As Gaming Today’s print edition comes to an end after 45 years, we talked to publisher Bill Paulos for his thoughts on his experience of owning a newspaper, growing it, and trying to keep GT going during a pandemic.
GT: When you bought Gaming Today almost three years ago, what enticed you to buy a newspaper? You never owned a newspaper before.
BP: It was interesting. It was a newspaper that I was familiar with, back when it was called the Sports Form. I was a 29-year-old general manager at the Marina Hotel and I would sit down in the employees dining room and read the Sports Form.
Then I met Chuck DiRocco in 1983 when I was down in Laughlin building the Edgewater and the Colorado Belle. He was our disseminator for the tracks and we would go back and forth on the costs and the liability of the dissemination. As time went on, a few years ago, I sat down with Eileen DiRocco and we said that maybe there was a way it would fit in with our existing company, Engaged Nation. But the deal didn’t work out.
A couple years later, it did work out. We wanted to do more on the digital side and the business model had to change. But we said, let’s keep printing the newspaper and see if we could go national with it and do more things digitally with it.
We did. We were very successful. Then COVID-19 hit. It decimated us and it made properties realize that things were going to have to change and they weren’t going to be able to do handouts like they had before and people didn’t want to touch anyone else’s newspaper.
We had ascertained in our research that everybody who picked up a newspaper was read by five others. Without that circulation, advertising dries up pretty quickly.
GT: What was your vision for the print edition and the website?
BP: Our vision was to make it more of a newspaper and not just a throwaway. And we ran it like a newspaper, which we were very successful at. We changed the look of the paper in November 2018 and advertising went up. And frankly, we did an amazing job on the website. The website went from virtually no eyes to over 100,000 page views a month.
GT: What was the biggest obstacle you had to overcome in getting your goals met?
BP: The biggest obstacle, I believe, was the cost of completely changing the business model. It was a very high cost to change it from what we were doing to what we wanted. By keeping the business model we had and increasing the value of our website. we partially met our goals but we didn’t get there.
We were turning the corner and we were starting to gallop down the final stretch when COVID hit and it stopped us cold.
GT: Let’s talk about last March. You had a very hard decision to make — fold Gaming Today or keep it going. You chose to keep it going. Why?
BP: We didn’t know what the future was going to be. I didn’t think COVID was going to last a year. We had employees and writers who depended on their jobs and what they did for Gaming Today.
So I made the decision to hold off and see what we could do and turn it around. Unfortunately, COVID lasted longer than I was able to.
The truth of the matter is with the sale, we got all our money back and everything’s even. From a business perspective, it worked out. The sad thing is an icon in Las Vegas is no longer there and that’s a shame. I didn’t see an uptick in circulation for a very long time.
GT: Did the state of the casinos enter into your decision to sell?
BP: Absolutely. When the casinos reopened, many weren’t willing or able to take the paper and that was obviously hard for us. Nationally, we were sending papers to Atlantic City, to Mississippi, to Pennsylvania. But they didn’t want to take them and it pretty much made the decision for us.
When you look back on it, you had to do something. So when i15 Media called, they made a proposal, it was a proposal that made sense for me business-wise and I could get out whole and also help those people who were working for us.
GT: You’ve owned so many businesses in your life. How does this one rank in terms of emotional investment and fun. Did you enjoy your experience as a publisher?
BP: Obviously, it was fun. Every business I’ve ever had, the energy of the business comes from the people who work in it. That was fun. Working with you guys, learning the business. That was fun.
You have to understand, you’re looking at a guy from New York City who barely could complete a sentence without an expletive. And now, as a publisher of a newspaper, that’s pretty heady stuff. So it was fun to do. How can you hate reading and writing about sports? It was insanely enjoyable.
GT: What will you miss the most about not being able to pick up that paper every Wednesday morning and go through it as you’re drinking your coffee?
BP: Just the actual picking up the paper. I love Jack Sheehan’s stories. The writers…our sports writers and guys who helped our readers with betting. They’re all phenomenal. They didn’t have great seasons every year with their picks, but they gave you the facts as they were out there.
There was no “Fake News” in Gaming Today.
GT: When you saw how it evolved from the old days, what did it mean to you?
BP: There’s a tremendous amount of pride in the growth and the look of the paper and how it read. In my mind, it was a much more coherent assembly of sports news. That’s what we were trying to accomplish when we changed it in 2018.
We believe we accomplished it. The response from our readers was tremendous. Our circulation was at its highest ebb, everything was going great until COVID-19 hit. We just took the hit. Unfortunately, it’s one of those scenarios no one saw coming. We thought we were going to ride the wave of the growth of sports betting but we were unable to stay with it.
One of our scenarios was everyone knew Gaming Today as the Las Vegas newspaper. Trying to get past that feel, we hired guys from the Midwest and from the East. In hindsight, we probably should have done more of that. But the expansion was so quick, there were so many states, it was tough for us to keep up.
GT: Any final thoughts about being a publisher?
BP: It’s a heady thing. I didn’t buy the newspaper to put my ideas over or try and have an agenda. I wanted a good sports newspaper. I wanted to make it better than it was. We had some things we were going to do which just didn’t evolve for one reason or another.
I’ll certainly miss the day-to-day activity with the employees of the newspaper. The quality was second to none. We had a Hall of Fame editor. We had a tremendous general manager (Howard Barish). We had people who had been with the paper almost since the beginning.
So it was wonderful to be able to continue what Chuck DiRocco had started. Chuck was a bon vivant. He was certainly a player. He loved the horses and playing Blackjack. He hit every casino every night to see what was going on in the city.
Our focus was much more on sports betting. It was more of a B to C business than a B to B to C business. PASPA changed everything, 100 percent.
All the properties who advertised with us over the years, those who are advertising with us in this, our final edition, it’s been heartwarming. They understand that half of the gross is going to the (Three Square) food bank. Obviously, everyone knows that Las Vegas is going through some very hard times and anything we can do to help is just a positive.
It’s a sign of the times. I think i15 Media will do a fine job with their business model and the name “Gaming Today” will go on.