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Best of Liz Benston

Gaming Guru

Liz Benston

Ellis Gaming Submits Deal to Federal Regulators

8 July 2005

LAS VEGAS -- A group of Las Vegas casino executives who formed a tribal consulting company have submitted their first tribal casino contract to federal regulators for approval.

Ellis Gaming, a limited liability company that assembled quietly three years ago, has struck a deal with the Kickapoo tribe in Oklahoma to build a $20 million expansion to the tribe's existing casino.

If approved, the new resort will feature 1,200 slots, 40 table games, several restaurants and up to 400 hotel rooms. The five-year management and development agreement with the tribe must first be reviewed by the National Indian Gaming Commission.

The company already has several consulting agreements with tribes, including a tribe in Manitoba, Canada, three California tribes and another in South Dakota, President R. Shawn Ellis said.

The company's four principals, each equal partners, came together at the same time to form the company, Ellis said. They include Chief Executive John Groom, Chief Operating Officer Rick Richards and Chief Financial Officer Greg Yochum. The company also has some small, locally-based minority shareholders.

Many big casino companies are pursuing larger contracts with tribes but few companies are competing with Ellis Gaming to manage or design smaller casinos, Ellis said.

The company is aiming for deals to run casinos with 1,500 slots or less, he said.

Many tribes located near urban areas or more lucrative locations already have casinos or deals with casino management companies, he said.

Of the more than 200 tribes across the United States still don't have casinos, many have had a difficult time obtaining land for their casinos or negotiating casino compacts in their respective states, he said.

"The fly-by-night companies drop out and you're left with the companies with staying power," Ellis said. "There's plenty of people out there that understand gaming but few who understand tribes."

Groom was previously president of Caesars Palace under Park Place Entertainment Corp. and was involved in the design of the Paris Las Vegas resort.

Ellis, who is married to a member of the Apache tribe, was previously a principal with Siren Gaming, a company formed by a group of former Rio executives. Ellis also ran the Rio's food and beverage department and spent two years exploring tribal and government casino contracts for the Lady Luck casino chain, later serving as general manager for the Lady Luck casinos in Iowa and Mississippi.

Richards has had casino management positions with Caesars Palace, Bally's and the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino. Yochum has had finance positions at the Lady Luck and Sunset Station casinos.