Peter Mead: Big Dreams and a Bigger Heart

Most people who knew Peter Mead have some sort of story about him. Maybe Peter helped get a business off the ground with deeply discounted advertising rates or made an introduction that led to collaboration or a business deal.

Or maybe he opened the pages of the magazine for someone to share their gaming insights through a column. Sometimes, it was a story of Peter butting heads with someone over a disagreement. More often, it was as personal as Pete showing up with his big Dodge truck to help a business associate move out of an office and into a new one.

No matter what each story was about, a single thread runs through them all. Peter cared. He cared about his magazine. He cared about the gaming industry. He cared about his employees. He cared about friends and family.

That’s why when Peter Mead died unexpectedly June 24 at his Las Vegas home, we at Casino Enterprise Management received dozens of phone calls, emails and sympathy notes. Most were in shock that their friend and business partner—for he always considered part of his role as a publisher was to be a partner helping companies succeed—had died, and many lamented that such a powerful voice for the gaming industry had been silenced too soon. He was only 54.

CEM co-worker John Drugach likened Peter to a rare scotch, as he could be an acquired taste. “However, if you were fortunate enough to be able to distinguish Peter the man from Peter the publisher, then you indeed had made a true friend for life,” Drugach noted, “albeit all too short a life for a man who always seemed to be able to beat the odds that were stacked against him…all but this one last time.”

Peter was born Aug. 26, 1960, in Fargo, N.D. He attended Moorhead High School in his hometown of Moorhead, Minn., and later Minnesota State University in Moorhead and the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, where he studied economics. The son of a publisher, Peter got his first taste for the gaming industry while working for his father’s magazine, Gaming Products & Services, and in 2002 started his own company, Casino Services Publishing, producing Casino Enterprise Management, and the short-lived Bingo Management.

CEM Art Director Jim Strom recalled the first time he met Peter.

“He told me he was making these big plans to move to Moorhead and start his own publishing company. ‘Go big or go home…I’m going to do the reverse—I’m going to go home to go big.’ And that stuck with me,” Strom, who worked with Peter since the magazine’s early days, said in his eulogy to Peter.

“Pete was a big man with a big plan with a big move. He moved all the way to Moorhead with a big idea to start his magazine,” he told those gathered at the July 2 memorial service in Moorhead. But, he said, “Pete was so much more than just a businessman.”

Strom told of Peter’s “big toy box”—the farm where he would ride his big John Deere tractor—and recalled times when Peter would step in and take care of his kids, Dawson and Chloe, when Strom ran an errand. “When I’d come back, the kids would be just ecstatic—they’d had more fun than they’d ever had in their lives. Dawson would rave about ‘Driving the big green tractor.’ He was about 3—3 years old and driving the tractor. Pete always had things to do for my kids.”

Even as a young boy, Peter loved dogs.Strom related other “big” things in Peter’s life—his Rottweilers, Annie and Addie; his tricked-out Jeep; his big Hawaiian shirts—but noted one of the most significant aspects of Peter’s life was his relationship with his mother. “How many people out there can say they call their mom every day? Pete would take time to call Solveig every day.”

Ultimately, he told those in attendance, “the most important thing about Pete was his big heart. I don’t know how many people got to see that side of Pete,” he said. “A lot of people got to meet him through his business. That was 180 degrees different from the way he was (when not in business mode). He’d go the extra mile all the time, always there to help, always there to comfort, ask if you’re OK. It’s like he had a sixth sense.”

CEM contributor Greg Gemignani, an attorney with the Dickinson-Wright law firm, can attest to that side of Peter.

“I was an attorney at Lionel Sawyer & Collins until the firm closed.  When it was clear that the firm was closing, I let Peter know. At the time, I had an assignment from Peter that I needed to extend as closing, year-end and holidays were overlapping and I would need to use the weekend to make trips in my car to begin clearing out my office,” Gemignani said. “Peter immediately chimed in and not only gave me extra time on the assignment, but he offered to help me move over the weekend. Since I drive a small Pontiac coupe, having Peter and his pickup to assist was a huge help. I was able to move nearly 16 years of personal items I accumulated while working at LS&C in one trip thanks to Peter,” he said. “While it doesn’t sound like a big deal, it is illustrative of how Peter operated. He recognized someone that needed help, immediately offered to help, provided the help and never asked or accepted anything in return.”

Beyond being a good and loyal friend, Peter had many interests outside of his publishing business. He loved to fish, particularly at a favorite spot in northern Minnesota—Lake  Vermilion. Some in the gaming industry might recall the time Pete chartered a boat for a fishing outing for gaming friends and associates after a NIGA show in Southern California. Out in international waters, the boat and its occupants got a little surprise when the vessel went a little too far south and was stopped and boarded by some federales, but the encounter was harmless and proved to be nothing more than a great anecdote to share over the years.

Peter loved to cook, particularly when he could experiment a little with different ingredients. He was passionate about Annie and Addie, who would accompany him to the office in Fargo, and were always underfoot in his home office in Las Vegas. One thing few people in the gaming industry know about Peter is that he took up running for a while and competed in two marathons.

Peter will be remembered for his integrity, his generosity, his honesty and his genuine commitment to his beliefs, Gemignani said. “If Peter is to be remembered for the content of his character, then he will be remembered as a great man whose legacy was to leave the gaming industry in a better place than he found it and to have started, built and maintained an institution in the gaming industry.”

Marcus Prater, executive director of the Association of Gaming Equipment Manufacturers (AGEM), knew Peter for more than 15 years and described him as “one of the great characters in our industry—truly unique, truly one-of-a-kind, a perfect combination of Midwest ideals and a casino industry lifestyle.”

Prater’s professional relationship with Peter dates back to the late 1990s and the Gaming Products & Services magazine he worked on with his father, and then with Casino Enterprise Management (CEM). “He sold me advertising and treated both myself and Bally very well during my time in the marketing department there,” Prater said. “When I joined the Association of Gaming Equipment Manufacturers (AGEM), CEM became our official magazine, mostly because we were sold on Peter’s enthusiasm and his vision for the future. It’s devastating to me and many others that Peter’s future has been cut short. I will miss him and the gaming industry will miss him.”

NIGA Chairman Ernie Stevens Jr. recalled his first encounter with Peter, who had driven many miles to meet with Stevens in Wisconsin. “I expected a suit-and-tie, fast-talking Las Vegas guy coming through the door, but he was actually more like me, a Midwestern guy. I guess I was impressed that he was more of a grassroots, down-to-earth kind of guy,” Stevens said, recalling Peter as very respectful at the meeting. “I didn’t know who this guy was. I didn’t know if I could trust him, but if he was going to venture into the world of Indian country then I wanted him to get the story right, and I wanted him to be fair and balanced.”

Peter had come to ask Stevens to write for the magazine, to share insights on tribal government gaming to help create a better understanding at a time when there were plenty of misconceptions about the subject. “At that time I was very selective about who I was writing for, which I still am, but Pete convinced me. I agreed that it was important for the public to understand tribal gaming, and that perspective had to come from Indian country.”

This was in the very early days of Stevens’ tenure with NIGA, the National Indian Gaming Association, and Stevens recalled thinking it could be risky. “It was a challenge, but I accepted the challenge. Getting the facts out to the public about Indian gaming has proved a huge benefit to us, to the industry that we work with, and for our communities,” he said. “While we never forget who we are and where we come from, we want to move our industry forward, and that takes a lot of hard work and respect. And I believe Pete did that for us, providing that forum for Indian gaming where we could speak to the world about the challenges and the successes of tribal government gaming.”

Peter piloting his boat on Lake Vermilion in northern Minnesota.One of the things Stevens admired about Peter was his polite persistence and his patience. “He never gave up, and he got done what he set out to do, which is bring these two worlds together through his publication, and I think that’s one of the most important things when it comes to Pete Mead, his ability to overcome challenges,” he said. In this case, “We took down a barrier, a potential obstacle, and we made a bridge. And we continue to walk across that bridge every day,” Stevens said.

Stevens recalled that he and Peter sometimes butted heads. “Sometimes we had intense discussions, but he was always a gentleman about it. It wasn’t always easy, but the bottom line is that he cared about Indian country, and he cared about Indian country having a voice—not just in Indian country—but a voice to the public at large.”

“To have a man so young go on to the spirit world is something you’re never prepared for. It was a shock to me and a terrible loss because Pete was my friend. He was a confidant. He was somebody that stood by me. He was somebody I could count on. Most of the time we talked about fairness and balance and that’s just who he was and what he was about,” he said. “It’s big blow to the industry and a devastating blow to me personally because I loved Pete’s friendship. He was a warrior and he did a great job and left a foundation for all of us to carry on.”

David Orrick, director of Communications & Business Development for Novomatic Americas, said  Peter’s death “takes away from the gaming industry’s media corps one of its most charismatic and influential figures.”

Peter, Orrick wrote in an email, will be remembered in many ways. “As befits the publisher of a business publication, he was politically adept and could employ his often-acerbic commentaries to great effect. He had no love of over-formality or of those who were pompous. To the pompous, Peter would employ the Shakespearean technique of ‘damning with faint praise,’” Orrick wrote. “Peter was also a gentleman, in both his business and private lives. In business, Peter’s word was his bond and his handshake a firm guarantee. In private, Peter had the knack of being a better listener than a talker, and he had the truly valuable gift of simply having, or making, time for people.”

Orrick said Peter ensured that the magazine advanced the best interests of the industry that he loved. “His wise counsel in media matters will be a significant loss,” he said.

Docking his fishing boat—always a happy place for Peter.CEM contributor and VizExplorer Chief Technology Officer Andrew Cardno, recalled first meeting Peter when he was starting the magazine. “I remember having a wonderful dinner with him discussing the industry and its needs. He was always so committed to being part of the industry as it tackles challenges,” said Cardno, who along with Dr. Ralph Thomas, contributes the “Where is the Money?” column each month. “Peter struck me as a man of his word and a man of action. He was clearly working hard to bootstrap the magazine and was, in my mind, going to make it happen, by sheer force of will if necessary,” Cardno said.

“By sharing and collaborating, Peter has enabled the industry to grow and change in many ways. CEM magazine brings a message to all, sharing and driving the need for innovation,” he said. “Peter will always have a place in my heart and I think the legacy of Casino Enterprise Management will carry on and continue to bring the message to the gaming community. With Peter’s passing I am more committed to continuing this story and collaborating with others to encourage innovation and growth.”

Scientific Games CEO Gavin Isaacs recalled getting to know Peter after Isaacs moved from the U.K. to Las Vegas to become president of Aristocrat’s Americas division. “Peter was just getting started with Casino Enterprise Management magazine at that time, and Aristocrat was gaining traction in the U.S. market,” he said. “I guess you could say we were both sort of the underdogs, competing with well-established companies and fighting for our share of the pie.”

Peter made an impression on Isaacs. “Peter was extremely passionate about helping our industry grow, and he took a special interest in helping smaller companies just gaining ground in the industry promote their brand and spread their message,” Isaacs said, recalling Peter as a “warm and friendly guy with a smile that lit up a room.”

Isaacs said Peter will be missed. “The loss of Peter is devastating to his friends, his colleagues, and our industry as a whole. He was a powerful and positive voice,” he said.

Peter made his mark on the gaming industry, Isaacs said. “Peter’s magazine was and continues to be truly groundbreaking because of its unique, technology-focused content. We will all miss Peter’s support and his passionate advocacy of the casino gaming industry and of important trade and policy-focused groups such as AGEM and the GSA.”

Peter’s legacy, Isaacs said, will be filled with industry firsts, including; the first and only Great Women of Gaming awards; the first and only Slot Floor Technology Awards; and the first magazine to truly integrate multi-format channels with its print publication. “Peter started some great traditions in our industry that I hope will continue for years to come,” Isaacs said.

Peter gets up close and personal with one of his catches.Buddy Frank, vice president of slot operations at Pechanga Resort & Casino, said Peter brought a new kind of gaming publication to the industry—something more than the publications that were “simply ad copy or PR releases strung together by a staple and a glossy cover.”

“Peter was seeking something that vendors and operators actually wanted to read since it would be informative, relevant, sharing and candid,” Frank said. “He did this by simply calling everyone he could find and asking them what they thought. He truly seemed interested in every conversation that had anything remotely connected with gaming and listened with a twinkle in his eye even when the topics would have bored to death a lesser man.”

Several times, Frank recalled that he wrote “material that I thought was truthful and accurate, but which might have offended some of his advertisers” and fully expected the pieces to be heavily edited or dropped. “Not once in 10 years did Peter or his team ever reject my material. They made suggestions to improve the stories, but never to stifle opinions,” he said. “That was quite courageous for a publication that financially depended upon advertisements from the very vendors that I sometimes criticized. Peter definitely went out of the box on a daily basis, and he has made us all better due to his efforts.”

Friend Bob Ambrose said Peter was a publisher who was passionate about his product. “The content of CEM was always authentic. Peter kept the content relevant, interesting and detailed. The writing has always been informative, editorials meaningful and CEM was always an educational read. Because that is the way Peter wanted it.”

Since the magazine’s early days, when Ambrose first met Peter, he said Peter was continually seeking to take the publication and its related content to the next level, with conferences, awards, special features and CEM Audio Edge.

“Peter gave me my first break as a writer while I was still working in the gaming industry. He really had no choice since I followed him around G2E, telling him I wanted to write for CEM. After appearing at his booth several times during the convention, he said, ‘OK, let’s sit down and have a Coke,’” Ambrose recalled. “I figured if he saw me enough he would either have me thrown out of the convention or give me a writing assignment. I had several writing assignments in the next few years.”

After Ambrose left the casino industry to pursue a career in gaming education, Peter supported him in those efforts, having monthly copies of CEM sent to Ambrose for distribution to his casino management students. “More recently he found ways to partner with us at the Center for Hospitality & Sport Management at Drexel University in my efforts to establish the Dennis Gomes Memorial Casino Training Lab,” Ambrose said. “Peter opened his network to me. He connected me to associations and companies that now have partnered with us to help establish the first university-level gaming school on the East Coast.”

Peter loved technology, and if it had to do with angling for fish, so much the better. [See electronic fish finder near hand.]Peter was not one to crow about such efforts, Ambrose noted. “Peter liked humbly working behind the scenes,” said Ambrose, who serves as an instructor for the Gaming & Hospitality Center for Hospitality & Sport Management Drexel University, in the Dennis Gomes Memorial Casino Training Lab.

“In our professional careers we meet people that impact us, broaden our views, expand our horizons and mentor us. We should never forget the people that have touched us or helped us define who we are. Peter was one of those people,” Ambrose said. “Thanks for the opportunity, Peter, and the years of interesting and insightful editorials. And thanks for being Peter. That curious, opinionated publisher that had an itchy hand to write his thoughts in order to inform and communicate.”

Peter is survived by his mother and stepfather, Solveig and Ken Berg, of Dilworth, Minn.; aunt and uncle, Ellen and Bob Wright of Moorhead, Minn.; and his cousins. He was preceded in death by his father.

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