I had 35 years of experience and felt few knew more about the sport of Jai-Alai than I did. I played the game and promoted the game. I had worked my way up from PR Director into management. I still maintained close ties with all the other fronton owners and management. Plus, since coming to Dania Jai-Alai, I had established a good relationship with the mayor and other Dania city council members. How could Boyd Gaming not want me in their future plans? I would soon find out.
John Knox, Dania’s GM, and Clint Morris, our CFO, helped provide Steve Snyder with the “due diligence” information concerning the Boyd acquisition. I felt they had proved their worth to the incoming owners. I was really not certain the Boyd people even knew who I was, only that I was titled Assistant GM/ Marketing.
As we sat in that first meeting with all the Boyd execs, I looked around the table. Most wore sport coats, no ties. Chris Gibase, introduced as an Executive VP, had a wrinkled shirt, the tail slightly coming out of his pants. He looked somewhat disheveled. I liked Gibase instantly. I remember him saying to us, “Don’t worry, this is not our first rodeo. We have acquired many other casinos and properties; we know your concerns.”
Then, Keith Smith, Boyd’s CEO, began to lay out their plan. He said they wanted to build an entirely new casino/Jai-Alai facility in the rear of our parking lot. It would be state-of-the-art with approximately a $200 million price tag. “Jai-Alai would be integral to the success of the property,” he told us.
This was what John and I wanted to hear. Both of us still had a passion for the sport. We weren’t sure how Boyd felt about the sport itself. We knew if they viewed it as a valuable asset to their new investment, our combined experience of almost 75 years would prove invaluable to them.
Although the current regulations required Jai-Alai to be played in order to have a slot machine license, they could decide to put their money toward a new casino facility, leaving the old fronton as is. We weren’t sure if they would make the investment in the sport. It appeared their preliminary plan was to make Jai-Alai an attraction to the casino.
After the meeting, I was told that I was invited to dine with most of the visiting Boyd executives at the exclusive Hard Rock steak house that night. I was thrilled that they included me, along with John, Steve, and Clint. This would, hopefully, give me some facetime with the new owners.
Later that afternoon, there was a meeting called for the rest of the employees and players. This was Steve Snyder’s chance to announce the purchase to the full staff and introduce some of the Boyd execs. I remember one of our betting clerks asking Snyder what was going to happen to him. Her concern seemed genuine. “Oh, I will be around, don’t worry,” Snyder answered. I knew that wasn’t going to be true.
I remembered when the Collett’s purchased World Jai-Alai and Dick Donovan, World’s CEO, assumed he would “be around.” Dick even had a one-year consulting agreement. But, even with Dick’s political ties to Tallahassee and his delusions that Bennett and Benny needed him, he became invisible. They wanted nothing more to do with him after the purchase.
Now, Steve Snyder was a completely different individual. World Jai-Alai’s sale had many issues leading up to the actual closing of the deal. Donovan definitely was not a favorite of the new owners. However, Steve and the Boyd people seemed to have had a good relationship. You would have thought Boyd Gaming would have taken advantage of Steve’s contacts and experience.
One thing I have learned from being around these two transactions. New owners are basically arrogant. They have enormous egos. I remember Gibase’s words, “it’s not our first rodeo.” I’ve done this before, it’s now mine, and I don’t need you anymore. That is the thought process. Steve Snyder was around less and less, until very shortly he was not around at all.
The dinner that night turned out to be great for me. I sat right between Bill Boyd, the founding patriarch of the company, and his daughter Maryanne, who was an executive VP. They could not have been friendlier or nicer. They both appeared interested in everything I had to say. I was, of course, just trying to be charming, hoping they would remember who I was the next day.
Chris Gibase sat across from me, and it quickly became apparent he was the “operations guy.” Chris seemed to appreciate my background and experience. I was starting to feel a little better about the acquisition.
While I was hoping to hear more specifics about their plan, I found out they were eagerly awaiting the key legislation outlining the rules and the tax structure for the slots. This could determine the profitability and success of their venture.
My guess was that they were playing the odds that Governor Bush and the legislature would come around and decide on a tax structure that was fair to the state and the operators. Their $152 million was quite a gamble, not knowing in advance the tax structure. Adding another $200 million for constructing a new casino/fronton was an even bigger gamble. Would Bush and our politicians come through? Does Vegas ever lose? Only in Florida!