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Best of Chris Sieroty

Gaming Guru

Chris Sieroty
 

Adventure brought Cantor Gaming exec westward

11 June 2012

Whitney Thier grew up in suburban Scranton, Pa., before heading off to Dartmouth College.

She wasn't different from most of her friends, who like her went to New York after graduation to work as investment bankers. But after several years working on Wall Street, Thier decided she wanted to go in a new direction and attend law school.

After considering several law schools, Thier landed in New Orleans at Tulane.

"I wanted to get out of the Northeast where I had lived for all my life and see other parts of the country, and going off to school is a safe way to do that," she said. "You can always go back. I went to New Orleans and visited ... and loved it. Plus they gave me a scholarship, which helped too."

Thier said what she found so interesting about law school, wasn't being taught in a classroom. Instead it was one state over in Mississippi, where the gaming industry was expanding rapidly.

"It seemed like a fun industry to be involved with," Thier said. "I realized the gaming industry and intellectual property were niche areas that I was interested in exploring."

With her law degree and keen interest in gaming, Thier applied and was quickly hired by the Las Vegas firm Quirk & Tratos, now Greenberg Traurig.

"I moved to Las Vegas in 1994, not knowing anyone," she said.

During her 18 years as an attorney in Las Vegas, Thier has also worked with Mandalay Bay Resort Group, Fontaine-bleau Resorts LLC and Cantor Gaming.

"It saddens me to see the unfinished (Fontainebleau) building, it was such a tough time for the U.S. and Las Vegas economy," she said. "But I wouldn't trade the experience I gained from working there."

Her experience with a startup didn't deter her from joining Cantor Gaming as their deputy general counsel and compliance officer. At the time, Cantor Gaming operated one sports book at the M Resort.

"I chose Cantor Gaming because I wanted another opportunity to be an essential part of a young company with a clear vision and a growth plan," she said. "In the short time I've worked here, Cantor Gaming has gone from relative anonymity to a household name in the Las Vegas gaming industry."

Cantor Gaming operates seven sports books, including at the Palms and The Venetian.

She said the key to her success at Cantor Gaming, especially as someone without a technical or sports wagering background, was to "ask a lot of questions."

Question: What made you interested in becoming a lawyer?

Answer: There are a couple of things. My father had always wanted to be a lawyer and he didn't. So I'm sure that is part of it. I had been working in investment banking when I graduated college and typically after two or three years you either go to business school or law school. I was interested in what the lawyers in the business were doing, so I guess that was also part of it.

Question: You were in school when gaming expanded into Mississippi. Did that have an impact on your career choice?

Answer: It seemed like a fun industry to be involved in. That was true here. Because it was a time when it was growing and exciting. If you go outside of New Orleans, there really isn't much. I mean Biloxi isn't that far away from New Orleans. It was interesting when gaming arrived in Biloxi, it was so transformative on the southern Mississippi economy.

Question: What happened after law school?

Answer: After graduating from law school, and watching what was happening in Mississippi, I realized the gaming industry and intellectual property were niche areas that I was interested in exploring. I applied for a position with Quirk & Tratos (now Greenberg Traurig) in Las Vegas and I was accepted. I turned down other offers in New York and moved to Las Vegas in 1994.

Question: How are gaming lawyers perceived by your fellow lawyers?

Answer: The level (of respect) has moved higher. When I decided to move out here instead of going into some type of securities practice in New York, people thought I was out of my mind. Why would you want to do that? That was then. But the industry has gotten so much more sophisticated, and now it's a global business. I think gaming industry attorneys have become much more accepted within the industry.

Question: What is your role as compliance officer with Cantor Gaming?

Answer: In our business, it's really two jobs. I do what you could call operational compliance to make sure that when we operate a sports book, for example, we comply with all Nevada gaming regulations and all the internal control standards. We make sure that every game is posted on the board (at the sports book), or we manage disputes, any and all the things that the state requires us to do.

Question: What is your second job?

Answer: Also, we have technical compliance, which all the manufacturers have, because we have our own proprietary sports book system that we built. That has to be submitted to the technology division for approval. A big part of that business is making sure your submissions are correct and working with the lab.

Question: What's your role as deputy general counsel?

Answer: I manage all of the day-to-day legal work for Cantor Gaming. The business has grown and we hired not too long ago an assistant general counsel. We'll hire more as the business grows.

Question: What challenges does the industry face?

Answer: I think one of the challenges that the industry has faced, and it's true of all regulated industries and technology business, is the pace of innovation outstrips the pace of change in the law. That's not a criticism of the state Legislature or gaming regulators. It's just what happens, you can't move quickly enough. What I will say is (Nevada Gaming Control Board Chairman) Mark Lipparelli is great in trying to push for changes in the law and regulations. It's been a period of change, and it's been a challenge because you have to learn all of it and you have to react to it.

Question: Why join Fontainebleau Resorts as general counsel?

Answer: The simple answer is the company was new. There was no Fontainebleau here; there was the (property) in Miami Beach. Glenn Schaeffer and Jeffrey Soffer originally formed the company - Fontainebleau Resorts LLC - and they initially raised money to purchase the Fontainebleau in Miami Beach. Then they raised like $4 billion to redevelop Miami and build the hotel here. The Miami property was finished, spun off and is doing great, where here it was unfinished and in bankruptcy.

Question: How did the Fontainebleau's failure affect you?

Answer: It saddens me to see the unfinished building. But it's all of it. I see the Fontainebleau, I see Echelon, and I see the empty lot where the Plaza was going to be built. It's just kind of sad to see that the runway for Las Vegas kind of ran out. For me, it was also a lot of work. I invested a lot of myself in the Fontainebleau.

Question: What was your role representing Fontainebleau in bankruptcy?

Answer: Well it was a lot of different things. First it was producing all the bankruptcy filings and documents, and then we were involved in various lawsuits about the bankruptcy. We tried to sell the building and through that there is all this documentation and due diligence that needs to be done. But during that time there were fewer and fewer people (to purchase the project) because there was no capital.