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Decades ago, a woman running one of the largest companies in gaming was unheard of. But today, it’s a reality. In an industry predominately populated by men, women must stand out, work hard and stick to their guns. From CEOs and presidents, to directors, VPs and even one of the first female dealers on the Strip, these are the trail-blazing women of gaming.
The 2009 Great Women of Gaming winners are truly inspirational—and their stories captivated us and our judges. So much so that for the first year ever, we have 11 women honored for the awards due to a deadlock decision.
Now in its fifth year, the awards are broken down into two categories: Proven Leaders and Rising Stars. To qualify as a Proven Leader, candidates must have worked in the gaming industry for a minimum of 10 years and have been in their current position for at least one year. They must also work for a gaming industry company and hold a position of director of higher. To qualify as a Rising Star, candidates must have worked in the gaming industry for a minimum of three years and have been in their current position for at least one year. They must also work for a gaming industry company and hold a position of manager or higher. Candidates in each category needed to demonstrate exceptional achievement in at least three of the following areas: ability to go above and beyond job responsibilities; commitment to company and co-workers; contributions to the industry as a whole; commitment to mentoring; and strong overall life balance.
The judging committee tasked with the difficult job of making a decision on our winners from all the nominees was made up of former Great Women of Gaming award winners and other industry leaders. They included: Cath Burns, VP of Asia Pacific/Managing Director, Bally Technologies; Dona Cassese, Creative Director of Global Marketing Communications and Operations, Aristocrat Americas; Tracey Chernay, Senior VP of Sales and Marketing, TransAct Technologies; Christie Eickelman, Director of Worldwide Marketing, Gaming Laboratories International; Libby Francisco, COO, Tohono O’odam Nation; Sheila Morago, Executive Director, Arizona Indian Gaming Commission; Jennifer Roberts, Attorney At Law-Associate Attorney, Lionel Sawyer & Collins; Linda Roe, VP of Business Development, Thalden•Boyd•Emery Architects; Kate Spilde, Managing Director, Center for California Native Nations; and Claudia Winkler, President, GHI Solutions.
And so, we announce the 11 women who we have deemed to be our 2009 Great Women of Gaming award winners. The six women honored as Proven Leaders are: Patty Coaley, Director of Organizational Development, Excalibur Hotel & Casino; Linda Devine, Senior Vice President of Marketing, Barona Resort & Casino; Tina Kilmer, Vice President of Product Compliance, Bally Technologies; Toni Martinez, Vice President of Western Region Sales, International Game Technology; Lorraine Nevins, Director of Slot Operations, Mohegan Sun Casino; and Debra Nutton, Senior Vice President, Casino Operations, MGM Grand.
The 2009 Great Women of Gaming Rising Stars are: Madilenia B. Chavarillo, Executive Director of Gaming Operations, Sky Ute Casino Resort; Patti S. Hart, Chief Executive Officer, President, International Game Technology; Elaine A. Hodgson, Chief Executive Officer, President, Incredible Technologies; Melonie D. Johnson, Vice President of Finance, Harrah’s Entertainment; and Denyse S. Moore, Senior Director, Client Services West, Bally Technologies.
Read on to find out more about these amazing women and what each of them has done to better the gaming industry. They’ve learned valuable lessons on their journey to the top, so read on to benefit from their challenges, accomplishments and advice.
Director of Organizational Development
Learning about Patty Coaley’s life growing up makes it no surprise that she ended up at one of Vegas’ most fun casinos on the Strip—Excalibur.
A Las Vegas local from age 4, her father played keyboards for many performers coming through town, and having celebrities in her living room rehearsing became her norm. Coaley later became a performer herself, dancing in Bally’s showgirl lineup, Jubilee! while earning her undergrad and master’s degrees at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
After graduation, Coaley stumbled upon an opening for a publicist at Excalibur—which she got—hence her entry into the gaming industry. She says the people are the best part of her job. “I’m lucky to be at Excalibur, surrounded by some of the greatest people I have ever met and some of the greatest in the industry.”
Coaley worked her way up the ranks, from publicist to marketing manager to marketing director. But when she went through MGM Mirage’s Diversity program, it was clear that this was her calling. “As soon as I graduated, I told my company that teaching Diversity—giving back to the company that I felt had given me a life-changing event—was what I wanted to do,” she explains. “That dedication to giving back and doing the right thing is what I am most proud of and what I think led to this award.”
Renée West, president and COO of Mandalay Bay, also speaks to Coaley’s involvement in the program: “When Excalibur took the bold step to develop its own in-house trainers for three-day Diversity Champion Workshops, Patty was the first to step up and volunteer. While maintaining her existing workload, both at the castle (Excalibur) and at home, she plunged into an intensive training program that takes the average person up to two years to complete. Patty finished with honors in six months.” And now she is one of the program’s trainers and promoters.
Coaley says she’s very happy with what she’s doing now—changing the world one Diversity class at a time. “Seeing the moment when students in Diversity class suddenly have that light go on inside them, and you realize they ‘get it.’ I know that what we teach is life-changing, and seeing that moment happen is very gratifying and inspirational.”
But that’s not where Coaley’s community spirit stops. She gives back by representing Excalibur at St. Vincent’s Thanksgiving dinner, the Paul Culley Empowerment School and MGM’s Voice Foundation. She also served as co-director of Golden Rainbow, a nonprofit group that raises money for southern Nevadans living with HIV/AIDS.
“When I think of Patty, I am reminded of someone who exemplifies what we stand for as a company: honesty, integrity and dedication to excellence,” Melanie Walker, vice president of human resources at Excalibur, shares.
Coaley’s professional and community efforts were recently recognized by the Moms in Business Network when she was nominated for Working Mother of the Year.
And that is what she says is her biggest personal challenge. “Balancing a full-time home career with two kids and a full-time work career is hard, and to help keep the balance, you have to develop a hard line of separation between the two worlds, where your work career exists during work hours and your family career exists every other minute.”
Perhaps what kept Coaley on the path toward greatness are two of her mentors, both women. “First, would be Fluff Lecoque, the company manager of Jubilee!,” she explains. “She has been in the Las Vegas entertainment industry since the 1940s, and she taught me focus and discipline at the young age of 18. Second would be Renée West, the president of Mandalay Bay, who taught me the meaning of leadership and the importance of character.”
One more thing in Coaley’s repertoire is photography. She took many photos of her son’s sports events, and turned her passion for it into a home business. On the job, she plays director for Excalibur’s photo shoots, and the studio she works with speaks highly of her work and attitude. “She always has a smile on her face and leads us through the details with absolute ease,” Sharon Sampsel and Greg Preston say. “No matter where we are in the hotel, she is constantly passing employees that greet her with obvious affection. It didn’t matter whether these people were housekeepers, valet guys or dealers—Patty knows everyone in the castle.”
When it comes to what Coaley would like to see in the future for our industry, she says it’s success. “This industry has seen some of its toughest challenges in today’s economic environment, so, first and foremost, I would like to see us rebound as the destination of choice for that much-needed getaway from everyday life,” she says. “However, it will take us patience, and a good, long-term strategy, to get our city back in the groove. I believe we will succeed, due to our city’s unique brand of fun. Ten years from now, people will long for the ‘good old days,’ and Las Vegas will provide that timeless experience that will bring people back again and again.”
The advice Coaley would you give aspiring women in the gaming industry is: “Be true to yourself, work hard, and expect the best from, and for, yourself.” AH
Senior Vice President of Marketing
Calling Linda Devine a “successful woman” is an exceptional understatement. As the Senior Vice President of Marketing at Barona Resort & Casino, she has taken the ideas of team development and marketing innovation to new levels, all while winning an impressive amount of awards for the casino. But she won’t tell you that. And that is why Devine has been chosen as one of the 2009 Proven Leaders for the Great Women of Gaming.
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a marketing minor from San Diego State University, Devine began her career working at several highly respected San Diego advertising and marketing agencies, such as O’Shaughnessy-Parr, Kenneth C. Smith Advertising and Roni Hicks & Associates. She was also the marketing director for Grossmont Center.
Devine’s professional background has been predominantly focused on retail marketing, but that didn’t stop her from jumping into a new challenge as director of marketing for Barona in 1994. “Gaming was new in San Diego, and I thought it would be really fun,” Devine commented. “I especially liked the fact that I was getting in on the ground floor.”
And where she started was about as close to the ground floor as you can get—in a new casino with a marketing staff of only two.
While Devine was growing her team, she was also growing the presence of Barona in the California gaming market and beyond. “All of her efforts have played an instrumental role in the growth and development of Barona—from a small, relatively unknown casino in 1994 to the leader in the industry,” said Don Speer, chairman and founder of VCAT, and a man who Devine counts a mentor and one of her strongest supporters.
Though she was starting small, Devine didn’t let that hold her back from shooting for the stars—the country music stars, that is. As a result of her passion and determination, she secured the legendary Kenny Rogers as a spokesman for Barona. This was the first time a tribal casino had used a celebrity in their marketing, and one of Devine’s first campaigns there.
And throughout her 16 years at Barona, Devine has continued to develop exciting campaigns to complement every stage of the casino’s development. From the opening of the new resort, restaurants and environmental initiatives, to the implementation of TITO, Barona’s elevated presence in the region and nation is a testament to Devine’s leadership and vision. She’s also responsible for the current “Loose Troop” and “Manufacturer’s Best” campaigns.
The most recent shift for all areas of the industry has been toward new digital marketing incentives. And Devine has been at the forefront of that movement, spearheading online expansion that includes the launch of the Barona blog, dedicated promotions for the website and a major social media presence.
Even though Devine keeps current with marketing trends, she does so with an editing eye. “Just because it’s out there and it’s new, doesn’t mean you need to do it,” she explained. “You need to be strategic about it and do what makes sense from a business standpoint. But I like the fact that it’s really fast paced. There’s never a boring moment. You can come up with ideas today and then make them happen tomorrow.”
And the way Devine “makes things happen” seems to be working, as Barona has been recognized with many advertising and marketing honors such as a Romero Award, AGA Communications Award, Gaming Voice Awards and more. One of the most significant achievements, though, has been Barona’s receipt of the J.D. Power and Associates award for “Highest in Customer Satisfaction” of Southern California casinos for the past two years.
Devine was involved in these accolades due in large part to her ability to cultivate a team mentality in her department, with concern for her colleagues and a diplomatic and creative approach to problem solving.
Dennis Conrad, president and chief strategist of Raving Consulting Company and a longtime colleague of Devine’s said: “Linda is a leader who makes you feel that ‘we are all in this together,’ and that your role is just as important as hers, no matter what the task or the goal.”
Devine is also a leader away from the casino, and has been involved at a decision-making level in a variety of nonprofit organizations, such as The Foundation for Women, MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), the Advertising Club of San Diego and the San Diego Blood Bank. She is also a recipient of the San Diego YWCA’s Tribute to Women in Industry (TWIN) Award.
Though Devine is passionate about her work, she admits that passion sometimes results in a lack of balance in her life and that she needs to allow more time for a personal life with family and friends.
The once-looming glass ceiling can now perhaps be considered a latched skylight. And while opening it for herself, Devine has never forgotten that her valued team is a part of her successes.
“When you look at Linda Devine’s massive contributions to the gaming industry, you won’t find them listed under ‘Linda Devine,’ but under ‘Barona,’” Conrad noted. “And make no doubt, Barona’s industry-leading reputation and history as a true innovator have Linda’s fingerprints prominent throughout. Just ask any Barona senior executive. But don’t ask Linda, because she has humbly chosen to have those accolades fall upon her Barona team and the Barona tribe.”
This attitude has earned her the respect of many throughout both Barona and the gaming industry as a whole.
Conrad commented: “I wish more men were like her.” TH
Vice President of Product Compliance
Tina Kilmer says “You could have knocked me over with a proverbial feather,” about receiving the Great Women of Gaming award. But to others, this win is no surprise. As James Maida, president of Gaming Laboratories International, put it, “It is time to let the spotlight shine, for a brief moment on her, even though she may not think she deserves such recognition.”
Throughout the industry, Kilmer is known as a humble, hard worker who will go the extra mile without complaining.
Kilmer has been with Bally Technologies for eight years. She has held a variety of leadership roles in product compliance and engineering and was promoted to vice president of product compliance three years ago. Before Bally, Kilmer worked at Aristocrat Technologies and Harrah’s Entertainment. Prior to entering the world of gaming, Kilmer worked in program management and electrical engineering for Argonne National Laboratory and Dow Chemical USA. Kilmer has been registered as a professional engineer since 1987.
The move to the gaming industry started when Kilmer was living in the Midwest and looking at moving south as a possible solution to her son’s respiratory problem. “A friend called with a possible opportunity in the gaming industry for someone with my experience and background. He thought I was a perfect fit. An interview followed and, as it happened, he was right.”
In Kilmer’s current role, she and her team are responsible for ensuring Bally’s games are approved in a timely manner in about 300 jurisdictions. Kilmer says she is proud of her work, especially the role she played in building a talented product compliance team. She explains, “The unique relationships and initiatives our team has created have assisted our company to expand our business into new markets, both domestically and internationally.”
Maida says, in working with Kilmer, he sees her commitment to quality and honest communication with regulators and her own team members. Maida explains: “She consistently has ‘a seat at the table,’ called upon to work on high-level, critical policy. Without question, she is one of the highest-ranking, most talented technical compliance people in the industry today.”
Gavin Isaacs, chief operating officer at Bally, says Kilmer makes amazing impacts on the teams she leads, while serving as a mentor to a number of Bally’s employees. “Her warm-hearted spirit and soft-spoken, yet confident style, has garnered respect and admiration among colleagues and subordinates alike.”
The collection of dynamic and fascinating people in the industry is what keeps Kilmer in the game. She loves that in this industry, there is never a dull moment. One of the challenges that kept Kilmer on her toes came early in her gaming career, as she transitioned from a government position to the gaming industry. Government work followed a single set of rules and regulations, whereas gaming introduced her to a world in which diverse jurisdictions encompass multiple regulations and requirements. Kilmer says, “Every career has inherent trials and some, at first, can seem insurmountable.
Dissecting the information, exploring alternative solutions with team members, and knowing when and who to ask for guidance are keys to success. Often, the more difficult challenges result in the most satisfying accomplishments.”
The toughest personal challenge Kilmer has faced is tied to her biggest personal accomplishment thus far. Kilmer’s son had health issues that required out-of-the-box solutions. “Facing the challenges of raising a special-needs child is truly a gift with each successive milestone. I can’t describe how much the attaining of each of their goals means to us.” Kilmer is married with four children. She says building a strong and loving family is what she is most proud of.
Kilmer’s family members were her first mentors in life. Her parents and grandparents gave her responsibilities and set their expectations high. “We worked at the family businesses, as my grandmother and parents did before me. Before we were allowed to drive a car, we had to learn to fix it first.”
Kilmer takes time now to mentor women who are starting their careers. She serves on the Society of Women Engineers and mentors young female engineering students.
Kilmer does have some advice for women reaching for their goals in gaming. First, trust your intuition and don’t take things at face value. One of Kilmer’s first professional assignments took her walking through a power plant toward a construction project she was to manage. She recalls: “A truckload of construction workers drove past me, peppering me with a barrage of catcalls and wolf whistles. When I arrived at the site, my team was already there—the same workers who had passed me in the truck! I introduced myself to the team and instead of being insulted or angry, I simply thanked them for their ‘warm welcome.’ ”
Kilmer is now looking forward to helping Bally enter new markets and introduce new technology to operators and players.
As the economy recovers, and gaming grows, she looks forward to new jurisdictions opening to gaming. She also wants to see current gaming operations continue to expand and implement more sophisticated technology. “Technology that enables casinos to better market, promote, reward and communicate to players will become even more vital.”