Nevadan at Work: South Point executive beat quick path to casino management

Ryan Growney was preparing to attend law school.

But after a week at dealing school his plans changed.

He’s never looked back.

Growney, 33, has been general manager of the South Point for almost three years.

It might seem as if he was predestined for the role.

His father, Mike Growney, was general manager of the Gold Coast when the casino was operated by South Point owner Michael Gaughan.

The younger Growney idolized Gaughan.

“I’ve known him my whole life,” Growney said. “He has a tremendous amount of respect from the town, his family and his employees.”

Growney graduated from Georgetown University in 2002. He attended school under scholarship for four years as the student manager for the Hoyas’ men’s basketball team.

He was working in the Coast Casinos carpentry shop for the summer, having taken his law school admission exams and his filed his applications.

The carpentry shop happened to be in the same building as a casino dealing school.

“I was encouraged to give it a shot,” Growney said. “I might make more money and have more fun.”

Farewell, law school. Hello, Mr. Gaughan.

Growney landed a job as a dealer at The Orleans, which Gaughan then owned, and worked his way up , learning different games, becoming a floor supervisor and eventually reaching the hotel side of the business.

In 2004, Gaughan sold Coast Casinos to Boyd Gaming Corp. for $1.3 billion, which gave Growney additional opportunity for advancement.

Coast never had many middle managers at its properties and Boyd Gaming began looking for employees to fit those positions. Growney moved into various positions at the Suncoast and The Orleans and eventually became general manager of the Barbary Coast in 2006.

When the casino was sold, he moved to the company’s Dania Jai Alai facility near Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He came home seven months later and was named operations director at Sam’s Town.

In 2006, Gaughan traded his stock holdings in Boyd Gaming for the South Coast, which was renamed South Point. Four years later, he needed a general manager and called upon Growney.

“Look at the people Mr. Gaughan has trained over the years,” Growney said. “We all did it the same way. You start out dealing and then you learn the ropes.”

Question: What kind of reaction do you get as 33-year-old casino general manager?

Answer: That’s half the reason I wear a suit. It helps me when I meet people because they want to talk with someone wearing a suit.

When I was 22 and working a boxman at The Orleans, a dealer asked me how old I was. I told him 22 and he said, “I have (dealer) aprons older than you.” What that tells me is that he’s been doing this longer than I’ve been alive. I’ll never know as much as him about the games. You have to make sure you respect your employees’ opinions and their knowledge.

Question: How does experience at various hotel-casino jobs help you as general manager?

Answer: I spent a week working the butcher shop at the Suncoast. I spent a couple of days in the silly hat and apron at Kate’s Corner serving ice cream. It does two things: It teaches you the real nuts and bolts of the business, but it also gives you a good idea of what your employees go through. I think that’s very important. To know what your employees do on a daily basis gives you a better relationship with them.

Question: Did working as a student manager for the Georgetown basketball team help prepare you to be a general manager?

Answer: It really is a service job. There are three managers. You live with the team and travel with them. The first year is really water, ice and jockstraps. By your senior year, you’re dealing with hotels, travel accommodations, Nike for the uniforms and you do a lot of planning. It gave me a great experience for this job and I also got to stay in a lot of hotels. I learned how they operate, what works and what doesn’t.

Question: Your father became a hotel-casino general manager after leaving the FBI. How was his experience different from yours?

Answer: He went about some things the same way. He already had his law degree, so it was easy for him to step in. He always said to get a good team around you, be there when they ask for help, but let them do their jobs. I was fortunate to have worked in some of these big departments, so there was that difference.

Question: What type of experience did Florida provide?

Answer: Boyd Gaming sold the Barbary Coast. We handed the keys over and I hopped on a plane and headed to Florida. I was more of a corporate representative. It was a jai alai facility without slot machines. We were looking at developing the site, so I spent time shopping the other casinos in Florida to see what they offered. My job was more development and much less operational. When the numbers didn’t pencil out, it was time to come back.

Question: Why did you leave Boyd Gaming to work for Michael Gaughan?

Answer: There are several employees here that have celebrated 40 years working for Mr. Gaughan. That says something about the loyalty people have to Mr. Gaughan. I wasn’t going to come in here and mess with that. I can appreciate that loyalty and that’s why the culture here is so great. We use that to our advantage. We’re a one-casino operation, not a corporate structure.

Question: You’re 33 and running a Las Vegas hotel-casino. What’s next?

Answer: Growing up, I wanted to be the general manager of a casino. While I was at Georgetown, I thought about business law or becoming a sports agent. But when I came back, walked into a casino and was pitching cards, I was hooked.

I’m happy sitting in an office next to Michael Gaughan’s and I’m doing the best job I can in this seat. Hopefully, I’ll be around for a while.

Contact reporter Howard Stutz at or 702-477-3871. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.

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