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Best of Liz Benston

Gaming Guru

Liz Benston

Casino Bosses Las Vegas' Highest Paid Executives

31 May 2006

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Just as the biggest gaming companies grew through consolidation last year, executive pay packages also fattened, reflecting larger responsibilities and record corporate profits.

As they have in the past, casino bosses topped the list of the highest-paid executives in Las Vegas in 2005. The Sun's sister publication, In Business Las Vegas, compiled the list, using publicly available proxy statements.

The entire list will be published by In Business in its June 2-8 issue.

Salary analysts say shareholders are not balking at executive compensation because it is justified by corporate performance.

Topping the list:

Station Casinos Chief Executive Frank Fertitta III ranked first for the second year in a row, earning $5.7 million in short-term compensation and an additional $37.1 million in long-term compensation from the value of stock options he exercised last year.

Short-term compensation includes annual salary, bonus and the value of other perks such as fitness clubs, country club memberships and the use of company vehicles. Long-term compensation can also include awards of restricted stock, which is stock that can't immediately be sold.

In 2004 Fertitta received a large chunk of restricted stock and $75.4 million from exercised options, but didn't receive any restricted stock last year.

Bobby Baldwin, chief executive and president of MGM Mirage's Mirage Resorts division, earned $6.1 million in short-term compensation and $32 million in long-term compensation, which propelled him forward from his 28th position last year to second place. (Like some of the other executives, Baldwin also received other compensation, making his total pay greater than the sum of his short- and long-term packages.)

Boyd Gaming Corp. Chief Executive Bill Boyd ranked third with $3.8 million in short-term compensation and $34.1 million in long-term compensation. He was No. 4 on the 2005 list.

MGM Mirage Chief Executive Terry Lanni advanced from fifth to fourth with $8.8 million in short-term compensation and $21.9 million in long-term compensation.

John Redmond, chief executive and president of the MGM Grand Resorts division of MGM Mirage, ranked fifth with $6 million in short-term compensation and $23.3 million in long-term compensation. Last year he ranked 12th.

Anthony Marlon, chief executive of Sierra Health Services, was the highest-compensated nongaming executive in Las Vegas and ranked sixth, with $3.4 million in short-term compensation and $15.7 million in long-term compensation.

Other executives in the top 10 were Station President Lorenzo Fertitta, Shuffle Master Chief Executive Mark Yoseloff, Wynn Resorts President Ron Kramer and Station Chief Development Officer Scott Nielson.

Among the other top Strip moguls, Harrah's Entertainment Chief Executive Gary Loveman ranked 14th, Steve Wynn ranked 19th and Venetian owner Sheldon Adelson ranked 28th.

Loveman, who leads the world's largest gaming company, earned a hefty salary and bonus of $5.9 million and exercised options worth $3.9 million - less than some of his peers. Wynn reported $6.1 million in short-term compensation but didn't receive any stock last year, nor did he exercise any stock options. Adelson's compensation was also mostly reflected in his salary and bonus of $3.6 million.

Among top executives, annual salaries and bonuses rose last year, with executives cashing out tens of millions of dollars worth in stock options that rose significantly in value in recent years.

Analysts say one-year snapshots of executive pay are misleading because they may include options executives have held for many years and that are due to expire. Executives are often encouraged to cash out options within a few years of expiration to reduce investment risk.

Like many companies, Station Casinos uses a compensation consultant to advise its board members on appropriate salaries for executives.

Station's top executives are among the highest paid in the business. They are also highly compensated relative to other industries and the company's size.

"We have an experienced, cohesive management team in place that has allowed us to grow the company and maintain our performance," Frank Fertitta said. "We're out there every day competing for talent."

The company's stock - up about 13 percent from a year ago - has been a top performer in recent years, pre-empting any backlash from shareholders or Wall Street over executive compensation.

At the company's annual meeting Wednesday, Station stockholders praised the management team for posting the highest profit margin and return on capital within the casino industry.

Hefty pay packages in other industries such as health care and technology have been thrown into question in recent years after dips in company performance.

But that has not been an issue in the casino business, which is rolling in record profits and benefiting from unprecedented investor interest.

The bonus potential for casino executives is hitting an all-time high because gaming companies are performing at or better than Wall Street expectations, said Marc Weiswasser, an executive recruitment expert for Las Vegas-based gaming management consultant Navegante Group.

Graef Crystal, a former compensation consultant for Fortune 500 companies and an executive-pay columnist for Bloomberg News, found that at the country's largest public companies, executive pay was more strongly correlated with size than performance or any other factor.

But different rules apply when rewarding gaming executives, consultants say.

Jack Marsteller, a principal with global management consulting firm Towers Perrin in Los Angeles, said directors have little choice but to keep pace with rising salaries for executives at top performing companies.

"That's not a choice a director has unless you're willing to take the risk to lose the talent," said Marsteller, who has worked with casino companies.

"The primary determinant of pay is the ability to create return for shareholders," Marsteller said. "The gaming stocks are red hot and companies are expanding. These executives are creating wealth for shareholders."