The 2011 Great Women of Gaming

*Click here to listen to a podcast with the Proven Leader winners; here for a pdcast with the Rising Stars; or here for a podcast with two of the winners from Native American organizations.*

This year, 11 amazing women are honored as CEM’s 2011 Great Women of Gaming. Due to a deadlock decision from the judging panel in one category, there were six Proven Leaders and five Rising Stars chosen as this year’s award winners.

Now in its seventh year, the awards were broken down into two categories: Proven Leaders and Rising Stars. To qualify as a Proven Leader, candidates must have worked in the gaming industry for a minimum of 10 years and have been in their current position for at least one year. They must also work for a gaming industry company and hold a position of director 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.

To qualify as a Rising Star, candidates must have worked in the gaming industry for a minimum of three years and have been in their current position for at least one year. They must also work for a gaming industry company and hold a position of manager or higher, having demonstrated exceptional achievement in at least three of the following areas: 1) ability to go above and beyond job responsibilities; 2) commitment to company and co-workers; 3) contributions to the industry as a whole; 4) commitment to mentoring; and 5) strong overall life balance.

The judging committee, made up of former Great Women of Gaming award winners and other industry leaders, had the tough task of evaluating a large pool of extremely talented and accomplished women. They included: Diana Bennett, CEO, Paragon Gaming; Dona Cassese, vice president advertising & communications, Aristocrat Technologies; Christie Eickelman, senior director of worldwide marketing, Gaming Laboratories International; Jan Jones, executive VP government and corporate communications, Caesars Entertainment Corp.; Candace Lucas, former executive director of marketing operations, WMS Gaming; Courtney Muller, senior vice president, Global Gaming Expo, Reed Exhibitions; Debra Nutton, senior vice president of casino operations and marketing, MGM Grand Las Vegas; Valerie Red-Horse, president, Red-Horse Financial Group; Lynn “Nay” Valbuena, former vice chairwoman, San Manuel Band of Mission Indians; and Jean Venneman, vice president of product management, Bally Technologies.

Below you will see who was selected as winners in each category, including why they were selected and what incredible things they’ve done for the industry. They are all so inspiring, and we’re excited to share their stories with you.

Proven Leaders

Marge Anderson

Chief Executive
Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe

Indian gaming advocates often talk about the challenges tribal communities faced before gaming and the tremendous strides gaming revenues have allowed their communities to make. But it is becoming rare that these advocates also lived as children and adults through the life-challenging and even threatening conditions they speak of. Marge Anderson’s life story carries us through the positive changes gaming has brought to her tribe in East Central Minnesota. It is easy to see why Anderson is a proven leader in our industry.

Anderson was born on the Mille Lacs Reservation in 1932. She recalls: “I lived in a one-room tar-paper shack with my mother, father and my seven brothers and sisters.”

Anderson remembers the lack of health care on the reservation. The nearest hospital was about 100 miles away, and there was no way to get there if needed. This impacted her life in a major way. “Two of my sisters and one of my brothers died from lack of medical attention,” Anderson shares.

Anderson’s mother, Anna Davis, served as a mentor early on in life. Anderson recalls one telling story from a year when her father was out of town working for the railroad and the family ran out of money and food. Anderson’s mother rounded up the kids to pick wild bittersweet berries that were growing nearby. They picked for hours, then sold the berries and made enough money to buy food.

“That day my mother taught me that time spent panicking could be better spent picking,” she says.

In 1976, Anderson began her formal service to the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe. She was elected to represent one of the three districts on the reservation, District I. She held this position for 11 years, until being elected as the band’s secretary/treasurer in 1987.

Casino gaming entered Anderson’s world in 1989 when the band signed a compact with the state of Minnesota. Then in 1991, the chairman at the time, Art Gahbow, died suddenly while in office. The band assembly voted to appoint Anderson to that position. She was elected chief executive in 1992 and served until 2000; she then served again from 2009 to June 2012.

Gahbow was also a mentor in Anderson’s life. She says she learned many things from Gahbow, including the point he proved, “Even when people have very little, they can dream big … strength doesn’t just come from money, it comes from within.”

The opening of the two casinos in the early 1990s was a ray of hope to Anderson and her family, friends and neighbors who desperately needed jobs.

As gaming revenues started coming in, Anderson’s life experiences helped drive the Mille Lacs Band’s decision to use that money to rebuild the reservation and give band members the resources to fight poverty.

Anderson says: “I’m proud that I helped lead the decision to use business revenues to rebuild the Mille Lacs Reservation through new schools, clinics, community centers, housing, and infrastructure. Investing our gaming revenues back into the community, rather than solely distributing money to band members on a per-capita basis, will help us secure a strong future for our children and preserve our cultural values.”

Additionally, the band has invested revenues in infrastructure projects that benefit the entire region. That includes a regional wastewater treatment facility, a tribal police department, which collaborates with local law enforcement agencies, and millions of dollars in donations to charitable causes in the region.

One of the biggest professional challenges Anderson has faced and continues to face is efforts to expand gaming on state and national levels. Anderson says: “Many see expanding gaming as a lucrative opportunity to bolster state and federal coffers. But they forget that the original purpose of gaming was to create jobs in tribal communities and rural areas.”

On a personal level, Anderson is proud of her accomplishment in 1996 of founding the Midwest Alliance of Sovereign Tribes. This regional alliance advocates for and protects tribes’ treaty rights, sovereignty and cultures at state, regional and federal levels. It also promotes unity and cooperation among tribes. “Even though each tribe is a separate sovereign nation, we need to work together to advance Indian country as a whole,” Anderson says.

She is also proud of the improvements in how the Ojibwe culture is being sustained. Anderson remembers not being allowed to speak Ojibwe at school. But for the past 20 years, there has been a significant effort to involve young people in traditional ceremonies and teach Ojibwe in the band’s pre-K through grade 12 schools.

These ongoing enhancements in Anderson’s community are what keep her working to improve professionally and personally. She says: “We have a responsibility to preserve our history and culture for future generations. And we have a responsibility to stand up for our sovereign rights on a government-to-government basis. I know that we have come a long way, but we can—and must—do so much more.”

Anderson is retiring as chief executive this July, but don’t expect to stop hearing from her. In retirement, Anderson will continue to advocate for tribal economic development, sovereignty, housing availability and social issues—including supporting Indian child welfare and fighting crime, violence and substance abuse on the reservation. “As an elder, I will also continue to share the Ojibwe language with young band members and support efforts that help maintain our culture,” Anderson adds.

Regarding this Great Women of Gaming win, Anderson says she is honored to be counted among the many influential women who have been an important part of the process to revolutionize Indian country.

To young women pursuing a career in gaming, Anderson offers the four basic values of the Ojibwe culture: respect, hard work, kindness and honesty. “I believe that if you stick to these four values, you can succeed at whatever you choose to do in life,” she says. SK

Brandi Ellis

Senior Vice President of VIP Marketing
Caesars Entertainment

Proven Leader Brandi Ellis is a self-proclaimed underdog, although you wouldn’t know it by looking at a snapshot of her life as it is today. Ellis is the senior vice president of VIP marketing at Caesars Entertainment. She is married, has three children and loves her job. But she is quick to remind you, “You can’t look at my situation and think that it’s all lollipops and rainbows.” Ellis’ goal is to share her challenges and successes with other women so they realize they too can achieve their goals, no matter how challenging they may first appear.

Ellis grew up in Arizona. She says she wasn’t one of the cool kids in school; in fact she says she was an underdog. But she found a way to fit in somehow. “I think a lot of that had to do with my personality and being nice to people and being inclusive,” Ellis recalls.

This idea of inclusion has stuck with Ellis. She explains, “The feeling of inclusion that I provide to people … is really important to me.” She believes that inclusion is something everyone can be better at, and it will result in a more diverse business atmosphere.

Ellis moved to Las Vegas in 1990 and began working at the hotel front desk at Harrah’s Holiday Casino. The story of her move into the casino gaming side of the business is a great example of how Ellis took it upon herself to advance her career. She recalls: “I remember seeing people that looked like they were having a blast: talking to customers, going to events, carrying balloons across the casino floor and celebrating with a customer when they would hit a jackpot. I remember asking, ‘What do they do? Who are those people?’ And they said, ‘They’re casino hosts.’”

That’s when Ellis began spending her lunch breaks shadowing casino hosts and learning about the business from some industry legends. “They taught me everything and then an opportunity presented itself,” says Ellis. In 1995, she became casino marketing and Total Rewards manager. “That’s where I got bit with the bug of VIP marketing, where I am today,” Ellis says.

Taking charge of her career, she recalls many important moments along the way. This year as the World Series of Poker began at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino, Ellis stopped at the property and was reminded of the pivotal point early in her career when she was appointed vice president of casino marketing for the Rio and Harrah’s Las Vegas. She was 29 years old at the time. Ellis recalls: “It didn’t just go to my head or anything. I reacted to it probably unlike a lot of 29-year olds would. I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, they have bestowed this responsibility upon me.’”

One year ago, Ellis was chosen for her current position, putting her in charge of growing Caesars’ VIP business in a time when the industry was not necessarily growing. In fact, Ellis says this area of the business had been declining for several years when she took the job. “My No. 1 responsibility is to grow that business and there is a host of different ways in which we do that and tactics that we employ that have everything to do with the new consolidated sales culture that we’re instituting in Caesars.”

Ellis also continues to oversee the player experience, knowing that some people save their whole lives for the Vegas experience. She says: “What does my team do every single day to make sure that our customers are completely satisfied with Caesars and that we’re their first choice? I wake up every morning thinking about that.”

The pivotal point in Ellis’ personal life was the birth of her first child. The path to Ellis’ pregnancies was challenging. She and her husband now have their son, Timothy, and twin daughters, Charley and Sammi. To get here, Ellis went through in vitro fertilization seven times and says it was the hardest and most challenging thing she has ever done. “I was so lucky,” she says. “I am so proud of it and thankful that it worked.”

Ellis wishes more women would be open and not afraid to share about their challenges. “I don’t know why we hold back, it would help people if we were more honest,” she says. She often shares her in vitro fertilization story with women when others ask for her advice.

Being a working mom is of course a balancing act, but Ellis says she’s grateful for the opportunity to have a fulfilling and successful career and be able to go home to her family. “When I took my new position, my husband and I discussed how it would be better for the future for our children,” Ellis says. She also credits Caesars for creating a culture that supports the family unit.

On the day of our interview, Ellis had just gotten her son off to school, spent time with her daughters and was preparing for her son’s kindergarten graduation the next day. It’s easy to hear in her voice and her stories that her children truly are her inspiration. Ellis says, “Those six eyeballs looking at me every morning” are what keep her pursuing her goals.

As an executive, Ellis wants to see Caesars achieve its financial goals and come out of its recent restructuring in a way so that everyone can enjoy the success of the new operating environment. “I am in it with this company to see it through,” Ellis says.

For other women working toward what Ellis has achieved, she shares the advice her mentor Angie Groeneveld shared with her as her career began. “You’ll have a couple things at the end and that is your reputation and integrity.” Ellis encourages women to be honest, believe in yourself and be responsible for your own development. She adds: “Don’t ever compromise yourself. Ever. You’ve got to be your own person. You’ve got to believe in yourself and stand up for yourself.”

Clearly Ellis will not tell you achieving your goals will be easy. It might not be. She says: “I’m not afraid to admit that it’s hard. I’m not living some magical life. It is hard and you have to wake up every day and believe in what you’re doing. And at night, you have to put your head on that pillow knowing that you’ve done everything to the best of your ability and with your moral compass intact. If you can do that, then I think you’ll always be a success at everything you’ve set out to do. So far it’s worked for me!” SK

Stephanie Maddocks

Power Strategies & Fast Dash

Stephanie Maddocks’ business partners are 13 and 15 years old—and Maddocks wouldn’t have it any other way. The president of Power Strategies and Fast Dash appointed her two young nieces as partners when they were just 7 and 9 years old. Maddocks wanted to run a 100 percent women-owned business while also teaching her nieces the fundamentals of business. “They certainly bring a fresh perspective to marketing and sales,” Maddocks said. “They are willing to question—multiple times—any decision presented to them. They force me to look at things from many different angles.”

Viewing a situation from a different angle is exactly how Maddocks arrived in the gaming industry. After studying economics and graduating from the University of California-Berkeley, Maddocks moved to Las Vegas to live with her parents in 1989. After a month of sending out her resume, Maddocks’ mother pushed her to get any kind of job, and suggested Maddocks apply at her favorite casino. The next day, Maddocks started as a cocktail waitress and has stayed in the industry ever since.

After working for some of the most respected manufacturers, including Casino Data Systems, Aristocrat Technologies and Bally Technologies, Maddocks decided to start her own technology implementation company in 2006—Power Strategies. Four years later, she started gaming development company Fast Dash in response to the absence of gaming regulatory and compliance software tools. And, much like her entry into the industry, she “kind of just fell into it.” “I believe I was in the right place at the right time during the expansion of casino gaming across the U.S., and I was able to pursue opportunities to learn how to marry casino operations with new and emerging technology,” she said.

For Maddocks, the appeal of establishing a company came from her time working for start-up companies. “When it’s small, it feels like family,” she explained. “I really like that environment. It was always more interesting to me because they seem hungrier and more willing to innovate too.” She admits that starting a business is not an easy endeavor, but it’s forced her to become a better business person. “I have learned to multitask, be highly organized and detail-oriented, and take action quickly in order to effectively make decisions,” she said. “Being a small business is even more challenging because the only person you have to delegate to you is yourself.”

According to those who nominated her, Maddocks is the ideal person to successfully run a business. An abundance of kind words for Maddocks flow from her nomination letters. C2 Gaming/Colossal Gaming Partner Alison Stroh, who has worked with Maddocks for more than 15 years, is constantly impressed with her knowledge. “She is absolutely a jack of all trades as it relates to gaming product design, development, manufacturing, installation and support,” she said.

Maddocks’ “can do” attitude impresses Moonridge Group President and CEO Julie A. Murray. “I’ve never known Stephanie to have an ‘average’ day,” she said.

Remarking on her impact in the industry, Rick Walters, VP of information technology for Lakes Entertainment, says, “With more than 50 casino openings to her credit, she has been an integral part of the industry’s evolution.”

“Virtually every casino in the U.S., regardless of whether she worked directly with them, enjoys the benefits of her efforts,” added Steven A. Weiss, CEO of Colossal Gaming.

“Stephanie Maddocks knows more about all gaming systems than anyone I know,” said John Filippe, executive director of property technology for Revel. “She is not only a great gaming professional, but also a great person. She will never forget a birthday or fail to bake cookies for someone for no other reason than just to be friendly.”

Maddocks’ fondness of baking cookies is well-known by her employees and everyone she works with. She’s a whiz on the gaming floor and in the kitchen. Baking cookies is her specialty. When a casino installation gets stressful, she says there’s nothing like a few hours in the kitchen baking cookies. “It becomes a mindless task that alleviates stress and makes everyone happy in the end because they all get cookies,” she explained. “I relocate temporarily to do casino installations, so baking makes everything feel a little more like home. For people who travel a lot, it’s nice to get something home-cooked.” Maddocks is a self-described “cookie purist” and bakes mostly the chocolate chip variety.

Back at work, Maddocks is motivated by the technology evolution of the industry and the people who make it all happen. “There is so much potential for technology to enhance our lives and businesses,” she said. “The people I meet and have the opportunity to work with are constant motivators to help me learn how to provide better guidance and knowledge sharing.” She adds that she is “eternally grateful” to her fiancé for being her greatest cheerleader. “He motivates and challenges me every day to be better at what I do,” she said.

Inspiration, for Maddocks, is found in the most unlikely places. One day, she saw an Eddie Bauer shopping bag decorated with the quote “Never confuse having a career with having a life.” It’s always stuck with her, and she considers it a life motto. “It’s a really good point because so many times, we get stuck in the craziness and think it’s what we’re supposed to be doing,” she explained. “We forget that there’s life out there too. It’s easy to prioritize what’s in front of you right now. Be mindful of both work and life.”

To women looking to pursue careers in the industry, Maddocks encourages learning and expanding knowledge whenever possible. She also believes that sometimes, people hold themselves back. “Never, ever, believe there’s a glass ceiling that holds you back—that’s just an excuse for not getting what you deserve,” she said. “Find a mentor and a core group of friends who will be your cheerleaders and supporters and will be there to celebrate your successes.” We can bet Maddocks will bring cookies to the celebration. AL

Lauralyn McCarthy

Vice President, Strategic Projects, Scientific Games International
Former President and Member, New Mexico Gaming LLC and Managing Member, Gaming Solutions LLC

In the back office of a storage facility 14 years ago, Lauralyn McCarthy started New Mexico Gaming LLC with one phone, one desk, three chairs, a laptop, a map of New Mexico, and frequently, visits from the facility manager’s cat. With the team that joined her, she built the largest slot route in the state of New Mexico, generated jobs and tax revenue, helped customers achieve sustainability and gave back to the local community. “All of that was directly done by starting up new business,” she explained. She recently sold her interest in this healthy high-margin company she built.

McCarthy, the former president and a member of New Mexico Gaming and managing member of Gaming Solutions LLC, first learned about the growing gaming industry while attending the University of Nevada, Reno, on a tennis scholarship. Through participation and leadership roles in various university activities and a journalism school advertising internship, she learned about gaming—this sparked her career.

After graduating, McCarthy moved home to Los Angeles to find a job in arts and entertainment. Jobs were sparse, but she found one selling china and crystal. McCarthy spent her days knocking on doors and handing out her resume and her nights at business classes at UCLA. She finally landed a job as an assistant to a president of a film storage company—literally a company that stored film itself. All the while, gaming and Nevada were in the back of her mind.

McCarthy focused on International Game Technology (IGT), a company she knew from her time in Reno. She called, wrote and faxed the president of the international division for about eight months. His secretary, who later became McCarthy’s, asked him to interview her just to put an end to the calls, letters and faxes. “Somehow,” as she says, she landed a job as an international management trainee, even though she offered to start on the production line and earn her way up. The only female and one of five international management trainees in the company, McCarthy dove right in. “I was 23 when I landed alone in Peru with, I think, two potential customers’ contact information in my bag,” she remembered. Working four years between the U.S. and Latin America, McCarthy assisted developing markets and projects, and opening Latin American offices. She also worked in the U.S. with new products and U.S. government-sponsored gaming programs.

In 1997, investors approached 27-year-old McCarthy with a business offer: They would put up money for her to start a gaming route in New Mexico. “Starting something new was a natural choice,” she said. “I viewed starting up the business as an opportunity to grow, test my mettle and build something from scratch. Universally, it was thought of as a risky, if odd, decision. I never saw it that way.” One year later, the New Mexico gaming bill passed, and McCarthy and her team distributed IGT machines to racetracks and signed up route contracts. The business became the largest in the state, outsizing its biggest competitor by three times, and the business became very profitable. While McCarthy recently sold her interest in New Mexico Gaming, she is happy that what she started can benefit other business seekers. “Someone new, with their motivation, can take what I started and make it their own. That’s great,” she said.

At some point through the years, McCarthy met Lorne Weil, chairman and CEO of Scientific Games, and Bill Huntley, the company’s president of lottery systems. The three kept in touch. One night at dinner, the trio discussed McCarthy joining the Scientific Games team. She joined the company as vice president, strategic projects in February 2012. “Scientific Games is a highly diverse company, and is much more complex, reaching many more market segments than traditional gaming suppliers,” she said. “In this time of industry convergence, I think this diversity speaks volumes to Scientific Games’ strengths and great opportunities for the future.”

When she isn’t working, McCarthy devotes time to philanthropic efforts. “As to why, it is a fundamental in life for me,” she explained. “There are people out there who need, invent, educate, assist, dare, have courage to create change, and give in ways I likely never will.” She calls such people heroes. “I am compelled to act when the story, function, use of talent and funds do something great somewhere for someone/group/thing/cause,” she said.

One organization particularly close to McCarthy’s heart is Home of Guiding Hands (HGH) in San Diego. The group provides care services, child development programs and quality residential group homes for those with developmental disabilities. “HGH does a lot of good,” McCarthy said. “We all live here. I do what I can to make ‘here’ a great place.” Aside from giving back, McCarthy enjoys nature (with an affinity for the ocean), music, quality time with those she cares about and other interesting people. She spends time nurturing a new interest in the art of building and landscape architecture.

A true humanitarian, McCarthy finds motivation and inspiration from purpose-driven people. “There are many great men and women across all disciplines and walks of life who are purpose-driven,” she explained. “I find the broader my life becomes, the more opportunity I have to know people who do incredible things, are massively talented and fantastically interesting. It is likely the only way I might become more purpose driven myself is if I am continually improving personally and professionally.” She lists Jerry Young, Bob McMonigle, Chuck Brooke, Max Harris, Jim and Cherie Stinson, Kamal Ali, Frank Baca, her customers, her employees, Lorne Weil and Bill Huntley as some of her business mentors. “These people, in their way, have or are teaching me to know what I don’t know, to be better at what I do know and so much more, giving me a rich life experience,” she said.

In addition to a strong base of mentors, McCarthy encourages young people starting in the industry to be smart. “And this isn’t about book smart,” she added. “The best people I know are intuitively smart about who they are and what they need. Making smart decisions for you is not always simple.” McCarthy continues, “Smart decisions relate to things as basic as how you choose to treat each person who crosses your path or how willing you are to go the extra mile at work to grow.” She says smart decisions can be easy, difficult, nontraditional, throw you off a trajectory, take years to make and force you to rethink good, but maybe not correct, decisions for you. “Being smart,” she says, “absolutely forces you to think. In the end, personally and professionally, the smarter you are knowing yourself and making decisions based on that reality, there is no other choice but for your best life to unfold itself in front of you.”

It’s clear that McCarthy has taken her own advice, and because of it, she’s highly respected in the industry. Honest, warm, respectful, hard working, dedicated, entrepreneurial, motivational and caring are words used to describe McCarthy by those who nominated her. Anthony Roybal, administrator at the Albuquerque Moose Family Center, admires McCarthy because her kindness extends beyond business. He explains, “She cares about the entire club and each and every one of us.”

Charles A. Brooke, former SVP at IGT, adds that McCarthy takes it upon herself to represent the industry in a positive light. “She takes that responsibility for our industry’s image very seriously and works tirelessly to improve it in the minds of those currently contemplating the legalization of gaming in new jurisdictions,” he said.

Working with McCarthy as both a customer and employee, Robert Perry, a technician for New Mexico Gaming, notes her friendly demeanor, saying, “Lauralyn provided a very warm atmosphere at New Mexico Gaming that rivals the closeness of immediate family. Everyone is impressed with her quality of work, work ethic and leadership, and her ability to be very honest and open, as if she has known you your entire life.” “Her personality stretches for miles, but her generosity and commitment are immeasurable,” added John Holbrook, a member of Alamogordo Lodge No. 1897, who has worked with McCarthy for 12 years.

Even one of McCarthy’s own mentors looks up to her. Kamal Ali, the Albuquerque city president for BBVA Compass Bank, describes McCarthy as a dedicated, successful and special person. “She has taken her company from a small business to a highly successful multi-million dollar enterprise,” adding, “Her contributions make our community better.” We agree—her contributions to the industry make “here” a better place. AL

Melissa Price

Senior Vice President of Gaming
Caesars Entertainment

Melissa Price is an example of how someone with an entrepreneurial personality can create successful projects of their own and make major impacts in the corporate world. Price has been in the gaming industry for nearly 20 years and is well-deserving of this award based on the contributions she has made on the manufacturing and operations sides of the industry.

Price started her entrepreneurial-style career as a teenager by opening and managing fast food restaurants at the age of 19. After college, she worked at a custom manufacturing facility while opening two retail businesses with her husband and another couple. “It was a great lesson in partnerships, persistence and creativity,” Price says. “It personally gave me confidence in my capabilities, learning that our ability to achieve is only limited by how high we set the bar.”

Like many in our industry, Price says she “sort of fell into” the gaming industry. “Through a series of odd events I ended up working at a company that was trying to expand into the gaming industry and eventually merged with other gaming companies,” she says.

Price started at Caesar’s Entertainment (then Harrah’s Entertainment) in a regional slot role. As the company grew and evolved, she seized opportunities to take on larger roles, all the way to her current position as VP of gaming shared services.

Price now leads gaming, slot and table strategy, implementing initiatives that have broad impacts across 38 domestic properties. She loves the ability this position gives her to enhance the entertainment experience for the guest, while creating value for the company. “I am especially proud when we create a marketing strategy around an exclusive slot game or invent a new side bet on a table game,” Price adds.

Throughout Price’s career, she says she has faced several complex situations where the general sentiment was that she and her team would not be successful. “In each case, we were successful through breaking the problem down into manageable pieces and then persistently driving toward the final goal,” Price is proud to say.

Price says one of the specific professional challenges she has overcome is the recent organizational transformation of the leadership team at Caesars, moving toward a model of centralized decision making. “It has been extremely challenging and time-consuming, but these are the type of projects that can also be deeply rewarding,” she says.

Personally, Price is proud of the family she has built and her extended family back home in South Dakota. Price grew up in Rapid City, S.D., as one of six children. She married her high school sweetheart and is preparing to celebrate their 24th wedding anniversary. They have two daughters, ages 7 and 9. “They are excellent students,” Price boasts, “fun to be around and overall very capable young people.”

Prices believes her biggest personal challenge has been understanding the difference between her task and outcome-oriented personality and the personalities of others. She explains: “I may have jumped into the car’s driver seat and be ready to get going while others may still be considering if we should take a car or ride a bike.” Price says she achieves better outcomes when she’s able to assess where her team members are in a process and adjust accordingly.

If Price wasn’t in gaming, she would likely be pursuing her other passions in life: kids, mentoring young adults, running businesses, manufacturing, investing and golf. But it doesn’t sound like Price is leaving gaming anytime soon. She loves the thrill and excitement of this glamorous and sexy industry. “When I am with guests at dinner or an event, we always end up talking about their favorite game or their most memorable win,” Price explains.“It is fun to be a part of that!”

She’s ready to stick with the industry as it faces the challenge of remaining relevant in a world of changing technology. Price says: “The industry’s biggest challenge is to bridge the gap between online gaming and the in-casino experience. It must be done in a way that provides a compelling electronic gaming experience for tech-savvy older players and the younger demographic that has grown up with technology that has rich interfaces and experiences as well as flexibility.”

Looking forward, Price’s colleagues at Caesars inspire her to continue achieving her goals. “I would enjoy running one of our casinos and opening one from scratch.” She’s also motivated by the possibility of what is to come and the opportunity to be a part of shaping how evolving consumer technology integrates into gaming.

Price would also like to pursue an MBA and open a third Internet-based business at some point. Clearly, her entrepreneurial lifestyle doesn’t appear to be slowing down any time soon.

She believes there is much opportunity in the gaming industry and wants to remind young women looking toward a career in this industry of that. Her advice: “I would look for progressive companies like Caesars that value a combination of industry experience and broad talent from other industries.”

On a final note, we’d like to give you an unusual way to get on Price’s good side: Celebrate her birthday. “I’m crazy about my birthday,” Price says. “I think that life is too short, and people do not spend enough time celebrating and reflecting on their good fortune.” Price celebrates her birthday every month by using the day to ground herself around the blessings in her life. “Every year on my annual birthday, I do something I have never done before to remind myself to step out of my comfort zone,” Price adds. “It is good for the soul!”

Congratulations on an amazing achievement this year, Melissa, and thank you for your contributions to our industry. SK

Valerie Spicer

Executive Director
Arizona Indian Gaming Association (AIGA)

Valerie Spicer, executive director of the Arizona Indian Gaming Association (AIGA), originally sought a career in the fashion industry, but she’s been inspiring her peers in the gaming industry for 28 years. Fashion’s loss is clearly a win for gaming.

Spicer entered the gaming industry in 1984 working for Ryder FCS, which was acquired by American Express First Data Resources. There, she served as director of business development, integrated payment systems where she was recognized for her many achievements. Among several honors was receiving the Chairman of the Board Award for developing a card acceptance feature to worldwide MoneyGram money transfers. Spicer continued her rise in the corporate world at Service Data Corp. in 1991. Two years later, she was named VP Indian gaming services, director Southwest region for Ceridian/Comdata Corp.

By the 1990s, Spicer had become a well-known personality in the Indian gaming industry, and in 1998, she was elected as original associate member representative to the Executive Committee of the National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA), and was appointed special advisor to the Executive Committee in 2003. Through her work with NIGA, she continued to contribute to Indian gaming by developing several industry programs. One in particular—the Spirit of Sovereignty Scholarship program—was developed for Indian students seeking higher education, a program that continues to hold a special place in Spicer’s heart.

“I worked on a scholarship program for NIGA, which meant a lot to me,” Spicer said. “I have always felt it was important for tribal people to have the opportunity to seek higher education so they can contribute to the industry or give back to their communities.” She is proud that that she was able to establish the Spirit of Sovereignty program.

Spicer became VP and general manager for the Viejas tribally owned Borrego Springs Bank, while working to promote all of the Viejas Enterprises, a role she continued to perform for that tribe for four years. In 2005, Spicer moved into the entrepreneurial arena by forming Gaming Strategies Group, a business consultancy to assist tribal governments, enterprises and gaming. She consulted to Omaha Tribe of Nebraska, the Arizona Indian Gaming Association for its trade show and sponsorship, and Dick Clark Signature Entertainment, among other clients.

Throughout her corporate and entrepreneurial career, Spicer combined her passion for Indian gaming with her expertise in business and finance. She agrees that the industry was a natural fit for her talents. “As the gaming industry expanded, it grew from traditional gaming locations in Las Vegas and Atlantic City to having a presence in Indian country,” she said. “This was intriguing for me because, with my background and culture, as gaming flourished on Indian lands, I saw an opportunity to take what I’d learned from a business perspective at the corporate level and apply this knowledge to be of use to Indian tribes. ”

Focusing on a tribal association was a logical next step for Spicer, who joined AIGA as deputy director in 2010. In this capacity, she worked with tribal leaders representing 19 of the 22 federally recognized Indian tribes in Arizona. Just over a year later, she was selected as executive director in a national search after Sheila Morago, now executive director of the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association (OIGA), left for her new position in Oklahoma. Morago was enthusiastic in her praise for Spicer. “Valerie worked tirelessly as deputy director,” Morago said. “In that capacity, she worked hard to learn about the association and its members, and I found that working with this efficient, dynamic and talented woman inspired me to step up my game as well. When Valerie was named executive director by the tribal leaders of AIGA, she continued to build her reputation as a savvy, strong leader who is masterful at interacting with the lawyers, lobbyists and tribal leaders of all 19 member tribes.”

Timothy Hinton, chairman of AIGA, adds more praise for Spicer: “Within months of accepting the position as executive director, Ms. Spicer has demonstrated a level of excellence, enthusiasm and an unfettered commitment to the tribal leadership, the organization and the industry by establishing a very focused vision and clearly articulated outcomes in support of our efforts.”

Spicer credits her work ethic to her parents, as well as to her Hispanic and Mescalero heritage. “My dad’s work ethic was immense,” she said. “He taught me to be respectful and ethical, and those values have served me well in my career. My family background on both sides has a lot of history of perseverance and overcoming challenges. In addition, not only am I a minority culturally, I’ve also worked in a corporate world that was traditionally male-dominated. I believe my life experiences, as a woman and a minority, have made me more sensitive, aware and appreciative of the impact of cultural diversity.”

Above all, Spicer finds inspiration and encouragement in her role as a mother. “I’m a single parent and my son is the single-most important person in my life,” she said. “He’s my best friend; he’s my everything.”

Her dedication to family doesn’t go unnoticed, as her co-workers and industry peers pointed out. “Valerie’s dedication to Indian country and tribal government gaming is unmatched, but her dedication to her family is even more incredible. Valerie is a single mother of a wonderful son. Not only has she worked to give him a great life, she has extended that opportunity to her entire family.”

Those who work with Spicer agree that, just as she is committed to her family, Spicer demonstrates a strong dedication to Indian country and to tribal government gaming. As executive director of AIGA, she works with passion and integrity. “What is important to me is that I am recognized for working in an ethical manner,” she said. “My advice to other women who want to succeed in this industry is to never compromise your standards or what you believe in. Be passionate about what you want to do. As long as you’re true to yourself, and maintain a good work ethic, you should do well.”

Spicer’s talent, knowledge, dedication, passion and drive to further the success of Indian gaming all are contributing factors in her being selected as a Great Woman of Gaming. Yet despite the many accolades she’s received in her professional and volunteer life, Spicer remains humble and caring. While she appreciates being recognized for her accomplishments, Spicer insists, “All I’ve ever wanted was to make a difference. If I can, at the end of this career, say that I’ve made a difference, I’ll be happy.” JM

Rising Stars

Kimberly Arnold

Chief Operating Officer
The Innovation Group

Kimberly Arnold aims to never burn a bridge. Evidence of her character, the chief operating officer for The Innovation Group says, “You just never know who you’ll cross back with in life.” And that philosophy has served her well—Arnold has known some of her colleagues since she set foot in the industry 15 years ago. With her positive attitude, graceful approach to business and infectious laugh, it’s no wonder she’s a Rising Star.

Arnold’s career in the gaming industry began by chance. She was brought into the design/build sector of the industry by a recruiter after college. “I’d say the industry found me,” she said. Her first position in gaming was with WorthGroup Architects (WorthGroup). Starting as the manager of business development, Arnold honed her skills and moved through the ranks. At the time of her departure 10 years later, she was a vice president, minority owner, partner and member of the firm’s board. “I’m proud that I’ve been able to step up and find success in leadership roles for such technically diverse firms,” she said.

Through her work at WorthGroup, Arnold met Steve Rittvo, principal and founder of The Innovation Group. “He was one of my first contacts in the industry,” she explained. Keeping in touch throughout the years, Rittvo told Arnold to let him know when she was ready for a change. “And, here I am, at The Innovation Group,” she said.

Her first position at The Innovation Group was VP of operations, and now, four years later, she is a partner and the chief operating officer. “The first thing that drew me to The Innovation Group was the partners, and the second was the firm’s ability to recognize opportunities and grow vertically to serve those needs and our client base,” Arnold explained. Starting as an engineering and urban planning firm in New Orleans, The Innovation Group evolved to provide financial, management, investment banking, development, marketing and diversification advisory services worldwide. “When you have that type of culture and growth, it inherently presents opportunities for the firm and employees. That inspires and motivates me,” Arnold said. In her role as COO, her task is to support that diversity and growth internally and externally. “It forces you to constantly be rethinking how to address all those aspects. For me, that’s a rewarding experience.”

Michael Soll, who nominated Arnold, says she fits well in her role as COO. “She is always thinking ahead, strategically, about our organizational and quality control needs,” he said. “She has had a significant impact on our recovering business position coming out of the last few difficult years for the industry.”

Also a single mother of fraternal twin toddlers, one boy and one girl, balancing life and career is challenging and rewarding for Arnold. With one special needs child—her daughter has Down syndrome—and one typical 4-year-old, Arnold is constantly juggling work with the demands of maximizing opportunities and potential for both of her kids, including therapy and medical appointments for her daughter. Relying on her family and workplace, she says she feels lucky to have a huge support network. “I couldn’t do what I do without their help,” Arnold said. “I have a high-pressure job, but when it comes down to prioritizing, if something happens in my family, they [The Innovation Group partners] kick me out the door and tell me to focus on my family. That’s an enviable culture, and it says a lot about who I work with.”

And, those she works with have a lot to say about her. Rittvo, who also nominated Arnold, calls her a “force” that is shaping the industry. Noting her role in The Innovation Group’s efforts to move its brick-and-mortar industry into the online sector, he says she is actively involved in working directly with more than eight Native American tribes to develop i-gaming strategies and implementation plans. “She’s increasingly looked to by tribes as a source of clear and valued information as they consider this option,” he explained.

Soll notes her positive attitude under pressure from her all-male partners. “She delivers for our company without letting the nuances of those pressures stand in her way,” he said.

Arnold learned important leadership traits from who she calls “remarkable men.” Along with acknowledging her father and current partners, she was also quick to reference her former boss and partner at WorthGroup, Doug Worth, as one of those professional mentors. She says he has an amazing business savvy and made a point to know every aspect of his business and every department head he hired. “He was constantly pushing us, as emerging leaders, to elevate it to the next level,” she explained. Worth was supportive of her transition to The Innovation Group, and Arnold still looks to him for advice.

People like Worth are why, according to Arnold, she has stayed in the industry. “I’ve had the opportunity to work with some brilliant and creative people,” she said. Beyond the magnificent minds of the industry, Arnold revels in the diversity of products, the entertainment draw, the growth and constant evolution.

And, people like Arnold are why CEM puts on this award series every year. “Kim optimizes a Great Woman in Gaming because of the way she represents the industry, represents herself, and celebrates, unabashedly, her womanhood,” Soll commented.

“Kim Arnold has been a behind-the-scenes star in the gaming industry. She is now fully upfront and is a leader who deserves recognition,” Rittvo added. We have no doubt that she’ll continue to shine for years to come. AL

Jennifer Bryant

CFO and VP of Finance
Valley View Casino & Hotel

Though she’s been in the industry a decade, Jennifer Bryant has attained a century’s worth of accomplishments. She’s the chief financial officer and vice president of finance at Valley View Casino & Hotel, and holds an impressive list of successes and undertakings, including a major refinancing and the co-founding of the Women at Work program at Valley View.

Bryant is also a mother, a baker, the treasurer of the San Pasqual Casino Development Group, and manages to do it all with a beaming smile on her face and an attitude to match.

A native of New Jersey, Bryant holds a Bachelor of Science degree in accountancy from Villanova, and just three weeks after graduating, began working for Arthur Anderson LLP in Philadelphia. From there, she went on to work for Walt Disney’s corporate audit department in Burbank, Calif. She was then recruited to work for Buena Vista International, Walt Disney’s European regional film distribution division, based in London—an experience Bryant calls fantastic and broadening.

Then, she welcomed another adventure as she moved to Melbourne, Australia, with her then-fiancé. She earned a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Melbourne, had her first of three daughters, and decided to move back to New Jersey. In 2001, she accepted a position with Reuters America in Manhattan.

It was in September of 2002 when she made the jump into the gaming industry, being appointed CFO of Viejas Enterprise in San Diego. She held that position until 2007, when she accepted a CFO position at Valley View. In her current position, Bryant concentrates on creating and executing strategies that focus on opportunities for significant growth and enhancement of operations across the organization.

It’s because of her past professional experiences that she does such a great job at Valley View, Bryant suggests. “Everything I’ve done in my career up to now has put all of the building blocks in place so I could be successful and help the tribe and the casino and my team members here in the best way possible,” she said. “It’s been the real ground work for this opportunity.”

Those past experiences in various financial positions have served her well, as she recently played a key role in completing the refinancing of the casino’s $215 million in high-yield bonds into a new five-year credit facility, saving the casino $50 million in interest payments over the next five years. This accomplishment didn’t go unnoticed, as Bryant received several awards from the tribe and the state upon its completion. She calls it one of her proudest accomplishments—both professionally and personally. “I had worked so hard and so long on that project, it took all of my skill sets,” she said. “Negotiating skills, patience, technical skills, perseverance—it took everything I had, to complete the deal in the way that we did.”

Others agree, as the President and Chief Financial Officer of the San Pasqual Casino Development Group Joe Navarro, shares: “The success of our recent refinancing set an unprecedented standard not only for our company, but for Native American financing as well, which we are all very proud of. This business precedent paves the way for other tribes to experience such magnificent successes as ours and Jennifer was instrumental in orchestrating this opportunity.”

Another notable feat Bryant achieved was the co-founding of Women at Work, a program that provides the women leaders of Valley View an environment to discuss work/life balance, career growth, and listen to female guest speakers from successful businesses throughout the state. Bryant pioneered the program with Judy Wright, Valley View’s vice president of human resources.

“The program provides a positive forum and encourages career advancement for the female leaders in the organization. Since its inception, it has been widely received and regarded and it is fully supported by everyone at Valley View,” Wright adds.

While she’s reached success in several aspects of her professional life, Bryant points out that there are definitely challenges. Besides relocating all around the world, she calls attention to one of the most commonly mentioned challenges in any businesswoman’s life—balancing work and home life. “I travel, drive over an hour each way to work each day, and it really is finding a way to still perform at the level required of my job, and to be a present mom for my three daughters,” she said, “and still maintain my own level of confidence, peace and happiness.”

She says she’s most inspired and motivated by her family—both her daughters and her family at Valley View. “My girls—to continue to be a role model to them and to be the best, most supportive mother I can,” she said. “Professionally, it’s my team members who inspire me and who rely on me to do the best job that I can, to guide them, to support them, to provide an environment where they can continue to get paychecks, bonuses and benefits.”

Bryant continues to inspire those around her. “Jennifer’s commitment to the Valley View family and her desire to be successful within an extremely competitive industry is evident in her every word and action,” Bruce Howard, general manager at Valley View Casino & Hotel, said. “Jennifer is not only extremely knowledgeable, she is accessible and supportive as well as compassionate, which makes working with her both a teaching and a learning opportunity for me.”

Bryant considers Howard to be a mentor, and tries to exemplify his work ethic in her own daily activities. “(Bruce) has been a tremendous mentor to me,” she said. “He has a fantastic leadership style that is all about supporting our team members and our guests by creating that memorable experience. You hear the phrase, ‘leader as a servant,’ and that really is his philosophy. That really has resonated with me.”

While most people say their favorite part about the industry is the fast-moving technology or the entertainment factor, Bryant has a unique answer. “I like the fact that it is an industry that allows you to use both analytics and experience to get the best outcome,” she explained. “You can take all the data you have and get one decision, and then talk to people and get another decision, and then you get to marry those two together—the data with the experience and the knowledge of the team and our guests—to get the best outcome for the company and for the guest.”

While she says she’s excited to be a part of the industry, the industry is even more excited to have her. JM

Kimberly Cohn

Director, Game Development
Bally Technologies

The sky’s the limit for Kimberly Cohn—so says everyone who nominated her. The director of game development at Bally Technologies, Cohn is known for her artistic skills, positive attitude and dedication.

Cohn entered the gaming industry 10 years ago, but her animation career began early in life. The California native studied art at Cal State, Northridge, while simultaneously taking courses at the prestigious American Animation Institute in Burbank, Calif.

After college, she worked in computer graphics, traveling the world training animation studios on how to digitalize the traditional animation process. Next, she worked at Disney, where she became a technical director on television shows and movies, such as Lion King 2 and Lady and the Tramp 2. In 2002, a business opportunity opened for her husband in Las Vegas, so Cohn left the entertainment industry and moved to Sin City. She joined Bally Technologies as associate art director and has been with the company ever since. “At that time, video slot machines had begun to flourish in gaming, and this industry was a natural fit for me,” she added. “Bally gave me the chance to become part of the industry’s digital transformation.”

“Part” of the industry’s digital transformation is an understatement. Those who nominated Cohn believe she is one of the biggest reasons why Bally’s games are so successful. Gary Kapral, senior vice president of human resources at Bally, has seen Cohn’s increasingly powerful impact on the industry and the company. “While it isn’t all that unusual to see female artists, it is somewhat unique to see a woman move up and take on a leadership role where she can completely produce a game as well as be an artistic director,” he said. “Not only is she a great role model, she sets the bar for what others should be aiming to reach.”

David Schultz, director of video game development at Bally, credits Cohn with creating two of the most successful games the company has ever released: Cash Wizard™ and GREASE™. The 2010 release of Cash Wizard resulted in Bally’s third-largest premium title install base in the history of the company. In 2012, Grease set record revenues in the first month of installation. “Working with Kim has been a tremendous experience for me,” Schultz said. “Nominating her for this award is a testament to who she is: a woman with an exceptional work ethic, incessant energy, ability to execute, and ability to work with those she supervises.”

Cohn notes that her experience collaborating with people of all professional levels and cultures is a great asset. “I enjoy building a sense of teamwork,” she explained. “My previous career in animation instilled a sense of working toward excellence that I still strive for today.” Schultz adds that Cohn’s engaging personality makes it easy for her to engage the company in teamwork. “Kim’s communication skills are second to none,” he said. “Bally employees naturally gravitate to Kim. She is seen as a ‘go to’ person. Her ability to interface with the rest of the organization is outstanding, and her leadership abilities are undeniable.”

Kapral calls Cohn the “poster child” for the kind of employee Bally wants, describing her as positive, dedicated, intelligent, creative and caring. “She coaches, teaches and encourages,” he said.

Cohn enjoys mentoring those who report to her. She balances what is best for the organization, with how to grow each individual’s skills. “I find it incredibly important to discover the best in people and develop their strengths, while at the same time pushing them past their comfort zone,” she said. “I enjoy showing people that they are capable of more than they realize.”

When Cohn isn’t mentoring and creating at Bally, she writes and illustrates children’s books and serves on the Advisory Committee for the Art Institute of Las Vegas. She also spends time with her husband Jeff, 7-year-old son Jacob, 4-year-old daughter Abby, and their Jack Russell terrier. “She is a dedicated mother who manages to make family a priority, despite what can be long hours at Bally,” Kapral said.

With her impressive interpersonal skills and contributions to the industry, it’s not surprising that she was chosen as a Rising Star. “From my point of view, this is only the beginning,” Schultz commented. We couldn’t agree more. AL

Pamela Gallegos

Interim CEO
Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Albuquerque

“A professional and caring lady who goes above and beyond to help her employees as well as guests.” This description, provided by one of her staff members, perfectly describes Pamela Gallegos. As the interim CEO at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Albuquerque, Gallegos somehow manages to precisely balance her interactions with team members as well as guests, and she does it all in the friendliest way with a giant smile across her face.

With more than 24 years of experience in accounting, Gallegos’ venture into the gaming industry began roughly 10 years ago, when she accepted a position as a controller at Route 66 in Laguna, N.M. After about six years at Route 66, she moved to Inn of the Mountain Gods, also as a controller. During her first 12 months at the company, she moved her way up to director of finance, then to CFO, as well as accepting responsibilities of the COO position.

After leaving the finance world, Gallegos realized that operations was—and still is—her passion. She says that at every company she’s worked for, she’s started out on the finance side and has fallen into operations. “I love working with people,” she said. “And people are here to be entertained. I don’t care if you have $5 to spend or $500 to spend, you’re here to be entertained, and I love that part of my job. They’re here to have fun, and I want my employees to do the same thing.”

Her encouragement of a fun workplace is one thing that makes her stand out. Gallegos often walks all areas of the property, and says she loves checking in with her employees on a frequent basis. One of the most effective changes she’s implemented at the Hard Rock was a door greeter program, which has proven successful with staff, guests and the property as a whole. “Who doesn’t like to be welcomed with a warm greeting when you walk in the door?!” Gallegos said. “I don’t expect my employees to do what I wouldn’t do. If I’m going to go out there and be friendly, I expect them to do the same thing.”

Another notable aspect of Gallegos’ work ethic is her definition of success. “Success in the workplace is often described as a healthy balance sheet or income statement,” she says. “The team/company might be successful in the financial sense but fails as a strong cohesive team. We succeed because I surround myself with a highly productive and responsive team.”

She also focuses on a philosophy she calls “emotional intelligence.” “It is not being ‘touchy-feely’ or ‘warm and fuzzy,’”she said. “Emotional intelligence is the human side of a successful business person. It is directing employees with motivation, empathy and feelings. It is being able to genuinely understand and respond to an employee’s concern—something women in business have being doing for years! I think it really works!”

Her philosophy is obviously working, as praise for Gallegos’ work poured in regarding her nomination. In fact, she recently asked her leadership team to tell her what she thought made the property successful. She says she was expecting answers like “We have a strong customer base,” “Beautiful facility,” or “We know what our customers and employees want.” Instead, she received compliments including “You treat employees like they matter.” “Boundless energy, enthusiasm, a true love of the business and the job you do.” “True concern for your employees: always finds time to listen to their concerns and mentor them with a genuine, happy, positive attitude.” “Gives this company 110 percent, but also makes time for her family.”

The praise continues, as Lorna M. Wiggins of Wiggins, Williams & Wiggins, adds: “One of Pam’s greatest strengths in her position with Hard Rock is her ability to address challenging personnel operations while handling challenging financial matters. Employees feel that their needs are addressed in a respectful and efficient fashion and other members of management report her to be a thorough and strategic thinker. She is able to work effectively with tribal council members, front line staff, as well as management, and enjoys the respect of all groups.”

Besides her immense efforts in the workplace, Gallegos is a single mother of three children—Sampson (14), Alexis (10) and Robert (6). Family is something that’s always been very important to her, as she lists her parents as her mentors and biggest supporters. “My parents are the guiding force in everything in my life,” she said. “They didn’t push me to do anything, they just encouraged me. My dad, before he died, said, ‘You’re going to have to fight 10 times harder than any man; you will work 10 times harder than any man; you’ll get paid 10 times less, but you can and you will be successful.’ He’s not here to see it, but he was right. My mother Terry never said, ‘No, no, Pam, you shouldn’t do that.’ She is there supporting me and cheering me on, even when the ‘chips’ are down, she shows me that with faith, all is possible.”

Her closeness to family relates back to the workplace, as she adds, “I tell my employees to put family first then their job,” she said. “If people feel their family is taken care of, then they are more apt to give me 150 percent on the job. This is my work family, and I have to take care of them.”
Gallegos was recently honored with an appointment to the board of directors for the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, an appointment she’s quite proud of. “Out of all of the casinos and the tribes in the state, they selected me,” she said. “Somewhere along the line, I got the attention of someone who thinks I can make a difference here in the city.”

She also teaches at the University of Phoenix for the Hospitality Management Degree Program, which continues to demonstrate her mentoring personality. “I think no matter what I do, I definitely am a teacher in some way, shape or form. My biggest job here on the property is teaching.”

Maria Otero, director of finance at Hard Rock, sums up Gallegos perfectly: “When operations get tough, as they always do in a large fast-moving operation like gaming, she has the strength and courage to provide the leadership necessary to succeed.” JM

Colleen Stanton Kakavetsis

Director, Customer Communications and Interactive
WMS Gaming Inc.

If there were only one word used to describe Colleen Stanton Kakavetsis, it would be passionate. Nearly every single person who submitted a letter of recommendation for her nomination used it, which definitely says something about her character. Stanton is the director of customer communications and interactive at WMS Gaming Inc., and she wouldn’t have it any other way.

After graduating from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), Stanton began her career at an interactive agency. There, she worked on notable projects, including American Airlines and MSNBC websites.

From there, she went on to, and eventually onto a traditional marketing agency. During her three years at this agency she began working with the gaming industry, as an account manager for companies like WMS. “I didn’t realize how innovative the gaming industry was or how much effort, thought and talent was needed to create a successful game,” she said. “WMS’ research and development efforts are centered around creating premium entertainment experiences and gaming solutions. They set their standards extremely high and that resonated with me.”

At the agency, she was introduced to Dona Cassese, who at the time was the executive director of marketing at WMS, and who would go on to play a large role in Stanton’s career. “Dona asked if I wanted to come over to the client side, this turned out to be one of the best career decisions I have made,” she said.

Stanton was attracted to WMS as a company, one that she considers a great workplace. “It’s WMS’ culture, their employee of choice initiatives and the diversity of talent that attracted me to the gaming industry.”

While she says great things about the people at WMS, they, in turn, have equally great things to say about her—especially about her teamwork-oriented attitude and her dedication to her staff.

“Colleen’s commitment to mentoring has been evident in the development of her staff,” said Candace Lucas, former executive director of marketing at WMS. “She is a true leader; coaching her staff and encouraging them to discover ways to improve their work, streamline their processes and improve quality output that contributes to the goals of the company.”

Kristi Krasovetz, senior manager of international marketing communications at WMS, echoes those comments, adding: “Most notable about Colleen is her attitude and approach toward teamwork and team recognition. When working on a project, Colleen always approaches it with an open mind and welcomes ideas and suggestions. When those ideas and suggestions are incorporated into the final project, she is very quick to give recognition to those who have helped contribute to the project’s success. She is truly a team player and an invaluable leader to her team.”

Another comment came from Rory Shanahan, senior manager of marketing communications at WMS, who said: “Colleen shows great commitment to WMS and her co-workers. She manages many cross-departmental projects and teams with no interest in personal credit or gain, but with a constant promotion of the output of other individuals. She provides clear, constructive and honest feedback to her employees, consistently helping us discover ways to improve our work, streamline our processes and best contribute to the vision and goals of the company.”

Stanton says that those employees­ she works with every day are who motivates her, along with a strong personal drive to continue to do better and succeed. “It means a lot to me to have relationships and respect the people I work with, especially since I’m away from my kids,” she said.

Her children—ages 9 and 4 ½—are another driving factor in her continued success. She says she sometimes struggles with the ever-difficult task of balancing work and home life, but her co-workers would argue, saying she does a fine job of mastering that balance. “Colleen demonstrates and models life balance,” Lucas said. “She is married with two young children and consistently strives to be present in the lives of her family members while remaining effective in her role here at work.”

Andrea Mostardi, principal manager of marketing at WMS, echoes those comments: “She will answer an e-mail or phone call any time day or night, but she also illustrates the focus and importance of family time and being present as a wife and mother, and is extremely focused and efficient in all areas to maintain a healthy balance.”

A strong family presence is something that’s been a focus in Stanton’s life from a young age. She’s the youngest of five children, and says that family is her No. 1 priority.

Her goals for the future include continuing to produce the highest quality of work, and to influence growth around me, and she gives the following advice to women looking to pursue a career in the gaming industry: “Being a woman in this industry should never be seen as a disadvantage or be used as an excuse; strong work always wins out.”

Whether it’s because of her dedication and passionate attitude toward WMS and the gaming industry, or her extremely positive influence on those around her, Stanton is truly deserving of being a Great Woman of Gaming.

“From my first job to my current job at WMS, I have surrounded myself with people who get the job done, drive their own success, and take accountability, while having fun.” We can guarantee that she is one of those people. JM

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