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Harrah’s vice chairman stepping down

Harrah’s Entertainment Vice Chairman Chuck Atwood, who helped build the company from two Northern Nevada casinos to 50 casinos worldwide, announced today that he is retiring from the industry on Dec. 19 after 30 years, all with one company.

“People often ask me why I stayed at one job for so long,” the 59-year-old Atwood said Wednesday. “The reason I did it is because I get to work with smart people every day. While we work on different things, and obviously times change, working with smart people every day is a learning experience. I’ve always loved it.”

Atwood, who focused his efforts on development projects for the casino giant, will spend his time on philanthropic projects, focusing his efforts on helping the Smith Center for the Performing Arts get off the ground.

The $485 million downtown center is getting really close to being a reality and is a “key piece of cultural infrastructure that Vegas doesn’t have,” he said.

Making projects happen has been what Atwood did best during his three-decade casino career, helping build what would become Harrah’s Entertainment.

After he jointed Holiday Inn’s mergers and acquisitions department in 1979 following a stint in real estate development, Atwood immediately began working on the $310 million purchase of the late William F. Harrah’s two casinos in Reno and Lake Tahoe.

Then a subsidiary of Holiday Inn, Harrah’s moved into Atlantic City a few years later, opening what is now Harrah’s Atlantic City.

As gaming started expanding into middle America, Atwood was chairman of the company’s riverboat task force. The company, which opened its first riverboat casino in Joliet, Ill., in 1993, currently owns 15 casinos in Louisiana, Mississippi, Iowa, Missouri, Illinois and Iowa.

Atwood recently headed up the $570 million purchase of the London Clubs International in December 2006.

The company owned six casinos in the United Kingdom, two in Egypt and one in South Africa, in December 2006.

His last big project was securing a contract in August to develop and manage a state-owned casino in south central Kansas.

Harrah’s announced last month the company was pulling out of the $535 million project due to the poor credit markets.

Atwood rose through Harrah’s ranks to become chief financial officer in April 2001. He resigned those duties in August 2006 to become vice chairman.

Atwood said he had contemplated retiring during the company’s buyout by TPG Capital and Apollo Management, but decided to stay.

“The prospect of working with (Chairman and Chief Executive Officer) Gary (Loveman) and the private company was appealing, so I decided to stay long enough to make sure it got off to a good start,” he said. “I think it is off to a good start.”

Atwood said he does not know if his position at the company will be filled, but said he will not be looking over his shoulder at the company he helped build.

“My view is when you leave, you need to leave,” he said. “Especially when you have a job like mine.

It’s not a good idea to continue to look over your shoulder. You ought to go away. The company’s in great hands. It doesn’t need, or deserve, or want to have people who are retiring look over their shoulder.”

 

Contact reporter Arnold M. Knightly at aknightly@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893.

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