Plans were to tear down building and build and new fronton/casino
Boyd Gaming was founded by Sam Boyd. He was a gambler. His early investments paid off and began a small casino empire. His heirs were expanding that empire and gambled on a Florida property, Dania Jai-Alai. Now, it was apparent that Boyd had miscalculated when dealing with the Florida conservative political machine. A 55% tax on slot revenues was unheard of. Could the venture be profitable at that tax level?
New projections had to be done. Investment strategies revised. No one really knew how popular the slot machines would be in the South Florida pari-mutuels. The Seminoles and Miccosukee casinos had been offering slot-like casinos with thousands of VLTs (video lottery terminals). They looked similar to slot machines, but slightly different. Still, slot revenues depended on so many variables: facility, location, attractions, promotions, advertising, etc.
The word we got from corporate headquarters in Las Vegas was that our project was continuing. Architectural renderings were being made. Blake Cumbers, Boyd’s onsite guy, was continuing to reassure the Dania local politicians that things were still on track. I began getting phone calls from my friend the mayor, Anne Castro, about the project. I had very little information to share. The Dania City Commission saw this expansion as an opportunity to put Dania Beach on the map as a destination.
We still weren’t sure who was going to be the Boyd executive overseeing the Dania operation. So far, John Knox, my boss, seemed to be the only contact between us and Boyd Corporate. That was true until the day that some of the top executives came back to Dania to introduce the Senior VP to oversee the Dania acquisition. His name was Hector Mon.
Hector appeared to be in his 40s. He seemed amiable to the Dania employees. Being Hispanic, he addressed our players in Spanish, immediately making a connection with them. We were told he was going to sit down with all the department heads and management for brief interviews. It would be a sort of get-to-know-you chat.
I figured this would be my chance to find out what plans Boyd Gaming had for John and I. John, being the most familiar with the Dania operation for so many years, would be the logical one to oversee everything under our roof: slots, poker, and Jai-Alai. Since this would be a huge task, I was hoping he would have me manage the Jai-Alai operation. All of us would report to Hector. We weren’t sure whether he would be based in Dania or stay in Vegas.
One by one, the department heads were called to meet with him. Each came out saying he seemed to be a nice guy, not commenting much on their plans, explaining that Boyd had high hopes for the property. All were concerned about their future. Mon told them that there were no plans at that time to make any changes. The new construction could take a year or two, with a possibility of more phases that could include a hotel on the property.
Then, I got the call. Hoping that Bill Boyd, Senior VP Chris Gibase, and Blake Cumbers had already filled them in on my background, my position as #2 behind John, and my future value to Boyd, I nervously went to my “interview” with Hector.
I was a little nervous for a few reasons. The obvious one was that I knew how important first impressions are. But the main reason… I was uncomfortable with self promotion. My father had always taught me to be humble, never to brag about your accomplishments. I was the antithesis of a politician that talks about how great they are.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I was in PR, communications. I could talk to people easily and my strength was making an instant connection, whether it be the those in the media or our customers. But, in doing this, I found their favorite subject was always themselves. So, I would deflect the conversation from me to asking about their background, their interests. So, the conversation centered on them, not me.
So, when I sat down, face to face with Hector, I immediately turned into the interviewer, not the interviewee. I quickly realized he either knew very little about me, or, he really didn’t care. I began asking about him. Well, it never really got back to being about me. When he finally said, “I’m not sure what we have for you in the future, but we’ll find something.” That was about as underwhelming of an endorsement as you’ll ever find. A guy that has 35 years of Jai-Alai experience, in PR, marketing, and management…knows the game like no other, has tremendous industry and local political contacts, “we’ll find something for you”????
I left the sit-down with Hector befuddled. If I had a future with the new Dania Jai-Alai, it certainly was hazy. But I knew I still had the backing of John. If John Knox was going to be integral in the future operation, I felt he would find a way to take me with him. But, were they so arrogant that maybe they thought they didn’t really need any of us?
A few weeks went by, Hector and the other execs continued their planning from Las Vegas. The renderings were released showing Phase 1 of a new fronton/casino built in the back parking lot. The original Dania Jai-Alai building was to be demolished. Phase 2, depending on the success of the new venture and the possible lower future tax rate, showed the construction of a new hotel on the east side of the property.
Then, unexpectedly, word got back to us there would be a major change for the Dania project. Hector Mon was ill. He would be taking a leave of absence. No one knew who would replace him overseeing the project for Boyd. We all were concerned for Hector. He was a nice guy. We all wished him a speedy recovery. But the expansion slowed. Progress slowed to a crawl. Was this a minor bump in the road? Turns out we were heading off a cliff.