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AGA announces 2012 Gaming Hall of Fame inductees

8 May 2012

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- (PRESS RELEASE) -- A gaming legend, a giant of Nevada politics, the creative force behind shows up and down the Strip and one of Las Vegas’s first celebrity chefs make up the 2012 class for the American Gaming Association’s (AGA) Gaming Hall of Fame.

Guy Laliberté, founder of the legendary and innovative Cirque du Soleil, and Julian Serrano, executive chef at multiple Las Vegas Strip restaurants, will be honored for their unique contributions to gaming entertainment and cuisine. Dennis Gomes, a former gaming regulator and co-owner of Resorts Atlantic City, and Sen. William Raggio, former gaming attorney and the longest-serving state senator in Nevada history, will be inducted posthumously for their roles in the growth of the gaming industry. The 24th annual Gaming Hall of Fame Charity Gala and Induction Ceremony will be held on Tuesday, October 23 in Las Vegas, and all proceeds from the event will benefit the National Center for Responsible Gaming (NCRG).

“Without its visionaries, innovators and ardent supporters, the gaming industry as we know it today would not exist, and we are proud to honor Dennis, Bill, Guy and Julian as men who have helped shape our business.” said Frank J. Fahrenkopf, Jr., president and CEO of the American Gaming Association (AGA).

Dennis Gomes’s involvement in the gaming industry spans over four decades. He began his gaming career as the youngest-ever chief of the Audit Division for the Nevada Gaming Control Board, and he ended it as the co-owner of Resorts Casino and Hotel in Atlantic City, NJ. - grabbing headlines from start to finish. As a gaming regulator Gomes uncovered the Stardust skim, the largest casino skim in gaming history. After this bust, Gomes decided to clean up the gaming industry from the inside and worked at more than a dozen casinos and resorts across the country, including Indiana Live, in Shelbyville, Ind., the Tropicana both in Atlantic City and Las Vegas, the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas and the Hilton in Las Vegas. As a gaming operator, Gomes revolutionized the industry with his propensity for out-of-the-box marketing such as the tic-tac-toe playing chicken and a commercial featuring an Obama impersonator that attracted the attention of the White House – just to name a few.

Gomes’s tenure at Resorts was marked with bold attempts to attract customers and turn around the struggling casino. Some of the changes included refurbishing the casino in a 1920s style to reflect the city’s and Resorts' remarkable past and then opening Pro Bar, the first full-time gay bar in any American casino. These changes culminated in Resorts being named 2011 Casino of the Year by the Philadelphia Daily News and

“When Dennis Gomes passed earlier this year, the casino industry lost one of its boldest and most creative owners,” Fahrenkopf said. “Dennis’s energy and enthusiasm were contagious, and some of his marketing ideas are still being talked about today.”

Sen. William J. Raggio, Jr., has been called one of the greatest statesmen in Nevada history and one of the state’s transformative politicians. He served in the Nevada State Senate for 38 years and as Senate Majority leader for 18 of those. Sen. Raggio was known for his ability to compromise in order to get important legislative work done. Many have recalled that his political tool box included wit, intelligence, cunning and a mastery of political strategy, which he used to fight for Nevadans across the state.

Prior to his time in the State Senate, Sen. Raggio served as district attorney in Washoe County from 1958-1970. He was named “Outstanding Prosecutor in the United States” in 1965 and was elected president of the National District Attorneys Association in 1967. He also was a gaming lawyer; senior partner at Jones Vargas Law Firm in Reno/Las Vegas; a member of the Board of Trustees of the E.L. Wiegand Foundation; and a trustee of the University of Nevada, Reno Foundation. Sen. Raggio passed away in February of this year.

“During his time in the State Senate, Bill witnessed not only the transformation of the state of Nevada, but also the gaming industry,” said Fahrenkopf. “He was always a friend of the industry, and one whose support we could count on. Bill understood that what was good for gaming was good for Nevada.”

Guy Laliberté was born in Québec City in 1959. An accordionist, stilt-walker and fire-eater, he founded Québec's first internationally renowned circus with the support of a small group of patrons and performers. A bold visionary, Laliberté recognized and cultivated the talents of street performers to create Cirque du Soleil in 1984. He was the first to orchestrate the marriage of cultures and artistic and acrobatic disciplines that is the hallmark of Cirque du Soleil. Since 1984, he has guided the creative team through the creation of every show and contributed to elevating the circus arts to the level of the great artistic disciplines.

Cirque du Soleil’s partnership with the gaming industry has turned it into one of the most influential forces in gaming entertainment. Mystère debuted at Treasure Island Casino and Resort in 1993 and has been followed by shows at six other Las Vegas Strip casinos, including O at Bellagio, Zumanity at New York-New York Hotel & Casino, Kà at MGM Grand Hotel & Casino, Love at The Mirage Resort and Casino, Criss Angel Believe at Luxor and Viva Elvis at ARIA Resort & Casino.

“No matter what direction you look down the Strip, you see a property with a headlining Cirque du Soleil show,” Fahrenkopf said. “Guy and his creative team have truly revolutionized the gaming entertainment experience, raising the bar of our customers’ expectations and bringing elements of whimsy and wonder to our industry.”

Julian Serrano, the creative force behind two of the Las Vegas Strip’s best restaurants, is the recipient of two prestigious James Beard Foundation Awards and is widely regarded as one of the finest culinary talents in the nation. A native of Madrid, Serrano is a graduate of the Escuela Gastronomie P.P.O. hotel management school in Marbella, Spain, and has pursued his affinity for French cuisine in some of Europe's most celebrated kitchens.

In 1998, Serrano brought his memorable Mediterranean with French influence cooking to Bellagio in Las Vegas as executive chef of Picasso. The Michelin two-star restaurant has been an 11-time recipient of the AAA Five Diamond Award from 2002 to 2012 and has received the coveted Grand Award from Wine Spectator magazine for its extensive wine list. At his eponymous restaurant, Julian Serrano, in ARIA Resort & Casino, Serrano satisfies a long-held ambition to share the secrets of his own Spanish cuisine. Featured on the restaurant’s multiple à la carte menus is an ensemble of Serrano’s signature creations including traditional and innovative renditions of tapas, paellas, seafood and more. In 2010, Esquire magazine named Julian Serrano one of the Best New Restaurants of the year. The restaurant also received the Best of Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator magazine in 2011.

“Picasso was one of the pioneers of fine dining in Las Vegas, and without its success, the development of Las Vegas into a world-class culinary destination would not have been possible,” Fahrenkopf said. “The creativity and taste that Julian brings to all of his offerings are standards by which other chefs should be measured.”

Induction into the Gaming Hall of Fame is the highest honor accorded by the gaming-entertainment industry. Each year, individuals who have distinguished themselves through significant contributions to the industry receive this honor. More than 70 people have been inducted into the Gaming Hall of Fame since its inception in 1989.

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