The Bills make Cannery Casinos thrive

Apr 5, 2016 3:01 AM

Bill Paulos and Bill Wortman – affectionately referred to as “The Bills” – continue to defy the odds when it comes to good friends being good business partners, too.

It’s been two decades now since Paulos and Wortman co-founded the Millennium Management Group, which owns the Cannery Casino Hotel in North Las Vegas, Eastside Cannery on Boulder Highway and a racetrack/casino in Pennsylvania.

Not only do they have the same first name, so do their wives – “The Bonnies.”

So how have “The Bills” been able to sustain both the friendship and business sides of their relationship when so many others fail in similar circumstances?

“The biggest thing is we like each other,” Paulos said. “We like each other, we trust each other.”

Still, a lot of good friends haven’t stayed good friends over the years once they got into business.

What’s the key?

“When we walk through that glass door downstairs, we park our ego at the door,” Paulos said. “We don’t use it around here.”

They also complement each other well. Paulos has been the building block with his knack for construction while Wortman is the money man because of his financial expertise.

“I can’t carry his club when it comes to ‘How do we get a structure from that piece of dirt to that building?’” Wortman said.

As for his partner’s financing decisions, Paulos said, “He absolutely knows it, speaks it, makes me understand it.”

Wortman then summed it all up, saying, “We think it’s more important to know what you don’t know than it is to know what you do know.”

Paulos said he often relies more on his gut feelings to come to a conclusion while Wortman is the one who thinks it all out before reaching a decision.

“We take different paths to go there,” Wortman said.

“But we always end up in the same place,” Paulos added.

They also took much different paths to get here.

Paulos, 68, grew up in New York and attended a high school that was one block from Yankee Stadium. He would sit near a subway station to peer into the stadium and watch games for free.

While in high school, Paulos worked a job as an elevator operator at the historic Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City, an experience that helped pique his interest for the hotel industry.

Paulos then attended a small college in New York for two years before one of his professors offered some life-altering advice.

That professor – “Mr. Douglas” – told Paulos he had just been hired as the dean of a new hotel program at Nevada Southern University, which would later become known as UNLV. Mr. Douglas encouraged Paulos and four others to transfer. They did just that, but when they got out here, they were told there was no Mr. Douglas with the hotel school.

To this day, Paulos doesn’t know exactly what happened to Douglas, but it all worked out for the best, at least for Paulos.

Meanwhile, Wortman, 69, was born and raised in Las Vegas. His father was stationed at the old Las Vegas Army Airfield, now known as Nellis Air Force Base.

Wortman, who graduated from Las Vegas High, had joined the Teamsters by the age of 16 while working for a company that filled vending machines throughout the city. He attended Nevada-Reno for one semester before transferring back to Nevada Southern (UNLV) and graduating with a degree in accounting.

Wortman was a CPA with Laventhol & Horwath, which had numerous casino clients, when he met Paulos for the first time in the mid-1970’s.

“We looked each other in the eyes …” Wortman said, laughing, before Paulos completed their comedic routine, adding, “It was love at first sight.”

They quickly became friends, socializing on occasion and often talking about their passion for playing softball. Their business venture together, however, wouldn’t take off for many more years.

Both bounced around in various roles. Paulos became director of hotel administration for Circus Circus, was the GM at Silver City Casino, helped open Excalibur and Luxor, and even spent a year with a casino in Melbourne, Australia.

Wortman got into the casino business in 1978 when he was named the financial controller for Caesars Palace. He even helped promote “The Last Hurrah” bout in 1980 when Larry Holmes pummeled an aging Muhammad Ali. It was actually Ali’s second-to-last fight.

A few years later, Wortman ventured out on his own and purchased two casinos in northern Nevada.

Finally, in 1995, the Paulos-Wortman friendship was rekindled after they ran into each other with their wives one day at Sunset Park.

Paulos was working near the California-Nevada state line in Primm at the time, and Wortman told him, “We’ve made a lot of money for a lot of other people. It’s about time we made a lot of money for ourselves.”

Within a year, Millennium Management Group was formed. Their first deal was to represent a group starting the Greektown casino in Detroit. They also ran the Rampart Casino in Summerlin for a while, but their real ambition was to build their own casino in North Las Vegas.

Financing was an issue initially – “We were doing everything on my credit card, which we ran up to about $750,000,” Paulos said – before a hard-money lender, charging a high interest rate, came through with a $40 million loan.

Numerous naysayers questioned them about the North Las Vegas location.

“They were wrong,” Wortman said. “To us, it was a no-brainer. It’s a location that’s right off the freeway (I-15). We knew we were developing something special.”

The Cannery opened on Jan. 3, 2003, with rave reviews, followed by the Eastside Cannery five years later.

It’s been a perfect match of two great friends and two great business partners.

Both love to joke around, which helps, much of which is self-deprecating.

When asked for their ages, Paulos said, “I’m three years older than dirt and he’s four years older than dirt.”

And after a photo opportunity is requested, Paulos yelled out to his secretary, “Will you get that 30-year-old photo when I had hair?”

“Humor around here is No. 1,” Paulos said. “If you can’t laugh and you can’t laugh at yourself or you can’t laugh with the guys and gals you’re around, it becomes a very long day.”

Wortman also attributes their success to their employees who have been “extremely loyal, extremely talented people that have made our lives much, much easier.”

“The Bills” insist they’ve never had a real argument.

“It’s hard to say it’s even give-and-take because 99.9 percent of the time we’re on the same page,” Paulos said.

It’s not uncommon for one to finish the other’s sentence. They know each other that well.

Both are avid UNLV basketball fans who occasionally take trips to follow the Rebels on the road. They’ve even gone on cruises together with their wives.

“We travel well together,” Paulos said.

They know what they have is very rare when it comes to business partners in this day and age.

“I think it’s almost extinct,” Wortman said. “I don’t know of another one. I really don’t. Not for this long and not to this degree.”

He paused and said with a grin, “It’s been a good ride.”

To which Paulos added with an even bigger smile, “Oh my gosh, yeah.”

Dave Dye is a former sportswriter for the Detroit News and He has covered six Stanley Cup Finals, five Final Fours, three NBA Finals, three Rose Bowls and one World Series. Email: [email protected].