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Analysts say new Vegas resorts have led to multiple executive changes

Updated June 20, 2024 - 11:17 am

In the past six months, Las Vegas casino companies have seen an unusually high number of executive changes, including nine from Wynn Resorts who headed to Fontainebleau.

Analysts say the reason for the musical chairs merry-go-round may be part of a natural cycle that occurs when a new resort opens its doors — and in Las Vegas’ case, there were two openings within eight days of each other in December.

“The opening of any new property often brings these types of transitions, as does a change of management,” said Amanda Belarmino, an assistant professor at UNLV’s William F. Harrah College of Hospitality.

“There is often a shuffling of talent to new properties, and it will have repercussions at other levels as people often follow their managers,” she said. “Some of it is coincidental as some people may be making changes for personal reasons, but much of what we are seeing is really growing pains.”

That certainly appears to be the case over the past six months, particularly at Fontainebleau Las Vegas, one of the two new properties that opened in December.

Similar shifts in ‘21

Josh Swissman, founding partner and managing director of Las Vegas-based GMA Consulting, said the current environment is not unlike the way things were months after Resorts World Las Vegas opened its doors in June 2021.

“If you rewind the clock back a couple of years and you look at Resorts World when it opened, you saw a lot of people come from MGM Resorts over to Resorts World,” he said. “That was due to a couple of things, right? That property was opening, so that’s obviously part of the gravitational pull over there. But if you’ll recall, MGM Resorts was also going through some sizable staffing reductions as well, which affected everybody all the way up to the senior-most levels.”

A month after Fontainebleau opened, former Wynn Las Vegas President Maurice Wooden was announced as Fontainebleau’s newest president — the first of several Wynn execs finding new employment at Fontainebleau.

Wooden actually left Wynn in December 2018 after a 13-year career there. After spending some time as a consultant, Wooden joined Tillman Fertitta’s Landry’s Inc. in April 2023 as president before taking the Fontainebleau gig 10 months later.

Wooden replaced Mark Tricano, who was named Fontainebleau president a year ago, was moved to an undisclosed position reporting to Wooden, then left for an executive position at Station Casinos in February.

Meanwhile, promotions resulted in some C-suite title changes for Golden Entertainment Inc. executives in March.

The Las Vegas-based operators of The Strat and the 71-outlet PT’s Taverns empire promoted Blake Sartini II, the company’s executive vice president of operations, to chief operating officer.The existing COO, Steve Arcana, moved to the newly created role of chief development officer.

Other changes came to Fontainebleau in April with three internal promotions and a hire from afar.

Kim Virtuoso, Lori Kobashigawa and Sheila Tuzon were elevated to new positions at Fontainebleau. Virtuoso, a senior vice president who joined the company in 2022, was promoted to chief people officer. Kobashigawa became senior vice president of marketing overseeing all marketing and branding for the resort and previously was at Resorts World Las Vegas and Wynn Resorts. Tuzon was promoted to vice president of loyalty and database marketing from her previous role of executive director of relationship marketing.

Also that month, Fontainebleau hired Mustafa Jamal as senior vice president of security and investigations from Baha Mar resort-casino in Nassau, Bahamas, a 2,200-room resort complex with 4,500 employees.

In the same month, Wynn Resorts said farewell to Steve Weitman, the president of Wynn Las Vegas and Encore since January 2023 and an executive for the Las Vegas company since May 2004. While the announcement came in April, Weitman didn’t leave until earlier this month.

Wynn lawsuit

Wynn Resorts tried to shut off a source of defections from its company to Fontainebleau by filing a lawsuit in Clark County District Court in February, but a judge in May denied Wynn a temporary injunction that could have helped prevent Fontainebleau from hiring midlevel executives, mostly in nightlife and food preparation fields, from its properties. In court documents, Wynn cited nine instances in which Wynn executives were convinced to break contracts to jump ship to Fontainebleau.

When Clark County Judge Mark Denton ruled in Fontainebleau’s favor, it started the clock for a possible trial to decide whether Wynn should be compensated for Fontainebleau’s role in convincing Wynn employees to defect.The matter is clouded by various interpretations of the viability of noncompete clauses in executive contracts.

Possibly the most surprising executive departure came in May when Palms General Manager Cynthia Kiser Murphey announced she was leaving the property to spend more time with family.

In her announcement, she said she isn’t planning to retire, but will be gone by the end of this month. Kiser Murphey was just licensed by regulators as a key employee for the Palms in May.

Another May departure: J.T. Foley, vice president of government relations and an executive with Las Vegas Sands Corp. for 17 years. Foley, who helped oversee the company’s political activity, lobbying efforts and government affairs in various jurisdictions on an international, federal, state and local level, was named as the first executive director of the Coalition for Fantasy Sports, an organization working to expand the fantasy sports market nationwide.

Another executive departure remains cloaked in mystery. Golden Entertainment acknowledged that Strat General Manager Stephen Thayer left the company in mid-June, but neither Golden nor Thayer will say why.

Thayer did not return multiple calls for comment.

Mohegan departure

Another June departure with far-reaching implications is the Mohegan Indian Tribe’s decision to abandon the Las Vegas market by relinquishing its ownership position at Virgin Hotels Las Vegas.

Mohegan is expected to be out of the picture by the end of the year, but it’s unclear who would take the tribe’s place in operating the casino end of the resort.

The operation of Virgin Hotels Las Vegas has been overseen by three partners — the tribe, Virgin Hotels — a part of Richard Branson’s Virgin Group with hotels in Chicago, Dallas, Nashville, New Orleans and Old Town Edinburgh in Scotland — and Hilton’s Curio Collection portfolio.

Virgin lost a key piece of its management team when Richard “Boz” Bosworth, president and CEO of JC Hospitality, stepped down at the end of March from his role with the Virgin team.

Brendan Bussmann, a gaming industry analyst with Las Vegas-based B Global, said what’s most important for the resorts involved in executive change is that they find the right persons for their respective jobs.

“The industry has and always will have an ebb and flow of changes at the executive level,” Bussmann said. “The most recent changes show varying degrees of changes at numerous properties in the destination. There are a host of reasons why but nothing that sets a trend other than the industry continues to evolve as it needs to adapt.

“This is about finding the right fit in leadership for these organizations to succeed into the years to come,” he said. “Sometimes there just needs to be a change at the top to steer the ship in the right direction.”

The Review-Journal is owned by the Adelson family, including Dr. Miriam Adelson, majority shareholder of Las Vegas Sands Corp., and Las Vegas Sands President and COO Patrick Dumont.

Contact Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Follow @RickVelotta on X.

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