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One-time Resorts World Las Vegas top exec now managing Calif. Indian casino

Christian Goode traded away the prospects of pandas on the Strip to oversee the reopening of a central California Indian casino that was shut down last fall by federal agents.

It’s an interesting choice.

Goode walked away in January from the $4 billion Resorts World Las Vegas for “personal reasons.” He has since formed Ivory Gaming, a casino management company, with New York-based marketing, political and investment strategist Bradley Tusk.

In Las Vegas, Goode was the face of the Resorts World development for Malaysia-based Genting Berhad. He was on hand for the March 2013 announcement with Gov. Brian Sandoval when Genting bought the unfinished Echelon site for $350 million from Boyd Gaming Corp. The company said it would turn the halted project into an Asian-themed resort, even teasing the idea of a live panda exhibit.

Goode was front and center in May 2014, describing Resorts World in detail for Nevada gaming regulators when Genting was given a preliminary finding of suitability, one step below an actual gaming license. However, his departure was sudden and never formally announced by Genting. In an email, a company spokesman described the separation as “amicable.”

Goode sees possibilities through launching Ivory Gaming.

“We’re interested in investing in start-ups,” Goode said. “There are a lot of opportunities on the horizon.”

The first venture is reopening the Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino near Fresno. Goode was hired this month by the Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians to be the casino’s chief operating officer, with hopes the resort will be up and running by Labor Day. Once the company goes through state and federal approval process, Ivory Gaming will become the property’s management company through a contract with the tribe.

On paper, the development seems like an easy assignment.

The 400-room hotel-casino is located in Coarsegold, 35 miles north of Fresno and 27 miles south of the entrance to Yosemite National Park. The property is licensed for 2,000 slot machines, but operates 1,700 devices along with 40 table games. Chukchansi Gold also has a spa and several restaurants.

California is the nation’s largest Indian gaming state, with 68 casino’s producing more than $7 billion in gaming revenue in fiscal 2014, one-fourth of the overall total.

The resort, Goode said, attracts visitors from the San Francisco Bay area.

“It’s the best facility in central California,” Goode said. “There are a lot of people looking forward to the casino coming back.”

Chukchansi Gold closed last October after an altercation between rival factions of the tribe had to be broken up by federal agents. The shutdown displaced more than 1,000 workers.

The tribal council this month announced it secured a $35 million loan to reopen the resort once it receives state and federal approval.

“We’re working through the process right now,” Goode said on bringing back the workers. He said the tribe is working with federal officials to re-open the casino.

“These are just the first steps on our journey to provide our tribal members with opportunity and economic stability,” Chukchansi Chairman Reggie Lewis said in a statement.

With Genting, Goode was the top executive for the Malaysia conglomerate in the U.S. He led development of the $880 million Resorts World New York, the large slot machine-only casino attached to the Aqueduct Race Track. He was president of Genting’s planned Resorts World development in Miami, but the project was never built because Florida never legalized a casino for the Biscayne Bay site.

If you believe Coarsegold is a step down from New York, Miami or Las Vegas, think again. Goode sees the assignment as getting back to his roots. He worked at tribal casinos in New York and Oklahoma.

As for Resorts World Las Vegas, the property has yet to begin actual construction. Genting held a ceremonial groundbreaking in May and hired a Las Vegas construction firm to complete the parking garage that will eventually be utilized for workers hired to build the development, which will be completed over multiple phases.

Goode has moved beyond Resorts World.

With regional gaming markets recovering and Indian gaming projects seeing new investment opportunities, Goode said Ivory Gaming could be starting up at the right time.

“I think this is a great fit for our company,” Goode said.

Howard Stutz’s Inside Gaming column appears Wednesdays and Sundays. He can be reached at hstutz@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3871. Find on Twitter: @howardstutz

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