The Dania Jai-Alai Fronton was a massive building. There were winding hallways, four floors of offices, closets, nooks, and crannies. There were underground pump stations, electrical closets, a/c cooling units, roof top compressors, and a catwalk over the playing court. John Knox knew every square inch of that building. He had keys to every door and could tell you where everything was or had been. D. R. “John” Knox was Dania Jai-Alai. And now, he was gone.
The day that John walked out, I felt a sense of confusion, even loneliness. Steve Snyder, the past owner, hired me away from World Jai-Alai (now Florida Gaming). John Knox approved the idea and became my Dania mentor. Neither would be there in the future to help navigate this strange path led by Boyd Gaming.
That morning, after John’s secretary Beth told me John had just left, I called his cell phone. He was still in his car when he answered. “John, say it isn’t true, you are coming back?” I asked him. “Nope, Marty. I can’t be a part of this. I don’t see a future with what they have planned. I’m done!” he said.
I told him how sorry I was and didn’t know my future with them either. John encouraged me to hang in there. I asked if it was ok for me to call him with the myriad of questions that would surely come up in the future, questions about Dania that only he could answer. He told me graciously that I could call him anytime, but not anyone from Boyd. I doubted Jack Bernsmeier or Dave Winslow would have the “cajones” to call him. Yet, they knew almost nothing about the building, the personnel, or Jai-Alai.
My phone rang just after I hung up with John. Dave Winslow, our new HR guy, ally of Boyd Executive VP Jack Bernsmeier, asks, “Marty, do you know about John?” I told him I was aware of the situation. He said, “Jack wants to have a lunch meeting with you, Clint, and I at Grampa’s Restaurant.”
Clint Morris, Dania’s CFO and a Steve Snyder confidant, knew the accounting side of the business, which included Jai-Alai, simulcasting of the racetracks, and poker. He was a quiet, hard working, very competent guy. Though he joined us for lunch many times, I really didn’t know him well. I only knew Snyder trusted him completely. He was his “numbers” guy and helped execute the Boyd buyout.
John and Clint seemed to get along well, yet I could sense some underlying friction between them on occasion, a normal situation for accounting versus operations. It seemed obvious that Clint should be at this meeting. Clint Morris was essential to Dania’s operation, especially with John out of the picture.
At noon, we met at Grampa’s. Bernsmeier (the guy that wanted us to change Jai-Alai and let the ball bounce twice) calmly told the three of us that John resigned and we needed a plan to run the Dania without him. He didn’t address the fact that he had stripped down the operation in almost all other departments. They had fired department heads. We were running now on a shoestring.
Since I was Assistant General Manager and John’s right-hand man, I thought it was obvious that I would now assume his duties and run the Jai-Alai operation. Jack had to know that I had over 35 years experience in Jai-Alai operations. Then, Clint surprised us all. He said he no longer wanted to be in the accounting area but wanted to be involved in operations. So, it now seemed that Clint and I could be the team to move forward… should be the team. But, what about Winslow?
Then, Bernsmeier played his hand. He told us he wanted all three of us to have equal authority and run Dania Jai-Alai until he made a final decision. Clint and I looked at each other. Dave Winslow had no experience, knowledge, or history with Dania Jai-Alai or any pari-mutuel. Yet, Bernsmeier wanted him to be part of a triumvirate of the three of us. Having taken Latin in school, one thing I learned: The First Triumvirate of Rome failed miserably. If Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus couldn’t do it, no way it would work with us.
When we returned to the office, I went up and saw Clint. “You know they will depend on you and I to get things going for about two weeks, then Winslow will be in charge,” I told Clint. “There is no doubt this was Boyd’s plan from the beginning. They didn’t want John, they wanted their man… and that’s Dave,” I continued. Clint nodded, “You might be right.”
I feared for what would happen to the sport of Jai-Alai when The Triumvirate crumbled. Would there be internal changes, causing the Fall of the Dania Empire? Would Dania Jai-Alai, known in the past as “The Palace” turn into the ruins of The Coliseum? Hail Martius and Clintus, Beware of the Ides Of Bernsmeier.