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Longtime Flamingo executive Horst Dziura remembered as pioneer, mentor

Updated April 5, 2020 - 10:10 am

A longtime executive of the Flamingo who paved the way for nongaming amenities becoming profit centers has died, family members said Saturday.

Horst Dziura, who served as president from 1976 to 1999 of what then was the Flamingo Hilton, died after a lengthy illness in Santa Barbara, California. He was 79.

Tributes from around the casino industry poured in for Dziura, who died of a longtime lung disease on March 17. His family made the death public Saturday.

Dziura was a mentor to several of today’s top gaming executives statewide, including MGM Resorts International interim CEO Bill Hornbuckle, South Point owner Michael Gaughan and Ferenc Szony, CEO and managing partner of Truckee Gaming.

Dziura retired after spending 30 years at the Flamingo Hilton, the last 25 as president. After growing tired of retirement, he went to work with Gaughan for seven years at The Orleans and the South Point.

“We knew we couldn’t pay him what he was worth, but he said he just wanted to get back out of the house,” said Gaughan, who met Dziura while operating Flamingo’s neighbor, the Barbary Coast, now The Cromwell.

“He ran The Orleans for us (Boyd Gaming), and we just got out of the way for him,” he said.

Walking the casino floor

Gaughan said he was impressed with Dziura’s daily routine of walking the casino floor when he arrived first thing in the morning, talking with employees and then doing it again before he left for the day.

It was a practice that endeared him to employees and that he kept while at the Flamingo and Gaughan’s properties.

“He was a well-loved leader of the Flamingo and a legend,” said Eileen Moore Johnson, regional president Caesars Entertainment Corp.’s Cromwell, Linq, Flamingo and Harrah’s properties.

“Employees would talk to me about his ‘president’s walk,’ where he and his direct reports would walk the property and he would direct fixes and improvements as they toured. It would happen quickly and they would also talk to employees in their work space. He also had a popular employee newsletter called ‘The Bird’s Word.’”

“There was a presence about him, and he was kind and he was elegant,” added Jan Jones Blackhurst, a former Caesars executive who now serves on the company’s board of directors. “I always said there was something regal about Horst and the way he carried himself. He had a demeanor and a bearing that was just elegant and lovely.”

Dziura also was admired by peers.

“He was a pioneer who established order and structure when the industry desperately needed it,” Hornbuckle said. He was a true mentor who tutored many of today’s senior executives, and he will be missed. My thoughts and prayers go to the entire family, may he rest in peace.”

Szony went to work for him right out of college at UNLV. He now owns the Club Fortune Casino in Henderson and five other properties in rural Nevada.

‘Modern Las Vegas’

“He was a landmark of the modern Las Vegas,” Szony said. “I interviewed on a Saturday morning, showed up for work on Monday and we were in L.A. marketing the property on Tuesday. He was just a hard-driving guy at a time when Vegas was just exploding.”

“Everybody focused on the Las Vegas Hilton with Elvis and the shows and the high-rollers. Horst was the one who took the Flamingo and had the vision for taking the place from a pretty run-down old joint and turning it into a juggernaut of profitability for the company. It wasn’t the fanciest, but he was the guy that said ‘We’re going to serve the middle market. We’re going to serve tour travelers, the airlines and tour companies.’

“He really drove the idea that the casino was going to make money anyway. But if we do it right, food and beverage can make money. And the tennis courts can make money. And you can get the hotel to make money. He drove that into so many of us and was able to bring it to the bottom line way before any of the other properties in town really thought about the idea.

Dziura is survived by his wife of nearly 50 years, Glenda, and a son, Horst Dziura Jr., who has a large dental practice in Southern California.

Services are planned in Santa Barbara. Donations can be made in his memory to the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation at pulmonaryfibrosis.org.

This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Horst Dziura’s name.

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

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