The American Gaming Association recently announced three new inductees entering the Gaming Hall of Fame this fall: bookmaking pioneer Victor Salerno, tribal gaming advocate Lynn Valbuena and longtime industry executive Larry Woolf.
Let’s get to know the class of 2015.
The most traditional of the three, Woolf has been a leader in the gaming industry for more than four decades. His highest-profile in-house position may be his role as president of MGM Grand during that property’s construction and opening. Before that, he served as president of Caesars Tahoe and the Desert Inn, and hired and trained the team that opened Caesars Boardwalk Regency in Atlantic City. He thus had major roles in opening both a property that helped define the megaresort era on the Strip and getting casino gaming in Atlantic City off to a start. Since 1995, he has helmed the Navegante group, which has consulted with and run properties in many jurisdictions.
Salerno segued from a career in dentistry to a long and innovative career in bookmaking after moving to Las Vegas in 1978 to run Leroy’s Horse and Sports Place. He has long championed the use of technology in sports wagering; he was among the first in the business to embrace computerized bet taking, telephone account wagering, betting kiosks and apps. In 2012, British bookmaker William Hill acquired Leroy’s. Since then, Salerno has been chairman of the board of the company’s United States operations.
Valbuena serves as chairwoman of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians in California and has long held leadership positions at the tribal, state and national levels. As the chairwoman of the Tribal Alliance of Sovereign Indian Nations for two decades, she provided steady leadership as tribes have seen challenges brought on by the dramatic growth of the tribal gaming industry nationwide.
While Woolf, Salerno and Valbuena have careers in common, they have contributed to very different sectors of the gaming industry: sports wagering (a small money-maker that is largely restricted to Nevada in the United States presently), tribal gaming and traditional casino management. A few years ago, the American Gaming Association probably wouldn’t have celebrated anyone involved from the first two groups. But as the way people gamble has changed, the organization has adapted, broadening its membership base.
The political and regulatory underpinnings of tribal gaming are very different from those of commercial gaming, but in the end what the customer gets—gambling and entertainment in a casino—is similar. While the groups may not see eye to eye on all of the issues facing casinos in the United States today, they have much more in common than not. Valbuena’s induction comes a year after that of fellow tribal gaming pioneer Ernest L. Stevens Jr., which marked the growing rapprochement between the tribal and commercial arms of the gaming industry.
Similarly, sports wagering was for years almost an afterthought in the casino industry. It wasn’t part of the domestic expansion of gaming throughout the United States, and in Nevada made up about only 1 percent of total gaming win. Yet, as the recent explosion of daily fantasy sports (and a walk through any Las Vegas casino during March Madness) shows, sports engages the excitement of the general public in a way that slots and table games, for the most part, do not. Thanks to the kinds of technological advances that Salerno has championed, sports betting has evolved to keep current with the latest technology. The rest of the industry will need a similar adjustment to keep pace with changing consumer tastes. Salerno’s induction is indicative of the new respect—and high hopes—that the industry places on sports wagering.
Woolf’s long career spans both traditional casino operations and the newer world of gaming consulting. As the number of jurisdictions and companies involved in gaming has expanded, those like Woolf—who can draw on decades of experience—fill a valuable role in advising and assisting those new to the business.
Taken as a whole, this induction class points to an organization that is recognizing talents and accomplishments in more diverse and wide-ranging fields than it has before. As the gaming industry changes, those who receive its highest honor reflect both the industry’s past and its future.
David G. Schwartz is the director of UNLV’s Center for Gaming Research.