One of the first phone calls Mike Sloan made when he was named senior vice president of government relations for Fertitta Entertainment was to his longtime friend John Wilhelm.
Wouldn’t you have loved to listen in on that conversation?
Wilhelm is president of UNITE HERE, the parent organization of Culinary Local 226. The union is running a scorched earth-style campaign against the Fertitta-operated Station Casinos in an attempt to organize a large portion of the company’s 13,000 employees.
Sloan, 67, has been the gaming industry’s consummate political insider for four decades. He spent more than 20 years as the general counsel for Circus Circus Enterprises and its successor, Mandalay Resort Group. He was viewed as the “go-to guy” for Circus Circus Chairman Bill Bennett.
During his time with Circus Circus, he developed a close bond with Wilhelm, who played a key role in rebuilding the Culinary presence on the Strip from 1987 to 1998. Sloan and Wilhelm sat on opposite sides of the bargaining table for every contract negotiated over those years.
“We’ve been through a lot together,” Sloan said.
Sloan also served as an employer trustee of the HERE International Union Health and Welfare Fund and the Local 226 Culinary and Bartenders Pension Plan. So when he decided to leave his consulting practice and go in-house with the Culinary’s public enemy No. 1, naturally he needed to let Wilhelm know before the news became public.
“John is a good friend and our families are friendly,” Sloan said. “I’m sure this would not have been his first choice for me.”
Whether Sloan is a bridge for labor peace between the Culinary and Station Casinos is fodder for political speculation. However, he isn’t letting on.
“I was hired for gaming and government affairs, not labor relations,” Sloan said.
Sloan brings his insights and long list of contacts to Fertitta Entertainment. He has built bonds with elected leaders of both parties from Carson City to Capitol Hill.
After MGM Resorts International acquired Mandalay Resort Group in 2005, Sloan began consulting for other gaming companies, including Caesars Entertainment Corp. and Wynn Resorts Ltd.
Fertitta Entertainment Chairman Frank Fertitta III offered Sloan a full-time job a few weeks ago while he was consulting with the company on a political project.
“I love staying active,” Sloan said. “I don’t play golf, I don’t own horses anymore and the kids are grown.”
Sloan was a partner in several Nevada law firms. He was elected Las Vegas city attorney, served as a deputy attorney general for state gaming regulators and was twice appointed to serve as a state senator.
Many interconnected gaming and political endeavors have Sloan’s imprints.
He helped build and rebuild the Nevada Resort Association and he was part of the group that started the Washington D.C.-based American Gaming Association.
On the industry’s behalf, Sloan worked to secure federal funds that built the Interstate 15-Interstate 40 interchange in Barstow, Calif., which, for a time, alleviated traffic concerns for Las Vegas travelers.
During the Clinton administration, he helped stop the idea for a federal excise tax on gaming revenues.
Sloan was also part of the core casino insiders who created the gaming industry’s political influence.
He recalled a time when casino bosses were reluctant to make political contributions and politicians wouldn’t accept money from gaming. By hosting political events in Nevada, outsiders’ eyes were opened to the Silver State and the gaming industry.
“It gave us national prominence, but it was a mixed blessing,” Sloan said. “It cost us a lot of money but it also helped us out.”
Sloan served as the fundraising chairman for Nevada Democratic presidential caucus in 2008.
A registered Democrat, Sloan accomplished many of his tasks while working for hard-core Republicans, such as Bennett and former Mandalay Resort Group boss Mike Ensign.
With the Fertittas, he’s working for a company whose key executives also lean Republican.
“(Former MGM Chairman) Terry Lanni once described me in a meeting as a member of the incumbent party,” Sloan said. “In government affairs, you attempt to support people whose views are compatible with your industry.”
Sloan said Fertitta Entertainment reminds him of Circus Circus. Bennett didn’t surround himself with many executives and empowered Sloan with large amounts of responsibility.
“These guys run it like I was used to at Circus,” Sloan said. “I like that.”
Howard Stutz’s Inside Gaming column appears Sundays. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-477-3871. He blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/stutz.
Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.