Tom Jingoli was four years into a job as an investigative agent with the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement when he considered a career change to the other side of the gaming tables.
New Jersey has a two-year cooling off period before a gaming regulator can work for a hotel-casino. Jingoli was encouraged to come to Las Vegas and earn an advanced degree at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
One of the individuals making the suggestion was the late Shannon Bybee, original executive director of UNLV's International Gaming Institute. Bybee, who died in 2003, was a leading gaming industry pioneer who served as a casino regulator, gaming executive, attorney, and a professor at UNLV's William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration.
"Shannon was a great mentor and had a tremendous influence on a lot of people," said Don Snyder, the current dean of the hotel college.
Jingoli came West and 15 years later, he is still in Las Vegas.
His connection with UNLV comes full-circle Thursday at Aria when Jingoli, chief compliance officer for slot machine manufacturer Konami Gaming, is honored as one of the school's three industry executives of the year during the Vallen Dinner of Distinction.
Jingoli, 43, will have a few thoughts about Bybee that evening.
"I met Shannon and (former Las Vegas gaming executive) Dennis Gomes doing investigations," Jingoli said. "Since I had two years before I could work in gaming, they suggested going to UNLV would be a great way of getting into hotel and casino management."
Along with Jingoli, the dinner will honor Christopher Silva, president and CEO of St. Francis Winery, and Chris Meyer, vice president of convention sales for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.
Television personality Guy Fieri was named as the Alumnus of the Year while American Gaming Association President Frank Fahrenkopf Jr. and Nextep Systems are also being honored.
"I'm really humbled by this," Jingoli said.
Jingoli earned a master's in hotel administration from UNLV in 1996 (his undergraduate degree is in economics from Bethany College in West Virginia).
But his career took a different direction in 2003 when he joined Konami, a subsidiary of the Japan-based Konami Corp. Over the last eight years, the slot machine company has quietly sliced into the market share controlled by industry giants International Game Technology, Bally Technologies and WMS Industries.
Konami has more than 200 gaming licenses worldwide, including with the vast majority of the major Indian gaming jurisdictions and the traditional casino markets in North America.
Sales figures for the American arm of the company are folded into Konami's overall fiscal profile, so financial figures are not readily available to the analyst community.
"We've done a good job grabbing our share of the pie," Jingoli said.
Wall Street has noticed Konami's achievements.
"Several years ago, Konami was virtually nonexistent in the North American market," Roth Capital Partners gaming analyst Todd Eilers said in an interview last year. "They've been one of the few companies to penetrate the oligopoly of the large gaming suppliers. The real story is that a lot of investors don't even know about Konami, and that it is a meaningful player in the slot market."
Like the company, Jingoli has quietly made a large contribution to the gaming industry's growth, Snyder said.
Last summer, Konami, with the endorsement of CEO Satoshi Sakamoto and with Jingoli's encouragement, donated $1 million to the Hotel College. Almost half of the award is being used by the school at its discretion. An endowment with $500,000 of the donation is being used to support professional development opportunities for gaming management students.
"Konami gave us a great amount of flexibility with the donation," Snyder said.
Outside of Konami, Jingoli in serving his second term as the president of the Association of Gaming Equipment Manufacturers, which now has 108 members worldwide. The organization has lobbied for gaming industry expansion, although there is little in the way of current opportunities.
"(Slot machine manufacturers) are all highly competitive," Jingoli said. "Even in this economy we still have to spend money and develop products. I think there is still a lot of room to grow."
Contact reporter Howard Stutz at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-477-3871.