Miss. Gaming Pioneer to be Inducted into Gaming Hall of Fame

Lyle Berman, who took a chance on South Mississippi and opened the Grand Casinos in Biloxi and Gulfport, is one of five people who will be inducted into the Gaming Hall of Fame Class of 2016.

The American Gaming Association announced the inductees Tuesday. Also being honored during the Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas on Sept. 28 are John Acres, a casino-technology pioneer; Don Brinkerhoff, the architect who designed many of Las Vegas’ iconic landmarks; Redenia Gilliam-Mosee, the first African-American casino vice president in Atlantic City, and Richard “Skip” Hayward, a visionary for Tribal casinos.

“Each inductee shaped today’s gaming industry in a distinct way, from paving the way for opportunities for employees of all backgrounds, revolutionizing the player experience and pushing the boundaries of what casinos look like and where they exist,” said Geoff Freeman, president and CEO of the AGA.

“I learned more from Lyle than I did from anyone else since I’ve been in the business,” said John Ferrucci, general manager of Silver Slipper Casino.

“He had great vision. He was always three to four steps ahead of everyone else around him,” Ferrucci said. “A lot of my management style I can attribute to his success.”

In 1990, Berman co-founded Grand Casinos Inc. The company set the model for building resorts, rather than confining casinos to boats, in South Mississippi and beyond.

“The project we will do on the Mississippi Gulf Coast will raise expectations and, therefore, the quality of the product to a whole other level,” Berman said in October 1992, when the $70 million Grand Casino Jubilee in Gulfport won initial approval from the Mississippi Gaming Commission. He soon was back to the Gaming Commission getting permission for a $56.5 million Grand Casino in Biloxi and a year later announced construction of a 16-story land-based hotel in Gulfport next to the barge, with a grand ballroom, convention space, spa and health club.

Ferrucci said Berman taught him how important food is to the casino business. He’d take a group of about eight to LB Steakhouse at the Grand, order everything on the menu, taste it all and take his notes back to the Grand headquarters kitchen in Minnesota.

“After a point, LB’s menu never changed,” Ferrucci said, because it was perfected.

While Las Vegas companies initially shunned South Mississippi after casinos were legalized, Berman built one of the most formidable casino enterprises of its time. Fortune Magazine named Grand Casinos the fastest growing company in America in 1995, and under Berman’s leadership, the company grew from a three-person startup to an organization employing 20,000 people with a market capitalization of $1 billion.

“We’re deeply indebted to Lyle for investing in Mississippi in the early days,” said Larry Gregory, former executive director of the Mississippi Gaming Commission. “He was a true pioneer in our industry, especially down on the Gulf Coast.”

Berman also is a three-time champion of the World Series of Poker and was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 2002.

In addition to being an accomplished poker player, Berman was a great player on the business table, Gregory said.

In 1998, shareholders for Grand Casino and Hilton Hotels approved a merger of the two companies that ultimately created a worldwide company with 18 casinos, 23,000 hotel rooms and 1.4 million square feet of casino space. The new company, Park Place Entertainment, later became Caesars Entertainment and now is Harrah’s Entertainment.

Mary Perez: 228-896-2354, @MaryPerezSH

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