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Arnold M. Knightly

Nevadan at work: Exec helps Golden Gaming forge into future

14 July 2008

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Steve Arcana has made his bones in the locals gaming industry working for the extended family that owns Station Casinos and, now, Golden Gaming.

The energetic 43-year-old came West in 1995 after being recruited by then-Station Casinos executive Blake Sartini, who is married to Delise Sartini, the daughter of the company's founder and a large shareholder in the locals gambling giant.

Eight years later, Sartini hired Arcana again. This time, he joined Sartini's privately held Golden Gaming, a company spun off from Station Casinos' former slot route operations.

As Golden Gaming's first chief operating officer, Arcana oversees the operations of the company's subsidiaries: 45 taverns in the state made up largely of the PT's Pub brand, a slot route operation with 160 accounts covering 2,500 slots, a casino in Pahrump and three more in Colorado.

"It's a new position in the company that doesn't really bring about much responsibility changes," Arcana said. "I've been pretty much doing that role for sometime now."

Golden Gaming is also competing for a gaming concession in Kansas, which would be the company's largest project yet.

This past year presented Arcana with two of his biggest challenges since joining the company nearly five years ago: a statewide smoking ban in Nevada and Colorado, and the downturn in the economy.

Question: How has Golden Gaming dealt with the smoking bans in Nevada and Colorado?

Answer: In Nevada, we've waded through the storm pretty well. All of our bars and taverns comply with the smoking regulations. ... We've built some walls to separate the smokers, we have several unrestricted locations. We have several stores that don't have kitchens but food service next to it where customers can walk through and pick up. With 45 locations, I managed each one individually, came up with a solution to each one. And in some cases we are in a nonsmoking situation. Our role is that we're not the enforcer and we take care of our customers. It's not our role to extinguish a cigarette and tell a person they're in trouble. We maintain whatever regulations we're supposed to dictated by the health department. I think we've seen more challenges with other economic issues locally than with taverns.

Question: Beyond the smoking ban, how has the economic downturn affected the company?

Answer: Right now we're experiencing what everybody else is: $4-a-gallon gasoline prices, consumer pricing through the roof, a real estate bubble that has burst. We deal with it one guest at a time, one tavern at a time. Sometimes when you're challenged you're able to come up with better solutions and you're able to operate better.

Question: Why did you leave Station Casinos?

Answer: It was nothing negative. I had been there for eight years. There was nothing negative but it was just time. There had been some leadership changes. It was time to search out some other career options.

Question: What brought you to Golden Gaming?

Answer: A change of pace. I had worked for Blake four of those eight years so I was very familiar with him. This was a young, growing company and it seemed like a great opportunity. I had left Station and was trying to figure out what I wanted to do next. Blake and I started talking.

Question: What is the status of Kansas?

Answer: I will be the property's operator. We're presenting our package to the lottery commission. I've been involved with the development of the concept with Mr. Sartini. But it is very much in its preliminary stages right now.

Question: What is the interest in Kansas for Golden Gaming?

Answer: We have a lot of familiarity in the Missouri market because we, when we (Sartini and other company management) were with Stations we had casinos in Kansas City and St. Louis. We went into those markets with our product, and they had never seen a product like that. We operated world-class facilities that were Las Vegas-style. We gained good experience on how to operate in that market. There is a lot of appeal with Wyandotte County because it would be a sole property in that county. You'll have a competitive edge over the Missouri properties in that there will be no loss limit. We'll be able to operate that facility without a lot of the handicaps that the Missouri casinos operated. You don't have to check in and there won't be a $500 loss limit. That is a huge advantage to operate in that jurisdiction.

Question: You're up against some big competitors for the concession with Las Vegas Sands Corp. and Pinnacle Entertainment. What will you do?

Answer: There are some substantial competitors, but we believe we have the best piece of dirt. We've got a phenomenal project. We also have a partnership with (former professional golfer) Tom Watson to develop a golf course as part of the overall development. Tom is a local and he's very well-regarded.

We still have a series of presentations to make. The final presentation is in late August and we should know this fall, September or October.

Question: How did you get into the gaming industry?

Answer: I went to school at Widener University (in Chester, Pa.) to the hotel-restaurant school. I took an internship in Atlantic City. We all, as kids, hung out at the beach. The gaming referendum passed there in '78, I got out of high school in '82 and had been working in country clubs and restaurants. I knew I was going to work for either a hotel or a restaurant company. I got an internship at the Sands in Atlantic City and stayed there for 10 years. I was 20 then. I moved up through the property where I had seven or eight jobs.

Question: What brought you to Las Vegas?

Answer: Station Casinos recruited me. The company had just gone public and had several properties under development. Texas Station had just opened and the company was developing both Sunset and the Kansas City Station. I got recruited by Mr. Sartini and accepted a job at Texas Station as food and beverage director.

Question: You have worked for only three companies in 23 years in the industry. Isn't that rare?

Answer: It's very rare. I'm a firm believer in loyalty. I know a ton of people in the business and I see them jumping and moving. That's not for me. I'm very grounded. There are certain things careerwise for me other than just jumping ship for the next money opportunity.