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Casino City Press Business Profile - Casino Network

28 February 2023

Casino Network founder Mike Sohn and his wife Luwela.

Casino Network founder Mike Sohn and his wife Luwela.

In his wildest dreams, Mike Sohn never imagined that a career in the casino and gaming industry was in the cards for him. Yet, here he is, nearing the 27-year anniversary of the day he launched Casino Network.

“Yes, it’s hard to believe, that’s for sure,” said Sohn with a laugh when asked about his nearly three-decade run as a leading distributor of refurbished slot machines, parts and glass. “It’s been a wild ride. But here we are, still going strong.”

The idea for starting the company dropped right into his lap back in early 1996. At the time, Sohn was living in Minneapolis and owned a landscaping company. His neighbors needed a load of used slot machines picked up in Reno, Nevada and brought back to the Midwest. Since Sohn had three relatively new trucks that he could hitch a trailer to, they asked him if he was up for the job.

“It was a chance to make a couple grand just by driving 25 hours, so I jumped at the opportunity,” remembered Sohn.

When he returned, Sohn just so happened to have room in his garage to store most of the machines. Eventually, his neighbor asked him if he wanted to take a shot and try to sell some of them on his own and that’s precisely when the proverbial lightbulb clicked in Sohn’s head.

“I’ve always been a very good networker with an entrepreneurial spirit and I know how to talk to people,” said Sohn. “Next thing I know, I met up with a guy who was the largest slot distributor in North America and I started working with him and eventually I came up with the idea for Casino Network. As they say, the rest is history.”

Today, Casino Network stocks a wide variety of used parts, such as touch screens, LCDs, reel strips, electronic components and much more from manufacturers, including Aristocrat, Bally, IGT, Konami, Spielo, and WMS, and sources the equipment for casinos in Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma and the Caribbean, in addition to a few properties in Mexico. His list of clients includes the likes of Beau Rivage Resort & Casino, IP Casino Resort Spa and Treasure Bay Casino and Hotel in Biloxi and Gold Strike Casino Resort and Sam's Town Hotel & Casino Shreveport in Louisiana.

Over the last 27 years, there have been many peaks and valleys for both Casino Network and the gaming industry as a whole, thanks to recessions, technology advancements and, most recently, a global pandemic. When the business started, it was just Sohn and his wife, Luwela, running the company. The couple relocated to Arlington, Texas a couple years after Casino Network launched and, at one point, they employed as many as eight people and had a 30,000-square-foot warehouse.

Today, while business is still thriving, the staff is back down to just Mike and his wife and they run it out of their home.

“That’s how it all started, and that’s what we’re back to,” said Sohn. “I kind of saw the writing on the wall when COVID hit and decided to cut back. So, we’ve come full circle.

“But we’re still here and we continue to grow. Again, I go back to all of the relationships that I’ve managed to establish over the years. It’s why we’ve been able to survive and prosper. I’m not trying to brag, but without me, there would be no Casino Network. I don’t think anyone else could do what I’ve done with this business. That’s just a fact.”

Without a doubt, the most important relationship for Sohn came when he started working with Erik Black, President of Sunkist Graphics, a family business that has been around for more than three decades and has become a true industry leader in design and print production for slot machines, casino signs and lighting solutions. The Sunkist Graphics account is responsible for nearly three quarters of the business that Casino Network writes and, as an added bonus, Sohn and Black have become best of friends.

“Working with Erik and Sunkist has been a true blessing and one of the main reasons we’re still going strong,” said Sohn. “But, believe me, it hasn’t been easy for us or Sunkist to survive.

“It's funny, years ago, Erik and I would talk and say, ‘Man, we’re going to be out of business soon because all of these slot machines are going to video and they don’t use glass anymore.’ But to Erik’s credit, we started to offer other things that the casinos needed. We had to innovate.”

“Today, even with all of the games going to video and all of the new technology, this industry will need guys like us in some capacity forever.”

And Sohn is perfectly content with continuing to plug away and doesn’t expect to – or want to – retire any time soon.

“I love this industry, it's exciting,” said Sohn, who is expecting to see a huge boost this year when he officially adds the Philippines to his list of territories. “I love the people, I like to gamble, which helps a lot, and it’s a very lucrative industry. I'm not getting any younger, but the way we have things set up, it’s really a fine-tuned machine. I’m 63 and I will probably be doing this until I’m 80. And I wouldn’t want it any other way.”

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