Lyle Berman, a successful businessman from Minnesota, and a world-class poker player, has a knack for getting involved with companies just before they bloom.
Right now, he is chairman of Lakes Entertainment Inc. (LACO), operator of two Native American casinos in Michigan and California; chairman of PokerTek.com, and founder of World Poker Tour whose shares were distributed among the employees.
After graduating from Minnesota University, he joined his father in the operation of a leather business. The company grew and was acquired by a national firm.
But it was his interest in gambling and his ability to see that the country was on the cusp of embracing casinos that caused him to form Grand Casinos Inc. That company opened eight casino resorts in four states within the next five years.
Meanwhile, his business interest caused him to be attracted to a new restaurant chain, Rainforest Café. He joined the company as chairman and president and remained for the next six years, even while operating his gaming company.
Through his poker interest, he met fellow high-stakes player Bob Stupak, the maverick Vegas World Hotel/Casino operator who had grand designs…the Stratosphere. When Stupak ran short of cash, he called on his poker buddy, Lyle Berman, who responded by having Grand Casinos Inc. become an equity partner.
In its own right, Grand Casinos was growing to the point that it merged with Hilton Hotel Casinos to form Park Place Entertainment. But, since Hilton was not interested in Indian casinos, that venture was spun off to form Lakes Entertainment Inc.
Now Berman’s eyes are focused on casino developments in Ohio, where his company participated in generating public support for their legalization. Lakes had a 10 percent interest in the two casinos being developed by Penn National Gaming Inc. (PENN) — Toledo and Columbus — but sold that interest to Penn National for $25 million.
The company retains a 10 percent interest in the casinos scheduled for Cleveland and Cincinnati. These are to be built by locally-owned Rock Entertainment and will be operated by Caesars Entertainment Corp.
His experience proves his business acumen and his insight while his poker ability is underscored by the three World Series of Poker bracelets he has won.
When asked what his next endeavor would be, Berman recently responded: “We’re looking.”