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Best of Howard Stutz

Gaming Guru

Howard Stutz
 

Nevadan at work: Scion of Las Vegas gaming family paid his dues

16 March 2015

LAS VEGAS -- He has the same name as the company’s CEO, but that doesn’t mean Blake Sartini II started at the top for slot machine route operator and tavern giant Golden Gaming, Inc.

His first job was tending bar at the company’s Sierra Gold tavern on Stephanie Street and Warm Springs Road. That was at night. By day, Sartini was an analyst, crunching numbers and learning the family business from the bottom up.

It’s the way his father Blake Sartini began his career, working the casino floor at Palace Station and eventually taking ownership of Golden Gaming predecessor Southwest Services in 2001.

“I loved the tavern business,” said the younger Sartini, 29. “I knew this was the business I wanted to be in.”

Sartini is Golden Gaming’s vice president of route operations, overseeing the company’s Nevada-leading business. Golden Gaming operates 7,600 slot machines in 650 locations statewide — more than double its nearest competitor.

Gaming is in his blood. His grandfather was the late Frank Fertitta Jr., founder of Palace Station Hotel and Casino. His uncles are Station Casinos, Inc. owners Frank Fertitta III and Lorenzo Fertitta.

“Growing up, there was never a day that went by that I didn’t hear the word gaming,” Sartini said.

After graduating from Chapman University in Southern California, Sartini took a job in the “other” family business, Ultimate Fighting Championship. Lorenzo Fertitta, CEO of UFC owner Zuffa, suggested Sartini work in the newly opened London offices.

Sartini spent 16 months in London as the UFC’s senior product manager. When it came time to apply for a five-year visa to remain in Britain, he decided to come home. The family business was calling.

“I would have been like 29 or 30 when I came back,” Sartini said. “I knew I was going to start at the bottom and I didn’t want to do it at that age.”

It turned out to be a smart move.

Sartini started as a manager in training at the company’s Colorado casinos. He came back to Nevada a few months later when the casinos were swapped in a transaction that gave Golden Gaming the slot route business formerly owned by Affinity Gaming.

He spent time as a regional manager overseeing the operations of several taverns but then moved over to the gaming side. He has helped expand the slot route business.

“Our route operation in Northern Nevada alone is now bigger than our route was in Las Vegas before the (Affinity) transaction,” Sartini said.

In January, Golden Gaming said it will merge with regional casino operator Lakes Entertainment, Inc. Sartini said the transaction will allow Golden Gaming’s route operations to expand outside Nevada.

“There are so many more platforms to grow from,” Sartini said.

Question: What was your role with the UFC in London?

Answer: I was focused on selling production content to international networks. I was taking meetings with networks from Sweden and Germany, and I had no business sitting in on those meetings. I was just 24. But I knew the UFC product better than anyone. I knew how to describe the sport. It came to a point, though, where I needed to get back and start my career.

Question: Did you always expect to work at Golden Gaming?

Answer: I knew this was an opportunity, but it was also something that’s just not given to you. Everything has to be earned. When I came back, I figured I should learn regional casinos and that’s why I went to Colorado to get an education. But when the (Affinity) deal happened, I got myself back to Las Vegas.

Question: Was it a challenge learning the gaming side?

Answer: Working as a bartender, food and beverage is always in the forefront. But you can’t escape gaming. You have to know gaming as well as you know the menu. That helped me because you learned how to work with gaming customers.

Question: Golden Gaming owns 48 taverns. Is there ever a conflict with the slot routes?

Answer: Our taverns account for less than 10 percent of our overall restricted slot machines. Our main focus is the routes. My team came from the tavern business. When we sit down with our route customers, we can relate to them. We understand comp policies and how to manage food and beverage. We understand how it correlates to the gaming because we came from that school. We are now setting ourselves up for success in the future. Anybody can put 15 machines in a bar. What a route partner does after is what sets us apart.

Question: Where is the growth for routes in Nevada?

Answer: There are a lot of distressed taverns changing ownership. We’re usually the first people contacted when they want to sell the business. What we have been doing is placing some of our better route partners into those taverns. We have the conduit and the relationship with the landlords. It protects the location for the landlord, it allows our good partners to grow and it protects the slot machines.

Question: What opportunities does Golden Gaming have in other states?

Answer: We’re expanding into Montana but there are other jurisdictions where restricted gaming is something that people are opening their eyes to. It’s not as up in your face as casinos, but it’s still a great way to generate tax revenue. A lot of what we do in Northern Nevada is going to help us as we go into these small, emerging markets. They seem to have the same demographics and business practices.

Question: What is the relationship like working with your father?

Answer: I respect everything my dad has done. He challenges me on a day-to-day basis, but never in a negative way. My dad has been a positive influence. Southwest Services started out with vending machines and pay phones. I respected the way he came up and I always wanted to follow into the family business.

Contact reporter Howard Stutz at hstutz@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3871. Find him on Twitter: @howardstutz.


NEVADAN AT WORK

Name: Blake Sartini II

Age: 29

Occupation: Vice president of route operations, Golden Gaming

Quotable: "Everything has to be earned."

VITAL STATISTICS

Occupation: Vice president of route operations, Golden Gaming.

Family: Single.

Education: Bachelor of Science in business administration from Chapman University (Orange, Calif.).

Work background: Six years at Golden Gaming. One year in casino management training in Black Hawk, Colo. One and a half years as tavern regional manager for PT’s Entertainment Group. One and a half years as director of route operations for Golden Route Operations. Two years as vice president of route operations for Golden Gaming.

Most admired businessperson: Kevin Plank, founder of Under Armour.

Favorite hobbies: Deer hunting in the West and traveling.

Favorite sports teams: Die-hard San Francisco 49ers fan.

Favorite movie: "Tombstone."

Favorite author: S.C. Gwynne.

Favorite music online: Country and ’70s and ’90s rock.
Nevadan at work: Scion of Las Vegas gaming family paid his dues is republished from Online.CasinoCity.com.