Isle of Capri, management teams have improved their ability to communicate with media representatives. She has also overseen the increase in quality, frequency and reach of internal communications, resulting in better-informed, more-engaged team members at each casino location.
She said she believes all property management teams should be prepared and ready to handle media situations should they arise and that she realized the teams could be better trained for those situations. With that in mind, Alexander developed a training program that is still in use today. Additionally, Alexander has improved relationships with media representatives in the communities in which Isle of Capri Casinos operates, resulting in increased positive media coverage and more well-balanced and accurate reporting.
Alexander spearheaded the company’s Community Acres Challenge, a social media contest designed to give back financially to the communities in which the company operates. The contest raised awareness and necessary funding for several worthy charities. Due in part to the Community Acres program, Isle of Capri Casinos has some of the most community service-engaged employees in the industry, said Donn Mitchell, chief administrative officer, Isle of Capri Casinos.
She also sits on the advisory board of the Missouri Veterans History Project and administers its website. As a first-time executive, Audrey Mack, executive director of the Missouri Veterans History Project, has found Alexander to be an invaluable mentor. “Most recently I was struggling with creating a fundraiser for our organization. Jill reminded me I am the executive director and I must decide what is best for the organization. This gave me the support and encouragement to move forward with my vision. For that advice, I am most appreciative,” Mack said.
Beyond her work at Isle of Capri Casinos, Alexander is active in the public relations field. She has taught students at the University of South Alabama, Maryville University and the University of Southeast Missouri. The classes include principles of strategic communication, introduction to public relations and introduction to media writing.
Alexander said her biggest personal challenge, and her proudest personal accomplishment, has been raising her daughter as a single mother. “I learned early on that in order to be successful in my career and in motherhood, I would need help. That help came in many forms—the day care providers who helped me in the evening when I was at school working on my master’s degree and the friends who helped me care for my daughter when I had to travel. I am so thankful to all of them. We often hear the phrase, ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ In my case, this was truly the case. I did not live close to any family members.” Her daughter now has a young daughter herself, and Mitchell describes Alexander as a dedicated mother and grandmother.
“The award has simply overwhelmed me. It is with deep gratitude that I accept the honor and thank all of the people who have mentored and supported me throughout my career,” Alexander said of receiving the award. Her mentors, of which she has too many to mention by name, include teachers, bosses and her parents. “Mentors are sometimes found in the typical places and other times, in an unusual spot.”
Alexander’s advice to women looking forward to a professional career in the gaming industry is simple. “Women need to support other women. Together we all win.”
Senior Director of Client Services
Gail Beloff has been shaking things up since childhood. At 10, she was a dispatcher for a family-run, community-oriented, nonprofit ambulance association in South Philadelphia. At 12, she won the “Boy’s Fishing Contest” on the Ventnor Fishing Pier. It was then renamed the “Youth Fishing Contest.” Since then, she has gained 34 years of experience in the gaming industry, 10 with Scientific Games and nine of those years in her current position as senior director of client services. She advises operators on internal controls and management processes; assists in the conversion of casinos to Bally systems; and is responsible for account management, including project management and support services for the installs and upgrades of gaming software domestically and internationally. Beloff has worked with leading casinos in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean, Latin and Central America, China and Asia to help establish mission critical management processes. Thomas Reilly, vice president, U.S. system sales for Scientific Games, calls her one of the industry’s “foremost authorities on casino cage operations.”
Graduating high school with no clear career path, Beloff joined the nascent gaming industry in Atlantic City after a brief stint in banking. She joined the Golden Nugget as an accounts receivable clerk in 1981. Not long after joining the Sands Hotel Casino, Beloff was identified as a future leader. She spent 12 years with the company, during which time she was given leadership opportunities in Aruba, San Juan and Chicago. In 1994, Beloff joined ITT Sheraton/Caesars World as the director of cage and credit operations and within six years was involved in opening casinos in Mississippi, Peru, Nova Scotia and Indiana.
Beloff said she has never had any issues with the risks of travel and foreign countries. She moved to the Bahamas in 1999 to join Sun International as the director of casino financial operations. She stayed in the Bahamas for almost two years before returning to northwest Indiana as a casino controller after her father fell ill.
Following her return to the U.S., Beloff continued her education while staying close to family. She graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Science in organizational management. She has also set her sights on obtaining her MBA. Earning her undergraduate degree, she said, is the personal accomplishment of which she is most proud. “I always wanted to complete my education, and when I returned to the U.S. in 2001 this was one of my personal goals. Two years later, I graduated valedictorian at Calumet College of St. Joseph at 42 years old. It’s never too late!”
“Mentoring continues to be very important to me as reflected throughout my career. When taking the risk of leaving the casino operator and going to work for a supplier (Bally Technologies), I was fortunate to have guidance early on from Cath Burns and Ramesh Srinivasan. I also had the opportunity to work with Derik Mooberry (current group chief executive—gaming, Scientific Games) as my official mentor in Bally’s Excellence in Leadership program,” Beloff said.
Beloff is consistently praised for that commitment to mentoring, especially those new to the gaming industry. Lorenz Ledesma, senior client project manager at Scientific Games, said, “I joined Bally as a former manager/leader in telecommunications, but with zero experience in the casino industry. Gail took it upon herself to allow me to break into this exciting and unique industry, mentor me, and ultimately help me grow into the manager/leader I am today.”
Beloff is most proud of her teams from her time in the gaming industry. “I have always strived to make an impact, but when someone actually calls it out it is quite humbling. My greatest accomplishments have always been the success of my teams. I do believe they are a reflection of all we try to accomplish. From lighting a fire under people to see the value in completing their education to identifying future leadership at properties just introduced to gaming, every team and initiative has been rewarding.”
When Beloff joined Scientific Games in 2004, she found a fractured training team with no consistent process. Some trainers trained one way, some another, and as such, no two customers received the same level of training. In the past few years, Beloff has unified the training team and helped the team mature, providing customers with consistent training with each product.
Described as a dynamic, innovative and professional leader, Beloff manages teams of Scientific Games experts on the opening of dozens of new casinos. She focuses on the professional development of the employees, but she also has great care and concern for their happiness, both professionally and personally. As Mooberry noted, “One of Gail’s many strengths is her ability to be honest with her employees, but at the same time she encourages them to grow and learn within the company.”
Beloff supports suicide prevention causes and offers her time to those struggling and dealing with such losses. Her youngest brother, Marc, committed suicide a year after her return to the U.S. from the Bahamas and his twin brother, Adam, took his own life 10 years later. Beloff describes these as the biggest personal challenges she has faced. “The loss of those closest to you is life changing, but the loss due to suicide is life altering … You go through grief to get on the other side of it so you can move forward. I don’t know if you can overcome something that you have no control of, but you can make a difference in how you move forward. As a result, I am more aware of people in need. Every day truly is a gift. I make an effort to reach out to those struggling and offer support to those who are considered survivors like me when they are faced with such tragic losses.”
Being named a proven leader is both humbling and rewarding for Beloff. “From the minute I stepped into the gaming industry 34 years ago, I had a passion for learning, contributing and advancing. To be recognized for my accomplishments and leadership is one of the high points of my career.”
Senior Vice President, Lottery Group
When Simone Harrison isn’t busy in her role as senior vice president for Scientific Games Lottery, she may be found racing BMWs at track events in the Southeast region. In Harrison’s own words, “I like to drive race cars very fast.”
Harrison was born in Dublin, Ireland and moved to Washington, D.C. in 1988. Prior to joining the gaming industry, she worked for Verizon Government Markets in government contracts management for the Department of Defense business group, followed by pre-sale contract bidding for the U.S. Postal Service and the Federal Aviation Administration and eventually post-sale network implementation and program management for state-level government business in the Southeast. In her current position with Scientific Games, she is responsible for all global contract development and proposals related to the company’s lottery product and service channels, including customer solution development, cross-organizational engagements and customer requirements. She also leads internal and external communications for the lottery business.
Harrison joined Scientific Games in 2005 as the director of technology sales. Three years later, she assumed responsibility for U.S. business development, leading sales cycle management, government contract bidding and revenue pipelines. In 2012, her role was expanded to provide leadership for global communications, corporate social responsibility and strategic organizational planning. She played a key role in Scientific Games’ $1.5 billion acquisition of WMS Industries in 2013 and 2014.
“In each new era of significant growth for our company in the last decade, Simone has taken on additional leadership responsibilities and the attendant complexities of successfully managing a global business focused on lottery—extending most recently to gaming with the strategic integration of WMS Industries and Bally Technologies into our company,” said Jim Kennedy, group chief executive for Scientific Games Lottery. Harrison also serves as Kennedy’s chief of staff.
Kennedy praised Harrison’s “focus, passion and willingness to step into complex management challenges.” He said she understands that “it takes people aligned to strategy for strategy to happen,” and believes Harrison possesses the unique skills to create that alignment.
In 2009, Harrison returned to school to earn her Master of Business Administration with a concentration in organizational management from the J. Mack Robinson College of Business at Georgia State University, while working full time at Scientific Games and raising her two children alongside her husband. Harrison describes this as one of her biggest personal challenges, as well as one of the personal accomplishments of which she is most proud. “I found many of my classmates were going through similar experiences, so figuring out how to support each other and working in teams was a big part of the path to success. During this time, I also learned the importance of asking for help. There just weren’t enough hours in the day to do it all.”
Despite her busy schedule, Harrison finds time for life outside work. To John Schulz, senior vice president of global instant products for Scientific Games, Harrison’s most noteworthy quality is that “she finds great joy in living life to the fullest and understands that finding time to connect outside of the office is a big part of her personal success.”
Harrison is motivated personally and professionally by her desire to improve and achieve results. As she raises her two teenagers, she is very aware of the example she sets for them. “I want to encourage them to live their best lives, to care for others and live a life of learning. I teach them to pause every now and then and reflect. We move so fast that some of our greatest moments whiz by without getting the time they deserve to be honored.”
Harrison established the SG Cares program as a way to bring employees together to support social responsibility for charity, employee volunteerism, sustainability and responsible gaming. In April 2013, SG Cares donated more than 4,000 items to The Place of Forsyth County, a food pantry serving area families. Later that year, SG Cares donated nearly 5,000 school supply items to the United Way of Forsyth County as part of a “Stuff the Bus” event.
“Our ‘March Madness Food Drive’ was a very spirited way for SG Cares to engage employees at our global lottery business center north of Atlanta in a food drive with United Way that would champion big results to help stock The Pantry. It was a very rewarding experience to give to families in need in our local community,” Harrison said at the time.
Harrison knew she wanted to work in the business world, even though her college degree had been in developmental psychology. Once her children started school in late 2004, Harrison looked for some new challenges in her professional life, and after some research she found an interest in lottery and gaming.
For Harrison, it is the complexity of the gaming industry that first drew her. “Lottery is a combination of everything in a great global business—innovation, manufacturing, games, marketing, technology, insights, operations, digital, product development and much more—all coming together to create an amazing consumer entertainment experience that results in financial support for social programs. And while it is highly complex, it is highly regulated and secure and is managed with incredible integrity. It’s a fantastic business.”
Now, she said, “I really like the people in gaming! There is a real passion for the business and commitment to its success. This comes through when I speak with our customers, our employees, the associations and other suppliers. The people are great and they make this industry great.”
Director of Gaming Technology
Michelle Pena joined Caesars Entertainment in 1997 when it was still Harrah’s Entertainment as a reservation agent at the centralized call center in Memphis, Tenn., to help pay for college. Although her family had hoped she would attend law school and become a lawyer, within a year she was promoted to systems trainer, responsible for training all new hires on service and the reservation system. She transitioned later to a project manager role with IT, where she oversaw IT projects with the implementation of systems for hotel and casino expansions, and the gaming technology integrations as Harrah’s acquired Harvey’s Casino, Horseshoe and Caesars Entertainment. She has been the recipient of the Chairman’s Award at Caesars twice since joining the company.
Now Pena is the director of gaming technology for Caesars Entertainment, working with IT, vendors, regulators and all of Caesars’ casinos. She acts as business owner for mission-critical enterprise gaming technology, slot accounting, table tracking and guest business services. She is responsible for the assembly of cross-functional teams, the deployment and testing of new technology and the execution of the company’s strategic vision in many projects, including expansions, SDS, Total Rewards II, Table Manager, Real Time Action (slots mobile) and Real Time Beverage on Demand.
Pena’s proudest personal accomplishment is in the teams she’s led while at Caesars. “I am proud of leading the teams that changed the face of the gaming like the implementation of TITO, kiosk redemptions, marketing application at the slot machines and now the venture into the online and mobile space.”
Pena led her team through great technological changes, as well as multiple acquisitions, during her time as a project manager. She has been selected to lead many of the largest and most complex projects for Caesars, from the deployment of more than 50,000 slot machine tickets to the relocation in 2008 of the Memphis Data Center to Las Vegas.
The advice Pena keeps closest from her mentors is to “do your best and be honest. People will appreciate honesty over what you think they want to hear.” With this advice, she has forged successful vendor relationships.
She credits the connections she’s built for the receipt of the Great Women of Gaming Proven Leader award. “I honestly believe it is the relationships and trust factor that I have built over the last 18 years in this industry. These are not limited to just the slot projects but all the various types of technology projects that it takes to operate a casino. I am very proud to be part of a company that provided me with the opportunities to grow and learn several technology verticals.” To her, the award is “a great honor. It is very humbling to know that your colleagues in the gaming industry recognize my efforts and are taking the time to celebrate my accomplishments.”
Robert Hendrickson, president of William Ryan Group Inc., has worked with Pena as a client for nearly 20 years. “Michelle’s guidance and support has proven to be a critical factor in successful vendor relationships and collaborative efforts deploying innovative technology solutions. She is involved throughout all stages of technology discovery, development, testing, deployment and continuous improvement post implementation.”
Despite this, Pena said she isn’t very technical. “I may not understand the entire technical lingo, but I will take the time to learn what I don’t know and involve those who I know will help us get there.”
Not understanding the technical lingo hasn’t affected her ability to communicate effectively on complex topics with an explanation and level of detail that caters to the needs of her audience. “Whether communicating to the most technical programmer or to senior business operators, Michelle conveys information in a digestible format and efficiently facilitates business decisions,” said Melissa Price, senior vice president of gaming, Caesars Entertainment.
Price also credits Pena’s unique combination of skills. “She is organized and detailed at the tactical level, but also a high-level critical thinker. This allows her to envision how the strategy will unfold and anticipate roadblocks, as well as understand the implications of new issues as they arise.”
Her ability to take on new challenges, show resiliency during periods of change, and to work with many different groups of people have made her an important resource to Caesars Entertainment through the evolution of the gaming industry.
“She is a positive role model in our community, at home and at work. Michelle is a pleasure to work with and we have enjoyed collaborating with her, bringing many projects to closure on time and on budget with a high level of satisfaction for all stakeholders involved,” Hendrickson said.
While Pena said her biggest personal challenge in life is finding a way to balance work and life in a 24/7 industry, her advice is to “take it one day at time and prioritize what’s important and try to stick to it.” Price commented that it is Pena’s commitment and engagement with her family, including her extended family, that keeps her grounded.
As part of this balance, Pena enjoys spending time with her husband and their four children and traveling. Their favorite pastimes are going to a beach in southern California and attending as many WWE wrestling events as they can.
Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer
Ginny Shanks recently shared with the top leadership of Pinnacle Entertainment thoughts on her personal legacy. When asked, “How would you like to be remembered?” she said, “I’d like to be remembered as someone who inspired people to ‘run their own race.’ To not live within the boundaries of other people’s thinking. To not let others’ opinions shadow your own voice. To have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. If you can do that…inspire people to run their own race, you unleash their potential and their creativity… anything is possible.”
Shanks’ passion to see others succeed both personally and professionally has been a source of motivation in her more than 30-year career in the gaming industry. In 1983, Shanks started her career at Caesars Entertainment, holding a variety of senior executive positions at the property, division and corporate levels. She was responsible for maximizing the value of the company’s key brands, setting corporate brand strategy and oversight of sports and entertainment marketing, strategic alliances, consumer insights, retail, public relations and nationwide casino promotions. At Caesars, Shanks was a driving influence in the nationally recognized World Series of Poker.
From 2008 to 2010, Shanks was the chief marketing officer for Multimedia Games, where she led product strategy, product management and investor relations. There she was involved in the development of the TournEvent of Champions. She joined Pinnacle Entertainment in October 2010 as the chief marketing officer. In July 2013, she was promoted to her current position: executive vice president and chief administrative officer.
Shanks is responsible for Pinnacle’s company-wide marketing strategies, including the ongoing development of distinct property brand position and overall branding strategies, database marketing efforts and the continued evolution of the mychoice guest loyalty program. She has oversight of information technology, the Heartland Poker Tour and shared services, including culinary, hotel operations, guest service, continuous improvement and gaming.
At the beginning of her career, Shanks met Anthony Sanfilippo, the chief executive officer of Pinnacle Entertainment. Sanfilippo and Shanks have worked together for more than 30 years at Caesars, Multimedia Games and Pinnacle Entertainment. “Ginny has had, and continues to have a remarkable career. She has been a role model to so many individuals, garnering respect and admiration from those who work with her and know her,” Sanfilippo said.
Shanks has been exemplary in balancing her professional and personal life, Sanfilippo said. She cites her family as her greatest personal accomplishment. Shanks and her husband, Tony, have been married for 32 years, have raised two sons, and have a daughter-in-law and a granddaughter. “The casino industry is a 24/7 operation and, as such, much is expected of you in terms of time commitments. This is tricky, particularly when you have young children. I was lucky to have a strong support system and work for companies who understood work/life balance. I also tried to remember that if you are not successful raising your children, whatever else you did well doesn’t really matter,” Shanks said.
Shanks shares this experience and mentors others in how to balance personal commitments. “While Ginny is a leader of one of the largest gaming companies in the country, her commitment to overall life balance for herself and her team is what makes working with her the most pleasurable. She is proof that you can have it all,” said Toni Pepper, chief information officer, Pinnacle Entertainment.
Shanks garnered inspiration from one of her own mentors, Marilyn Spiegel, who encouraged her to be a strong leader and a confident public speaker. She, too, has instilled these qualities in others throughout her career.
Maria Cohen, vice president national casino marketing, Pinnacle Entertainment, said, “When I started with Pinnacle, I reported to Ginny and finally found the role model and mentor I never had in my career. I had mentors, but they could only teach me ‘surface’ lessons, how to dress well, understanding political landscapes, basically lessons in self-preservation. Ginny taught me how to be a better communicator and presenter, how to strategically look at the business long term and to think about how the decisions I make today affect the future.”
Shanks is known for “walking the talk” and for bringing to life Pinnacle Entertainment’s company values to create the best company culture. She gives attention to all things that enrich and fulfill the lives of team members. “There is no greater motivation than seeing leaders like Ginny work alongside their teams, showing that hard work is being done on every level of the organization,” said Elena Shampaner, vice president of strategic initiatives.
The professional accomplishment Shanks is most proud of is seeing those she works with succeed as leaders and as people. “I’ve never known her to take credit for anything she has ever led, and there is plenty for Ginny to take credit for. She is quick to provide credit to others and allow the spotlight to shine on someone else,” Sanfilippo said.
“I so appreciate that people, who I truly care about, took the time to write such a heartfelt nomination,” Shanks said. “You hope that you are doing the right things and influencing people in a way that helps them be the best they can be, but rarely are you given the opportunity to step back and really see if you are accomplishing this… I will treasure this award for allowing me that opportunity.”
Director of Slots
For more than 17 years, Stephany Tuttle has proven her commitment and passion for the gaming industry, winning her a place among the 2014 Great Women of Gaming Proven Leaders. Tuttle currently serves as the director of slots for Snoqualmie Casino in Washington and is responsible for a variety of casino operations, including the management of the casino floor and the organization and running of slot tournaments.
Tuttle’s journey in the casino industry began at Seven Cedars Casino when she was just 16. She started as a part-time employee to support herself during college and soon became a full-time employee. She became familiar with virtually every department, from F&B, administration, electronic gaming, pull tabs, bingo and slots to marketing and promotions. Her experience earned her the slot supervisor position at Seven Cedars soon after video lottery terminals were approved for Washington state in 1999. Tuttle’s determination and work ethic were quickly recognized and she advanced to the slot assistant manager position, expanding her skill base and familiarity with the casino industry.
In September 2008, Tuttle was hired at Snoqualmie Casino. Accepting this position was a risk for Tuttle, but one she thought would expand her professional capabilities. The risk more than paid off. Tim Barker, Snoqualmie Casino’s chief gaming officer and vice president of gaming operations, said, “We were a brand-new, out-of-the-box facility and with [Tuttle’s] knowledge, people skills and all-around hard work we now have, I feel, one of the premier properties in the Pacific Northwest region.”
Ask anyone who works with her and they’ll tell you Tuttle does not hesitate to go above and beyond for her company. According to Barker, she is involved in all aspects of the casino operation and is constantly coming up with innovative ideas to benefit the whole operation. Multimedia Games’ Vice President of Marketing and Promotions Linda Trinh also commented on Tuttle’s synergy with her company. “Stephany’s extensive casino gaming knowledge paired with her passion for her casino, her team and her players means that working with her through various projects and events is truly an unparalleled experience.”
Tuttle’s ability to tackle projects with a positive attitude helps ensure a fun and high-energy environment for her team. Her dispute resolution abilities and professional manner endears her to guests and team members, all of whom go home happy after participating in her events. Trinh said, “She’s the only person I have ever seen to purchase and coordinate her entire team’s outfits, successfully execute a large casino event, step in to help with player registration, and purchase 20 new machines. In one day. To say [Tuttle] has an immeasurable amount of energy and love for her team and Snoqualmie would be an understatement.”
Tuttle’s experience in both marketing and slot operations has made her an invaluable asset for Snoqualmie. Her ability to think outside-the-box when it comes to developing and planning events brings an unmatched dedication and creativity to her work. Barker cited slot tournaments as an example of her skills. He said Tuttle is involved with the entire promotion, from sign-up to the finals. She came up with the idea of remote sign-ups using a tablet, enabling the casino to sign people up more easily. Tuttle assists advertising in filling each tournament spot and even came up with an F&B opportunity that guests greatly preferred. Tuttle also acts as host and awards giver on top of her already numerous contributions. “Our tournaments are the ‘best in the northwest’ due to her efforts,” said Barker.
Tuttle’s well-rounded perspective when it comes to initiatives on the casino floor ensures that she is always thinking ahead in terms of all of the technical aspects of the casino industry. “I am driven to always reach for the next rung on the ladder and I am equipped to accept the next challenge. To further my education, I am currently preparing to enter a newly offered degree program at University of Washington studying Integrated Social Sciences,” Tuttle said. Her excellent relationships with Snoqualmie’s vendors ensures that she sets the path for the slot floor. Tuttle said it is the consistent evolution of the gaming industry that interests her most. “Conquering technological boundaries, creating unique personal relationships, offering entertainment and excitement, analyzing trends; it all drives my interest,” Tuttle said.
Tuttle’s commitment to her company is matched only by her dedication to her family and charitable efforts in the community. She travels three to five hours roundtrip each day for work and her daughter’s sports because her family is comfortable in the community where they grew up and she does not wish to change that. She is proactive in supporting both her daughter’s and her fiancé’s children’s love of sports and scholastic achievements. As an avid runner, Tuttle is always the first to volunteer for charity marathons. In 2004 Tuttle raised more than $5,300 to donate to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and more recently, Tuttle donated another $5,000 of charity winnings to LLS and ran the Nike Women’s Marathon in San Francisco to support the cause. Each year she climbs the Columbia tower, the highest building in Seattle, for the same charity. Tuttle is determined to run a full marathon in each of the 50 states, finishing with the Boston Marathon.
Tuttle was thrilled to receive the Proven Leader award. She said, “Each year I read about great leaders who have been given this award and all they have accomplished. To now be recognized alongside these women is an extraordinary moment, and an honor to be mentioned in the same breath as former recipients of this award.”
Assistant General Manager, Tribal Member
Little River Band of Ottawa Indians
Little River Casino Resort
Great Women of Gaming Proven Leader Connie Waitner’s ability to connect the dots has served her well as both tribal member and hands-on executive at the Little River Casino Resort.
“Beginning with a single puzzle piece that led to an archeological dig at ancestral gathering grounds, Connie worked actively to record the history of the Little River Band [of Ottawa Indians],” according to a biography submitted with her awards nomination. “Her decade-long service on an historical committee helped produce the tribe’s biographical volume, Our People, Our Journey. It was during this process that she became involved in the governmental work that led to her first taste of the gaming industry.”
During that time, she and a small group of tribal members worked to gain federal reaffirmation for the tribe. Following the tribe’s reaffirmation in 1994, Waitner was integral in writing the tribe’s first gaming ordinance in 1997. She served on the tribal gaming commission and was later elected to the tribal council. After serving on the council, she took a full-time position with the resort as compliance manager, and was named director of compliance in 2007, a job she held until her promotion about three months ago to assistant general manager of the casino resort.
Along the way, Waitner has earned the respect of co-workers and peers with the resort and tribe. “Connie’s career really started to progress when she joined the management team of the resort,” former Little River Casino Resort General Manager Wendell Long wrote in a letter in support of her nomination. “Connie is a true industry leader, although she doesn’t need a category exclusively for women in order to be a winner.” Long predicted Waitner will earn a promotion to general manager within two years.
Austen Brauker, organization development manager for the Manistee, Mich. resort, called Waitner one of the kindest people he’s ever met. “Over the years, I have watched Connie actively work within our community (both workplace and tribal) to promote programs for youth, for elders and for employees needing assistance,” Brauker said in his recommendation letter.
Waitner, he said, exemplifies true leadership. “She walks the walk and sets a positive example. She shares her wisdom with others and develops her team members to be the best that they can be,” Brauker said. “Connie’s caring demeanor is well known, but at the same time, she is extremely strong and decisive, able to manage and direct others in a manner that respects them as people and acknowledges their humanity…People want to perform for her because she earns their trust and confidence. She creates an atmosphere where the team is able to take pride in the work that they do.”
Learning to be firm and fair and holding team members accountable for their actions or inactions has been challenging, Waitner said. “I was always considered to be too nice and caring,” she said. “What I have found is that you can apply all of these and still be firm and fair with everyone.”
Waitner said she is honored to be named a Great Women of Gaming Proven Leader. “It is a wonderful and grateful experience to find out other team members recognized my accomplishments and thought enough of me to take the time to send in the nomination,” she said.
Waitner was attracted by the entertainment aspect of the industry, “as gaming machines, table games, casino hosts, different restaurants, music, gift shops all become part of a serious sales opportunity,” she said. “It is like a big puzzle you put together one piece at a time until you see the big picture.”
She also appreciates the fact that the industry is continually changing and challenging. “Ever-changing technology and the day-to-day impact on compliance and regulatory issues keeps the industry moving. You need to stay in touch with the experts just to keep in pace with everyone else,” Waitner said.
One of her proudest accomplishments while serving as director of compliance was her effort to streamline policies and procedures for the resort and also to build a strong working relationship with the gaming commission. “I’m very proud of this because team members need to understand we put structure in place for their protection.”
She acknowledged that it can be difficult for women to break into the gaming industry and get recognized as experts in their respective fields. “I believe in transparency and integrity; with that said, you prove yourself in order to develop credibility with management and frontline team members. I’ve managed to accomplish this by proving time after time I’m good at what I do.”
On the personal side, Waitner counts her 45-year marriage and raising her family as her proudest achievements.
“Staying married to the love of my life for 45 years, raising two girls and one boy, watching my nine grandchildren grow up (sometimes not an easy thing to watch) and now spending my time with my great-grandson Zaine are my personal pride and joy,” she said. “My family’s love, support and encouragement to succeed at whatever I set out to do keep me going every day.”
Aspiring women seeking a successful career in gaming can learn a thing or two from Waitner. She offered a wealth of tips, starting with the importance of listening closely, keeping up with the trends, learning from ongoing education and life experiences, and being firm and fair with everyone.
Another tip to keep top of mind, she said, is to “take the time to get to know your team members, frontline and management.”
“It really is important to understand everyone has challenges in their lives and this affects the day-to-day running of the operation. Knowing tidbits about team member roles can help you make a day better for someone,” Waitner said. “Always remember, we are in the gaming business, and we need to strive to provide the best customer service experience for our gamers and guests.”
Principal, Marketing Director
Hnedak Bobo Group
As the daughter of a Washington, D.C. lobbyist, Rising Star award winner Tamara Goff grew up surrounded by conversation designed to create awareness and sway decisions. And although she pursued an academic path toward a career as an art historian, Goff said, “I couldn’t deny my genetic disposition toward persuasive communications” and later chose to travel a different road. “One of the best decisions I ever made was to channel the influence my father’s career in public policy and communications had toward my own career in marketing.”
She soon landed a marketing coordinator position with a national healthcare architecture firm and realized she’d found her niche. “Marketing architecture and design was the perfect fit for an art history major with a passion for impactful promotions. Three years later, I was hired at Hnedak Bobo Group (HBG) as the director of marketing, and it has been an exciting ride ever since,” said Goff, director of marketing and a principal in the Memphis-based firm.
“For me, entering the robust gaming and hospitality industry was all about understanding what drives the end-customer and how to parlay the experience of our design firm into the creation of gaming facilities and amenities that embrace and elevate the gamer’s expectations,” she said.
Developing that understanding starts with the ability to listen. “I’ve always believed in the basic premise that you can go farther if you take the time to listen—listen to the issues, engage in creative problem solving and figure out how you can add competitive value to help your clients solve challenges.”
One of Goff’s most satisfying professional accomplishments has been her role in the incubation of HBG’s market-driven design workshops called “MVP,” which stands for market validation, visualization and positioning. “Working in the Indian gaming market, we listened to many clients’ concerns about smart, strategic growth. In response, our team developed a unique process to help position their properties for long-term competitive advantage in their regional markets,” she said. “Through MVP, we created an interactive dialogue that was relevant to client issues, and our firm was able to add value by tying guest expectations, market needs and performance goals to the overall planning and design process.”
Ron Allen, chairman and CEO of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, praised Goff and the MVP process. “Leave it to Tamara and the team to peel the layers back and look at our planning challenges from a truly guest-oriented perspective,” he wrote in support of her nomination. “Instead of solely focusing on traditional planning and design themes and the qualitative factors that would enhance the experience at our facility—site design, color, texture, lighting, geometry and space—they looked at market feasibility, guest perception, marketing magnets to draw destination gamers, operational functionality and support of business strategies. MVP gave our Tribe the duality we needed in assessing our investment and growth.”
Asked about receiving the Great Women award, Goff said she is “absolutely humbled and filled with gratitude.” Goff said she is equally proud of her team’s accomplishments, including more than 20 national and international marketing communications awards. “I’ve been extremely fortunate to be surrounded by an incredibly talented team of marketing and business development professionals—each one offering distinctive creative gifts and strategic insights.”
HBG founding partner Kirk Bobo cited Goff’s leadership skills, among other qualities in nominating her for the award. “She leads by example, she inspires creativity and loyalty, she challenges and motivates her team in meaningful ways, and she achieves consistent results,” he said.
Goff also finds time to be instrumental in industry philanthropy efforts, including HBG’s NIGA Spirit of Sovereignty Fundraiser, which raised $10,000 for the charitable organization, said Janet Smith-Haltom, AIA principal/partner at HBG.
“She’s grounded in the idea that ‘having it all’ takes determination, a lot of elbow grease and flexibility, and the willingness to make balancing priorities the cornerstone of her personal and professional values,” Smith-Haltom said.
Creating that personal balance has been her greatest accomplishment, Goff said.
“I grew up putting press kits and presentations together with my parents—we’d stack reports across the living room, collate and staple as a family. That was my ‘normal,’ and I’ve perpetuated that in my own family,” she said. “My husband and son are frequent ‘right hands’ in proposal production and late-night runs to FedEx. What I love most about that is my son gets to be part of something he can learn from, just as I did with my parents.”
One thing she’s realized along the way is that a person can’t do everything in order to have both career and family. “You have to have help,” Goff said. “I’ve learned that letting go and trusting in others is absolutely freeing and guess what—you get a much better outcome sharing in the wisdom and skills of others than trying to do it all yourself!”
Asked about her biggest career challenge, Goff said it is maintaining the discipline to keep herself and her team focused on the big picture goals. “Staying on the path—especially in a creative environment—requires just the right balance of passion, emotion and steady leadership.”
Her advice to women seeking a professional career in the gaming industry? Top on her list is to avoid saying “No” or “I can’t.” Instead, she said, “The first answer is always, ‘Yes.’ Then you can figure out how to make it happen from there.” Second on the list is to determine what you need to be successful and make a plan. “I’m a big believer in blazing your own trail—but be sure to connect others to the goals and to the plan so they share in creating successful outcomes.”
The third piece of advice is to set gender aside. “It’s not about being a great woman or man in your industry or your career—it’s about being a great person and a great leader,” Goff said. “If you measure yourself by courage and achievement without playing into expectations or stereotypes, then others will too.”
Grand Lake Casino
As Grand Lake Casino General Manager Joanna Hadley likes to say, she didn’t go looking for a job in the gaming industry. Instead, she said, “Gaming found me.”
During the nearly 30 years since gaming found her, Hadley has earned the respect of bosses and line employees alike and gained a fulfilling career that also allows her to honor her tribe, the Seneca Cayuga Nation.
Hadley, one of six winners of CEM’s 2014 Great Women of Gaming Rising Star Award, said she fell into gaming after she graduated from Oklahoma State Tech and started work at a bank.
While helping her stepmother out running the concession at Seneca Cayuga Bingo, Hadley was relaying a message to a guard that he had a phone call. “I stepped around the corner and yelled at him to let him know. In a time when most bingo operations did not use PA systems or advanced sound setups, this caught the attention of the bingo manager, David Allen,” she said. “He offered me a floor clerk job on the spot. Even though I did not have one clue as to what that was, I agreed, and my life would never be the same.”
Hadley said she is honored to receive the award. “I have been in the gaming business, in one form or another, for 30 years and it is wonderful to be recognized,” she said. “I want to say thank you to the selection committee. I am truly honored that my staff took the time and made the effort to nominate me for such a prestigious award.”
Over nearly three decades, Hadley worked for the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma for 29 years, including 25 years as a bingo floor clerk and one as a bingo manager at Bordertown Casino. She was offered and took a new gaming director position, but later left to take the general manager position for Grand Lake Casino, owned by the Seneca Cayuga Nation, in Grove, Okla. “As a member of the Seneca Cayuga Nation, I wanted the opportunity to use what I had learned to increase revenue for my tribe,” she said. “My goal was to help ensure that all citizens of the Seneca-Cayuga Nation have the opportunity to benefit from much-needed social programs provided by casino revenue.”
About four years ago, Hadley experienced one of the most significant moments in her life when the Seneca Cayuga Nation selected her as one of 12 Faith Keepers—a lifetime commitment. The six men and six women “dedicate their lives to protecting and continuing our traditions,” she said. “I am honored and proud to serve my nation in a dual role, as the general manager of Grand Lake Casino and as a ‘Pot Hanger’ as we are affectionately known by our tribal members.”
On the career side, Hadley’s proudest achievement came while she was with Bordertown and faced the challenge of opening the nearby Indigo Sky Casino. “Planning, building and executing the opening of Indigo Sky Casino was definitely a challenge, and I learned things that have served me well. I was the gaming director at that time and responsible for all gaming revenue centers,” she said. “It was a proud moment when people started coming through the doors and into this beautiful facility that our team had created. “
Hadley gave credit to several mentors in her life, from her grandparents who raised her and taught her “to work hard, respect everyone around me and to always appreciate what I had” to Bordertown Casino General Manager Jerry West, who recognized her talents and encouraged her to take on more challenging roles, and to Players Performance Group marketing consultant Chris Province, who helped deepen her understanding of gaming industry knowledge.
West “gave me the opportunity to become the gaming director and gave me the ‘big picture’ of the gaming industry. I have used everything Mr. West taught me, and this award belongs to him as much as it does me.”
Hiring Province provided her with insight about the importance of marketing and analytics in the business, and it has paid off. “Together along with a wonderful management team and a supportive staff, we have increased revenue here at GLC and have without a doubt left our footprint big and wide.”
In a letter supporting Hadley’s nomination, West described his impressions when he joined Bordertown in 2010 as general manager, some 15 years after she began working in bingo. “Joanna was quite impressive from the beginning, demonstrating an unwavering love and passion for her guests. She knew everyone by their name, their families and ailments. I doubt anyone often said they were going to Bordertown to play bingo. I’d sooner believe they would say, ‘Let’s go see Jo tonight,’” he said.
West recognized at the time that Hadley had what it takes to become a property executive, but realized that she had been in bingo for years and was comfortable in the role. “I can only imagine how difficult this was on her after decades in bingo. Thankfully, after careful consideration, she found the courage and accepted her new role [as gaming director],” West said. “There was much to learn, and she was eager to start. Joanna hadn’t been exposed to the financial reports or much of the typical day-to-day numbers one would expect a director to know and understand. She was a quick study and became an expert within no time.”
While a director, Hadley faced the challenge of opening a new casino while maintaining two existing properties and handled it well, he said. “In 25 years in gaming, I’ve never come across anyone more dedicated than Joanna. Her willingness to sacrifice and give back is unparalleled.”
Hadley also has taken the time to mentor team members, helping them grow into new roles.
Count Jason Latimer among those whose lives changed for the better under Hadley’s leadership. “When Joanna became the gaming director for Bordertown Casino, I was a slot technician with very little gaming experience. However, she saw potential in me and provided me the knowledge and guidance to build a fulfilling career in slots,” said Latimer, who is now slot operations manager for Grand Lake Casino. “I began working in casinos because it allowed me to work nights while working towards a degree. Had I never met her, I am convinced that I would have left the gaming industry and missed an opportunity for a career that I truly love.”
Latimer said he has watched Hadley “time and again” recognize and develop potential in employees. “Rather than recruiting talent, she creates leaders and develops managers from within her organization,” he said. “I could list for you her many accomplishments concerning revenue growth, overhead reduction and customer satisfaction and, while they are impressive, her greatest accomplishment is the effect she has on the lives of those around her.”
And these days, it’s the staff at Grand Lake Casino that keeps Hadley motivated. “The people here depend on me to do my best every day and to lead by example,” she said. “Mr. West taught me to ‘strive to inspire,’ and I do that to the best of my ability.”
Senior Manager of Interactive Compliance
Marie-Rose Hagerman has faithfully served the gaming industry and her companies for seven years and counting. As the senior manager of interactive compliance at Scientific Games, Hagerman has proven her ability to rise above and beyond her duties many times over, making her well deserving of this year’s Great Women of Gaming Rising Star award.
When Hagerman first came to the United States, she was 6 years old and could say only three words. It was during this transitional stage in her life that she developed the motivation that shapes her today. “What drives me is what I learned from that introspective time. I have faith in my abilities and know that change and growth are good things,” said Hagerman.
Hagerman used that outlook to progress from one challenge to the next. She earned her undergraduate degree in mathematics and computer science from Loyola University of Chicago. She then went on to earn an MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg Graduate School of Management in Evanston, Ill.
Hagerman’s skills were soon recognized, and she accepted a position at the Lawrence Research Group (LRG) as the operations director. In this role, she supported the chief operations officer in the areas of business operations and technical project management. Some of Hagerman’s achievements at LRG include the development and implementation of processes that improved productivity by 60 percent and her creation of pay-per-click methodologies that improved return on investment by 40 percent.
In 2008, Hagerman entered the gaming industry when she accepted a position at Bally Technologies. Asked what led her to pursue this position, Hagerman said, “I was attracted to the gaming industry seven years ago because I saw it as a challenge. I had only worked with high-tech companies before and want to see how I could help move more advance technology into gaming. I was very fortunate to be accepted as part of the Innovation Lab.”
As with any new position, the learning curve for Hagerman’s job at Bally Technologies was a steep one. Hagerman described some of the challenges she faced when first becoming familiar with the gaming industry. “The biggest challenge in gaming and any industry is knowledge,” she said. “When you first come in, you have a little knowledge.
But to be successful, you need to have expert knowledge. I have overcome this by taking the extra time to learn—whether it was reading an article, attending a meeting or seeking out a few minutes of other’s time to educate myself on products, plans and challenges.” Hagerman’s motivation and commitment to learn as much as possible about her position and the gaming industry guaranteed Hagerman’s success, as well as earned her admiration from her team members, said Scientific Games’ Director of Product Operations Matthew Jackson.
When Bally Technologies was acquired by Scientific Games in November 2014, Hagerman joined the Scientific Games team as project manager. Her role was quickly expanded to technical compliance manager when her supervisors noticed her dedicated work ethic. Jackson said, “After joining the team, Marie quickly distinguished herself as a leader. She was able to single-handedly orchestrate the merger of the Bally Technologies Interactive team with the Scientific Games Interactive team while continuing to manage and drive commercial projects forward.”
As the senior manager of interactive compliance, Hagerman manages all compliance-related activities globally within the interactive business. She is responsible for managing the higher profile projects including game launches, new customer integrations and ongoing customer engagement activities. Her broad knowledge and expertise is also applied to areas such as employee biometrics, wireless communications, chip detection, i-gaming and in-game bonusing. The dedication Hagerman shows in every aspect of her development efforts has earned her a key role on teams that create award winning hardware and software products that Scientific Games supplies for today’s market.
Talk to anyone who works with Hagerman and they will speak of her professionalism, unmatched work ethic and kind spirit. Randy Hedrick, Scientific Games’ vice president of the innovation lab, said “She works incredible hours to ensure that key initiatives are met and will take on any task regardless of whether it’s her responsibility or not. She is always professional and respected by her co-workers and is an exceptional representative for the company and the industry.” Jackson gave Hagerman high accolades as well and said, “Marie is one of those rare people who work extremely hard and diligently, but does so with a smile on her face.”
It is Hagerman’s goal to continue her successful career in the gaming industry. In the future, she is setting her sights on leading a Global Interactive team. She will do this while also caring for her growing family. “With a husband, four kids and a demanding job—the biggest personal challenge has been time management,” Hagerman said. Though the demands of work and family can be strenuous, Hagerman has never wavered in her work efforts while ensuring her family is taken care of.
As an honored Rising Star, Hagerman gave insightful advice to any woman who aspires toward a professional career in gaming. “Stay focused and never stop learning. There is so much growth and change in the industry, keep up to date with emerging markets and technologies. And don’t be afraid to have fun at work!”
Deputy General Counsel—Gaming
Scientific Games’ Deputy General Counsel of Gaming, Harper Ko, was excited to receive this year’s Great Women of Gaming Rising Star award. “I am deeply honored to be recognized as a Rising Star by the esteemed Great Women of Gaming judges. I am also truly humbled that I am a recipient, given the strong field of nominees this year,” Ko said.
Originally from Minnesota, Ko’s rise to success in the gaming industry has been an unconventional, yet exciting, journey. Ko received her undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan, and her Juris Doctor from Chicago-Kent College of Law with a certificate in international law. Her career in the gaming industry began immediately after graduation. Ko explained, “I became a part of the gaming industry quite by accident, and very early in my career, almost directly out of law school rather than the customary path through a law firm practice.” While living in Chicago, gaming company WMS Gaming, Inc. took a chance on Ko, and her career was launched.
Ko describes her first gaming job as similar to being thrown into the deep end of a swimming pool without knowing how to swim. “I didn’t know anything about gaming at the time, but as the most junior person in a very small in-house legal department, every day was like boot camp and I was ‘on-the-job training’ under the mentorship of WMS’ then-General Counsel Orrin Edidin, from day one.” This was the beginning of a long line of mentors that Ko credits with much of her growth and success in the industry.
Working as in-house counsel for WMS led Ko to Aristocrat Technologies, where she met and worked with Gavin Isaacs, who is now Scientific Games’ president and CEO. During this time, Ko also consulted with Caesars Entertainment, where she negotiated and drafted commercial transactional agreements, corporate purchase and distributor agreements, and a variety of other corporate legal duties.
Ko joined Bally Technologies in 2007, working for the company’s general counsel Mark Lerner. She served as primary counsel in support of Bally’s gaming device business and casino-management systems business. In November 2013, she played an important role in the integration of SHFL Entertainment and Bally Technologies, following the merger of the two companies. Ko joined Katie Lever’s team (Lever had just been appointed general counsel and executive vice president of the combined company) as assistant general counsel. In this position, Ko built strong relationships with casino operators, suppliers, regulatory agencies and other key stakeholders in the casino industry that continue to benefit her today.
Since Scientific Games acquired Bally Technologies in November 2014, Ko has repeatedly contributed toward the continuing success of the company. Stepping in to handle matters outside her usual responsibilities, Ko assumed leadership roles above and beyond expectations. She led the negotiation and drafting of a key commercial agreement with OPAP, the exclusive VLT operator in the new Greek VLT market. She served as the primary corporate counsel managing a material international arbitration claim filed in a European chamber of arbitration. Ko was also in charge of the negotiation and drafting of key commercial agreements with operators and vendors related to Bally Technologies’ entry into the Italian Comma 6b (VLT) market.
To top off all of these professional achievements, Ko has been named as Scientific Games’ representative co-general counsel of the Association of Gaming Equipment Manufacturers (AGEM). In this role, she assists in providing advocacy on behalf of the industry and the many casino operators, suppliers, regulatory agencies, testing labs and other stakeholders in the business.
Because of all these examples and more, Lever was pleased to promote Ko to Scientific Games’ Deputy General Counsel—Gaming. Lever said, “Harper is one who, over the decade I’ve known her, has always been a standout: intelligent, professional, driven and holds her own no matter the audience.” Ko is now responsible for all legal matters related to Scientific Games’ worldwide Gaming Division operations, including management of the gaming legal group, integration of Bally Technologies with WMS and Scientific Games’ multi-faced international gaming operations, support of related departments such as human resources, facilities and regulatory compliance. She also provides strategic legal advice for the company’s domestic and international gaming business.
Having experienced exceptional tutoring under her own mentors, Ko understands the value of mentoring in such a fast-paced industry. “People like Gavin Isaacs, Orrin Edidin, Mark Lerner, and Katie Lever have taught me so much—about business and life. I have learned so much from them by listening and observing the way they have been able to achieve work-life balance; grow in this industry; and most of all, have a long-lasting impact that will keep gaming viable and strong for years to come.” Ko makes sure to take time to mentor other team members and help them advance and grow within the newly combined organization.
When not at work, Ko is devoting her time to her family and serving on the Board of Directors for Project 150 Charitable Trust, a non-profit organization that supports homeless Clark County high school students. Her advice to young professional women in the gaming industry is sound. “Maximize your choices by doing your best work every day. People will notice and want to work with, for, and around you, to mentor you and to open more doors for you.”
McGuinness Media & Marketing
Megan McGuinness entered the gaming industry just seven years ago and immediately had a resounding impact in her field. After establishing her skills at Twin River Casino, McGuinness founded McGuinness Media & Marketing, a casino marketing agency that specializes in gaming, hospitality, dining and entertainment.
McGuinness graduated from the University of Connecticut with a bachelor’s degree in communications and quickly put her degree to work when she was hired at Carat, a global communications agency in Boston. McGuinness spent seven years at Carat, managing the advertising for national and global brands such as Reebok, Rockport and Philips, winning several awards for her work.
In February 2009, McGuinness moved from Boston to Rhode Island when she was offered the advertising manager position at Twin River Casino in Lincoln, R.I.
Sergio Sousa, director of marketing at Twin River Casino, saw something special in McGuinness right away. “Her drive was inspiring. Her work ethic was motivating. Her energy and passion were encouraging,” he said. “This is why I nominated her for the Employee of the Quarter after being here just six months.” Just three months later, McGuinness was awarded Employee of the Year, becoming the least-tenured employee to ever be recognized with this honor.
During McGuinness’ time at Twin River Casino, the company experienced increased profitability by 100 percent, almost doubling its market share while in a continually declining market. As part of a small senior marketing team, she served a valuable role in these achievements. McGuinness produced convincing and powerful commercials in all media forms and did so cost effectively, while also growing the customer base. In addition to these effective advertising campaigns, she also successfully launched many new amenities, restaurants and clubs.
One of McGuinness’ proudest professional accomplishments came in 2013 when Twin River went from a slots-only facility to a full-scale casino with the addition of live table games. Her work on the launch and roll-out included teaser campaigns, advertising, PR and a grand gala event, all of which led to a notable 79 percent awareness of the table games in Southern New England after just six months. “To get awareness numbers like that was incredible and a nice reward for all of the hard work we put in on the launch,” McGuinness said.
After three years of polishing and refining her gaming expertise at Twin River Casino, McGuinness saw an opportunity arise when the owners of Twin River Casino, Twin River Management Group, began the process of expanding and purchasing more casinos. She started McGuinness Media & Marketing, her own casino marketing agency. “I loved my team and the work I was doing there, and saw an opportunity to start my own company and create a business by providing my casino marketing consulting services to multiple casinos, not just one. I am now managing the branding and marketing communications for three casinos and it’s exciting to have so many great places and different markets to think about every day,” McGuinness said.
As the owner of her own company, McGuinness still runs all of the advertising efforts for Twin River Casino, as well as the media and advertising for the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Biloxi, Miss. and most recently for the Newport Grand Casino in Newport, R.I. McGuinness’ passion for casino marketing shines through the results of her efforts, according to Phil Juliano, senior vice president and chief marketing officer for Twin River Management Group. “During the nine months Megan has worked on the Hard Rock Casino marketing initiatives, we have gone on to win 14 industry awards in just the first quarter of 2015 alone, while increasing our profitability dramatically,” Juliano said. “Megan is a communication master who dots every i and crosses every t—and she does it while generating creativity in our messaging. In the last few years, Megan separated from the ordinary to join the ranks of the extraordinary.”
The thing that attracted McGuinness to the gaming industry was the forever changing, fast-paced environment. The variety of the work is what excites her the most, though there are two things in particular that motivate her. “Each day, I work for two things; one, to make sure patrons have an incredible experience with us so they return to our property. And second, that they had such an unforgettable experience, that they recommend us to others,” McGuinness said. “Getting our guests to return and recommend us is the ultimate goal in casino marketing and I love being part of that process.”
On top of her marketing responsibilities for three casinos and her own company, McGuinness is also devoted to her husband, Jeff, and their two sons, Paxton and Miller. As Juliano said, “With frequent travel back and forth from Rhode Island and Mississippi, Megan manages to balance her business career and family life seamlessly.” In her own words, McGuinness’ proudest personal accomplishment is her family. “I love my job and what I do, but I never want it to take away from being a great mom. So I may have a headset on for a conference call at the T-Ball game…but I won’t miss the game,” she said.
McGuinness serves as a career mentor for the Hope Life Skill Class, often speaking to students about casino marketing and is also a volunteer for the Cranston Little League.
McGuinness plans to continue growing her business in the casino industry for many years to come. She was thrilled to receive a 2014 Rising Star award. “There are so many layers to casino marketing and I truly love what I do. It’s an honor to be recognized for doing something you love.”
Isle Casino Hotel Waterloo
For eight years, Meagan Miller has been a steady force in the gaming industry, working as controller at Isle Casino Hotel Waterloo since the casino’s conception in 2007.
Miller graduated in 2004 from the University of North Iowa. She began her career in public accounting with Ernst & Young LLP. In this role, Miller served as senior auditor, staff auditor and audit intern. She led planning meetings to establish risks and developed audit procedures for annual audits. Conducting annual audits for a wide range of industries such as insurance, manufacturing and gaming allowed Miller to observe a variety of industries, including the casino industry when one of her clients was Isle Casino Hotel Bettendorf.
Miller spent four years with Ernst & Young developing and expanding her skills in accounting and auditing before she started looking for new challenges. “I loved public accounting but the travel was starting to wear on me, and I was thinking about moving closer to home so that my husband and I could start a family. I heard about a great opportunity at a new casino that was being built in Waterloo, Iowa. I accepted the controller position at the Isle Casino Hotel Waterloo in 2007 shortly before the casino opened.”
At just 25 years old and controller for a newly established casino, Miller said she was determined to prove her abilities in the gaming industry. She didn’t hesitate to work long hours in order to learn as much as possible every day. As controller, Miller is responsible for all aspects of the accounting department, including payroll, accounts payable, accounts receivable, revenue audit and soft count. She acts as the company’s liaison with internal and external auditors to maintain compliance with standard operating procedures, state regulations and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. She also facilitates the end-of-the-month close process and oversees all aspects of reporting.
Miller’s healthy curiosity and strong desire to always do better than her best has made her a great member of the Isle Casino Hotel Waterloo team, said Vice President and General Manager Bari Richter. “[Meagan] is an amazing facilitator for our property. She has an ability to bring a diverse set of viewpoints together and come to an acceptable solution for all parties…In addition, Meagan is a fantastic team player who is willing to modify or add to her or her team’s work load if it is in the best interest of the property.”
In her willingness to lend a hand wherever help is needed, Miller has played instrumental roles in several large-scale projects such as corporate-wide implementation of balance sheet reconciliation software, a gift card program and development of the slot club point liability model. Susan Adomite, the senior director of accounting and reporting at Isle of Capri Casinos Inc., also complimented Miller’s commitment to her company, saying, “Whenever we have a process to improve or project to complete, she is the first volunteer and even the first to implement whatever new system or process we might need. We often look to Meagan to define a process or create a standard for which other properties will follow.”
Fulfilling so many leadership roles has shown Miller the importance of mentorship in every aspect. She said, “It is important for everyone to have a mentor in their life that not only teaches, but truly inspires. I have been lucky enough to have had some incredible women mentors in my life that have shared their knowledge and taught me the importance of giving back. I take advantage of any opportunity I am given to mentor others and really enjoy watching others excel.” When asked who had inspired and mentored her career in the gaming industry, Miller credited Richter; Sally Rogers, senior director of finance of Isle Casino Hotel Bettendorf; and Virginia McDowell, CEO and president of Isle of Capri Casinos.
Bringing enthusiasm, dedication and compassion to her work doesn’t stop at the office for Miller. In the past year, she has assumed a leadership role as co-chair in Isle Casino Hotel Waterloo’s charitable and volunteer program called Community Acres. In addition to her daily responsibilities, Miller also helps Community Acres Committee develop and coordinate the casino’s calendar of philanthropic activities. “I am driven to try and be the best I can be at whatever I do whether it is at home, at work or volunteering in the community. I feel there is always an opportunity to know more, do more and be better at any project I undertake or goal I set,” Miller said.
Another passion of Miller’s is making a difference to those who live with cystic fibrosis. She has served on the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation Board of Directors since 2014. Richter explained, “Meagan lost a close friend to the disease and since then she has worked to raise money so a cure can be found. In fact, Meagan was recognized by our corporate offices for the donations she has raised to help fight cystic fibrosis.” Miller received the Waterloo Courier Top 20 under 40 Award in 2014 for being a leader among volunteers.
Miller is also an active member on the United Way board of directors and the United Way emerging leaders committee. Miller shares her activism and compassion with her husband, Adam. Together, they are proud parents of Tinley, their 3-year-old daughter.
Miller said she was humbled and honored to be recognized among the 2014 Great Women of Gaming Rising Stars. Her advice to women in the gaming industry is, “Don’t ever let your age or gender hold you back. The gaming industry is such an exciting place to grow and further your career!”