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Vice President of Western Region Sales
International Game Technology
Toni Martinez thinks of her management style as a coach, being vice president of western region sales for IGT. She joined the team 21 years ago and continues to make plans for the future of the industry.
Martinez was born and raised in Denver, Colo. She went into the hospitality industry in Las Vegas in 1985. In 1989, she accepted a job offer and became an account executive for route sales at EDT, a subsidiary of IGT. When IGT acquired EDT in 1991, Martinez became account executive for riverboat and dockside gaming jurisdictions. She has also served as national account manager and liaison for IGT distributors and as director of eastern region sales.
Martinez is often on the road for work. She now covers the west, south and central regions of the United States. Taking on the changing market in Mexico is one of Martinez’s most recent challenges. She is responsible for all sales of Class III gaming devices, lottery products, Class II gaming devices and recurring revenue products.
Chief Operating Officer at IGT, Eric Tom, says Martinez consistently goes above and beyond for the company. One example is her recent efforts in the budding Mexico market. “Toni spent time in Mexico City rebuilding and hiring a new management team, and has been very involved with the office and customers ever since.” Tom adds, “On her own time, she will fly down to make sure our office and customers are getting the support and advice they need.”
Martinez has enjoyed growing in the industry alongside people who started with her, as slot techs for example, and are now industry leaders. She is excited by the industry’s growth and the growth of the people who make the industry great. “It’s about relationships in this industry and from a sales perspective that’s something I very much enjoy.”
This team mentality comes from Martinez’s childhood. In high school, she went to state competitions with her basketball, volleyball and softball teams. She played softball as an adult and now enjoys golfing. Martinez says her dad used to tell her that, “Two heads are better than one and no man is an island. He was right!” She adds, “I like to win and I like to make touchdowns and I like to have a team with me to go there.”
When it comes to customer service, Martinez says it is all about listening to the customer and learning. “It’s being that customer support person that helps them get to where they want to be.”
One of the most memorable challenges Martinez faced professionally, was being a part of one of the first companies in the industry to come out with bill validators. She explains, manufacturers knew it was going to work but the customers weren’t always so sure. The reward came as the technology proved itself valuable. Martinez says it was exciting to, “work with the customer, to be there for them and actually have it be a win-win for the operator and their players.”
Martinez is also very active outside of her work. She received the Women of Achievement Award from the Nevada Women’s Fund and is a member of the Latin Chamber of Commerce.
The personal accomplishment Martinez is most proud of is taking care of her mother who has Alzheimer’s disease. Martinez, her sister and her parents followed one another out to Las Vegas and remain a close family. She and her sister have been caretakers for their mother for the last five years since their father passed. They alternate nights to care for their mother and have a full-time caretaker during the day. She explains: “I never believed I would have the patience to stop and take the time to really understand and deal with the illness. It has been a tumultuous journey that brought out many emotions and insight I never knew existed prior to dealing with my mom’s illness.”
Martinez says her mother and sister are two of the women in her life that she has always looked up to. Martinez never had a strong female mentor in the gaming business, so she often looked to the women in her family. “My mom and my sister have always been the backbone that held things together and demonstrated strong qualities which I believe helped shape me.”
Ron Rivera, senior vice president of U.S. sales for IGT, strongly believes in Martinez. He says he’s had the privilege of serving as Martinez’s boss for 19 years and has watched her rise above expectations in many areas, including her commitment to the members of her team. “Toni sees the best in people and recognized their potential. She focuses on people’s strengths and how they can best contribute to the company. There are several individuals that Toni has worked with, adapting to their particular style of learning, helping these individuals develop personally and professionally. Some of these people are contributing in executive roles at IGT today.”
Martinez says women aspiring toward a professional career in gaming should learn the industry, ask questions, pick their desired area and “go for it!”
Martinez looks forward to continuing to reach for and exceed her personal and professional goals. “I believe it is important to have good work ethics, never to take anything for granted, to treat everyone like you want to be treated, and to enjoy what you do and live life to the fullest.” She also wants to continue with IGT, being a driving force in the next technological phase of the industry. She says, “We want to be on the leading edge of technology—that’s our goal.” SKC
Director of Slot Operations
Lorraine Nevins’ passion for her job, co-workers, and community is evident. Though her own accomplishments on the job are impressive, she still credits the whole team. With a solid base given to her from her parents and a mentor watching out for her, it’s no wonder that this woman is so accomplished.
Nevins grew up in New York City, where she stayed until the age of 20. Her parents owned a salon business, where she was exposed to the pride and dedication that they had for that endeavor. “I learned a lot about how I wanted to conduct myself, based on their example,” she said.
She then moved on to many successful ventures in several non-gaming industries including being a builder, land developer, restaurant owner and operator, and a real estate broker. In 1992, she entered the gaming industry as a slot attendant at Trump Plaza in Atlantic City. She moved on to slot shift manager at Grand Palais riverboat in New Orleans, ultimately landing at Mohegan Sun as director of slot operations where she oversees 300-plus employees—an interesting feat for someone who had never played a slot machine before.
“I was at a point in my life where I wanted to reinvent myself, challenge myself and be able to move into a direction that was going to be fast-paced as well as rewarding,” she said. “The casino industry looked like a perfect fit.”
And those at Mohegan Sun would probably agree, as Nevins has worked to institute policies in the best interests of everyone at the property. One of these would be a toke rate—or a shared pool of tips—for the slot attendants.
Nevins truly values and cares for every team member, which is evident in her response to what she likes best about the gaming industry. “I love to see good people being able to show their value and be rewarded for it. I love the ability to mentor people and help them to be able to reach heights that they didn’t know were possible. Days can be filled with laughter, and the outcome of a meeting can be a worthwhile exchange of ideas where everybody felt respected and valued.”
Nevins credits the strong corporate culture at Mohegan Sun as a guiding principle for the way she does business and deals with people. The property is routinely recognized as having exemplary slot service, which is likely also in part to Nevins’ own hard work.
But despite all the good in our industry, she’d like to see it move in a more hospitality-centric focus. “I would love to see the levels of service rise above what it is today, creating an atmosphere where other industries look to ours to try to figure out how we are doing what we do, and trying to emulate it,” she commented. “I would love to see the advances in technology come in and remove some of the tasks that get in our way of blowing away our customers. There’s so many ways that we can improve our offerings; we just have to stay focused on the idea of hospitality and entertainment being delivered in a world-class setting.”
One of the people in Nevins’ life who serves as a mentor is Frank Neborsky, vice president of slot operations at Mohegan Sun, whom she met when she started as a slot attendant. “He noticed the work that I was doing, and he noticed the attention to detail that I approach tasks with,” she explained. Neborsky invited Nevins to develop two new riverboat casinos in Louisiana, which she accepted. When Neborsky moved to Connecticut to start a new casino in Uncasville, he again offered her the chance to further her career. “I moved to New England, started working for the Mohegan Sun, and I continue to learn from him to this day,” she said.
And the knowledge Nevins gleaned from Neborsky is put to use in her own role as a leader. Of Nevins, Neborsky said: “As director, Lorraine has been able to train and mentor her staff to the pinnacle of their abilities. No task is ever too large or too small for Lorraine. No matter what she does, Lorraine approaches her responsibilities, her work and her life with unyielding dedication and devotion for perfection.”
When it comes to Nevins’ non-work life, the personal accomplishment closest to her heart is also one of the biggest challenges she faces today—her family. “I am most proud of the influence that I have had over my children,” she said. “They are both strong and capable leaders within their community. Most important, however, is that they are both, good, kind and compassionate parents to their own children.” On the other hand, she struggles with the distance from her family. “Living in New England and having family spread out from New York to California to Florida makes things personally hard. Modern communication tools can make it a little easier, but nothing really replaces quality time with your family.”
Nevins responded to her award with surprise. She said: “Mohegan Sun makes an award like this happen. This was a group effort, for which I have been nominated and awarded. It did not happen because of me; it happened because of the element of teamwork that exists within Mohegan Sun. Hard work can get you noticed, but having great people around you will always make you better if you let it. Being respected by your peers is an honor that cannot be described in words, simply felt in your heart.”
Nevins is inspired by watching a project’s life. “I love to see resolution,” she explained. “I love to be able to watch something unfold and develop, take shape and form. This is true in both my professional life, as well as my personal endeavors. There is a great sense of accomplishment that comes with doing a job well. I believe that that pride—that feeling of accomplishment—is the thing that separates good results from great results.”
And good women from great women. AH
Senior Vice President, Casino Operations
Atrue trail-blazer for women working on the casino floor and in the management office, Debra Nutton is a leader with heart, determination and thick skin. She started her gaming career with a nursing degree in 1979.
Nutton was among the first female craps dealers in Las Vegas. Times are so different now, she says. Back then, dealers didn’t really have rights. “You really tried hard, is all I can say, you really tried hard not to complain or do anything because you had to set the stage for everyone else, and the attitude for dealers then was ‘dummy up and deal.’ ”
Nutton liked the excitement and challenging atmosphere of the gaming floor and stayed in the business because she didn’t want to let anyone get the best of her. She states: “Unless I love you, you can’t get me, so bring it on. Because I knew none of it made sense and they had so many rules for women that were different than men.” For example, no two women were allowed to work at the same table. “It kind of gives you the strength for whatever life gives you, career-wise at least,” she says.
It took work to gain respect from men in the industry as Nutton broke ground by earning leadership positions throughout the 1980s. She spent eight years at the former Sands Hotel as a dealer, floor supervisor and pit manager, and worked at other various properties. She says the key to being accepted by men in the business was being content with little accomplishments each day. Nutton vividly remembers a turning point in her career. She was working as the first female supervisor at a Vegas casino in the dice pit. It was a busy day—one of the times dealers want smart supervisors. The craps dealer looked at her and said, “I’m glad you’re here.”
In 1989, Nutton joined MGM Mirage. She is now the senior vice president of casino operations at MGM Grand. In her position, Nutton is responsible for all table games, poker, race and sports book operations. She has a team of more than 1,000 employees, manages a payroll budget of more than $43 million and revenues of $300 to $350 million annually.
John Shigley, executive vice president of operations at MGM Grand, says he is consistently impressed by Nutton’s ability to be proactive in employee relations. She helped design and implement a dealers website, Tabletalk, which allows casino employees 24-hour access to schedules, policies, job openings and feedback. Nutton’s colleagues also applaud her for having a positive attitude that serves her well when dealing with casino guests.
Nutton attributes her success to being honest 100 percent of the time. London Swinney, executive director of casino operations at New York, New York, says although the casino industry is notorious for gossip and controversy, not a single person has ever had a bad thing to say to her about Nutton. “Not only was there nothing bad said; there were numerous inspiring stories from her former co-workers.”
Nutton makes it her own, personal job to be a mentor to women at her company. She never had a female mentor and figured out how to make her way on her own. “I decided I was going to be a female 100 percent. I was going to wear a pink dress if I wanted to; I was going to talk about my son.”
Along the way, Nutton learned a few things she wants other women to know. First, she says, you don’t have to try to be one of the guys to be successful. “Be a female and embrace that, and be a mother and do that. And then, embrace each other and be each other’s advocate and push for the other females to do well, because we aren’t each other’s competition. If we help each other, then really the sky is the limit.”
To practice what she preaches, Nutton plans trips and parties for all the female shift managers and pit managers at MGM Mirage. She explains: “Unless we do what men do, unless we go golfing on Sunday and we become a good group, instead of a group that works against each other, then we’ll always, always hit that glass ceiling.”
Determination to break boundaries isn’t the only thing that keeps Nutton working hard. She will continue to improve because the people she works with expect it of her. “Their careers are starting or they’re in the middle somewhere. They expect me to not give up.”
Nutton rightfully boasts about two accomplishments she reached recently at the age of 50; she went back to school and earned a degree in business and ran a half marathon. But her biggest personal accomplishment in life is her family. Nutton’s son is 23 and she says she can’t wait to watch him grow into a successful adult.
Ten years from now, Nutton hopes the gaming industry is more involved with the community. She is active in community volunteer programs including those that assist in cancer research and support education opportunities for at-risk children. She encourages her staff to get involved in local schools. Nutton’s expectations for herself and for females are now expanding to the industry as a whole. “We could do so much more, but we only live up to what’s expected of us, which wasn’t much. So I want what’s expected of us in the community to be so much more, so that we can have so much more of a voice in the community.” SKC
Madilenia B. Chavarillo
Executive Director of Gaming Operations
Madilenia B. Chavarillo is an inspiring example of how strong roots and a quiet determination can make a difference in an industry often known on “the outside” for its frivolity. And these traits have carried her through 17 successful years in gaming at the Sky Ute Casino Resort in Ignacio, Colo.
Though she was born in New Mexico, Chavarillo has spent most of her life in the Ignacio area, having been raised there with her three siblings. It was there that she gained the foundation that would carry her through an education away from home and a quick return to her Southern Ute tribal community. Chavarillo is proud to name her parents, Randy and Marlene Baker, as two of her most influential mentors.
“They’ve definitely instilled some strong values in me, and have always taught me that honesty is the best practice, and having respect for everyone and believing in yourself will carry you through anything,” Chavarillo explained. “And just those simple things have brought me a long way.”
That journey started when Chavarillo went back to Albuquerque, N.M., where she lived during her childhood years, to attend the University of New Mexico. There, she focused on business coursework with the hopes of someday owning her own business. Though she left New Mexico early, being hired at Sky Ute in 1993, she continued to pursue her education, something she lists as one of her most significant personal achievements.
By interleaving her studies with her work at the casino, Chavarillo eventually earned a dual bachelor’s degree in business and human resource management from the University of New Mexico in 2000. She stated: “It’s not always easy to sacrifice valuable time with family and friends to remain focused, but having that vision and that commitment to just do what you know needs to be done makes you a better person overall.” Always striving to reach the next level, Chavarillo is planning to work toward a master’s degree in the near future.
“It is rare to find an individual that has the right blend of industry knowledge and maturity to continue to grow to almost unlimited potential,” said Matt Olin, General Manager and COO of Sky Ute Casino Resort.
Just like working her way through higher education, Chavarillo worked her way up the ladder in the casino. She started on the front line as a slot floor attendant and immediately became noticed for her thoughtfulness, respect and commitment to self-improvement.
After completing her degree, Chavarillo returned to the casino to become an intern in slot management. She later was promoted through to slot technical manager, the executive director of slot operations and eventually her current position as the executive director of gaming operations for the past two years.
Diversity and a fast pace have kept Chavarillo interested in the ever-evolving gaming industry. The job has also kept her on her toes, which she considers to be a good thing. “It’s never boring,” Chavarillo said. “You cannot work in the gaming industry and expect it to remain the status quo. There’s excitement in all the areas, like technology, for one. Gaming is an adult playground, and you just always have to shoot for the excitement.”
But the industry hasn’t been without its challenges for Chavarillo, who had to cultivate her self-confidence as she moved up to positions of greater importance. She also had to prove herself as a Native American woman in the industry, while representing both her casino and her tribe among “the big boys.” And she succeeded through her commitment, hard work and pride in giving her best effort. “Perseverance is the key to overcoming your challenges,” Chavarillo said.
“The gaming industry from the outside looks easy, but those of us in it know how challenging it can be,” said James R. Hardman Jr., assistant director of slot operations at Sky Ute Casino Resort. “Madilenia has taken to the industry as though she was born to it.”
Being a part of a small tribal community is very important for Chavarillo, and she feels a responsibility to contribute to her people—the Southern Utes. She uses her free time to act as a mentor to other tribal members, including the youth, teaching them about the importance of making education a priority and keeping themselves fit and healthy. “I’m just trying to advocate for a better lifestyle and to always hold family values close,” she said. “I wouldn’t be where I’m at in my career without the support and guidance of my family and close friends. The Southern Ute Tribe offers great opportunities for those who want to pursue higher education. I try to promote this to those tribal members who are interested.”
Chavarillo also remains very humble, and was surprised to find herself named as a Rising Star. “I have always admired such hard-working women in the gaming industry, but I never thought I’d be recognized among them. I am truly honored to receive such a prestigious award,” she said. “It’s not an easy industry. You will have roadblocks and hurdles put before you, but take them one at a time. Believe in yourself and have the faith.”
That faith has paid off, and at work she is known for both her teamwork and leadership skills, and always working to her fullest potential. And she does it all with a smile on her face and a helpful attitude, perhaps due to her positive life philosophy. Chavarillo commented: “We’re not guaranteed a tomorrow, so live each day to the fullest. Be happy, have an open mind, a kind heart and always have laughter.” TH
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Reprinted with Permission from Casino Enterprise Management. Original Article is here: http://www.casinoenterprisemanagement.com/articles/july-2010/2009-great-women-gaming