Three Influential Women in Gaming

Having strong, intelligent and passionate women to look up to has a significant impact on children’s perception of a woman’s place. Too often, the women of Las Vegas are portrayed in movies and on television as “arm candy” or as a pretty face serving drinks at the craps table.

The reality is, however, that influential women have played tremendous roles in shaping Las Vegas into the community it has become, both on the Las Vegas Strip and off. It is hard to imagine Nevada or the gaming industry without the contributions of strong, enterprising women, three of whom spoke to a sold-out crowd at the Mob Museum in Las Vegas on Feb. 19, 2014.

Elaine Wynn, Patricia Becker and Jan Jones Blackhurst are three of the gaming industry’s iconic leaders and are admired for their contributions to both the gaming industry and the Las Vegas community. For those who are new to the gaming industry, Wynn, Becker and Jones Blackhurst provide examples of what is possible when you remove all boundaries placed on you by society. Each of these women were introduced to Las Vegas and began making strides toward the growth and development of the gaming industry.

Elaine Wynn moved to Las Vegas in 1967 with her former husband, Steve, and co-founded the Wynn casino empire, which has  played a pivotal role in the expansion and resurgence of the Las Vegas Strip. Elaine Wynn served on the Mirage Resorts Board of Directors from 1976 to 2000. She currently serves on the Wynn Resorts Ltd. Board of Directors, where she has been a director since 2000 and has helped to guide the company through the openings of Wynn Las Vegas in 2005, Wynn Macau in 2006 and Encore in 2008.

Patty Becker began her career in the gaming industry in 1979 as a deputy attorney general assigned to the gaming division. In 1983, she became the first (and only) woman ever to be appointed to the Nevada Gaming Control Board. In 2004, Becker became the first woman to be inducted as a counselor into the International Association of Gaming Advisors (IAGA). Becker is now the president of Patricia Becker & Associates, a gaming consulting firm, and is the chairwoman of the compliance committee at Bally Technologies Inc. and at Tropicana Entertainment Inc.

Jan Jones Blackhurst became the first female mayor of Las Vegas in 1991. During her two terms, Las Vegas welcomed investments in the Fremont Street Experience, the $170 million Regional Justice Center, a $90 million federal courthouse and a new Clark County Government Center. In 2011, she was the first woman to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award in Gaming Communications by the American Gaming Association. Jones Blackhurst currently serves as executive vice president of communications and government relations for Caesars Entertainment Corp.

While their achievements are well known, it is not often that we are given the opportunity to hear Wynn, Becker and Jones Blackhurst speak candidly about their lives, careers and those individuals who motivated them along their journey. In February, Las Vegas’ Mob Museum presented this rare opportunity through the “Women in Gaming” portion of the Courtroom Conversations series. We joined our colleagues at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck and a host of others and piled into the Mob Museum to witness the conversation firsthand. Quickly, the conversation turned to mentorship.

It is no surprise that all three women identified early mentorship as the key to their individual success. Whether we have learned from formal mentor-mentee relationships or by admiring another’s success from afar, we attribute our success (whether molehills or mountains) to those individuals who came before us and demonstrated the qualities we strive to achieve. It was wonderful to learn that these three inspirational women also discovered the importance of mentorship early in their careers.

Wynn identified Claudine Williams, the first woman to run a casino on the Las Vegas Strip, as an important mentor who contributed greatly to her development as a woman in the gaming industry. Wynn stated, “As I watched Claudine go through her life and handle her personal and professional roles, it was in every sense a model for me … She extended her wonderful gifts of leadership into the community … She was a beacon for those of us that were told that you don’t just do what you do well in your business, you have an obligation to build community… .” In turn, Wynn has set her own example of what it means to build community through the Elaine P.  Wynn and Family Foundation and her dedication to programs and services committed to bettering the lives of children. Her foundation recently donated $1 million to the Nathan Adelson Hospice and $250,000 to the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada.

Becker recalled that she “admired from afar” Claudine Williams and Jeanne Hood, finally introducing herself to them both in the ladies’ restroom (taking advantage of the fact that they were all women).  Jones Blackhurst also gave credit to Claudine Williams and identified Margaret Elardi as a strong, determined and capable leader. It is clear that Wynn, Becker and Jones Blackhurst took attributes they found in others and emulated them in their own lives.

Today, these three women are admired not only for their accomplishments, but also for the manner in which they handled reactions to their positions in the spotlight. Articles about Wynn often remind us that she is a “former beauty queen” and Vogue magazine’s “unofficial queen of Las Vegas.” Becker was caught between stereotypes, including being referred to as “Pretty Patty” by the press upon her appointment to the Nevada Gaming Control Board, but also feared by some gaming industry individuals who thought she would be too tough. Jones Blackhurst has been coined the “headshot mayor” and “a dynamic blonde in short skirts and big earrings.” Despite these characterizations, these women took their places among (and in front of) men in the industry with strength, intelligence, presence and voices that could not be ignored. While they had their own role models, they now set the example for us today.

We are the lucky beneficiaries of a long line of leadership. We are grateful for how Wynn, Becker and Jones Blackhurst fearlessly took on their roles in the community and in the gaming industry, helping carve a path for other women with similar ambition. Going forward, it is our responsibility to learn from the men and women who did it before us, so that we can continue to grow. Not only for ourselves, but for the next batch of newcomers.

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