When you worked with Scott Menke and Diana Bennett, you became part of their extended family. That was a sentiment expressed repeatedly Monday as news of Menke’s death circulated among the Las Vegas gaming and hospitality community.
Menke, 56, co-founded Las Vegas-based casino operator Paragon Gaming in 2000 with Bennett, his cousin and the daughter of gaming industry pioneer William Bennett. Menke was CEO, and Bennett served as chairwoman.
“It is with tremendous sadness that we announce the sudden passing of George Scott Menke, my cousin and a beloved member of our family, co-founder of Paragon Gaming, philanthropist and a visionary developer who served the Las Vegas community for more than 30 years,” Bennett said in a statement released by Paragon. “This is a painful, inconceivable loss, and our family respectfully asks for privacy at this time.”
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The company currently owns and manages Hard Rock Hotel-Casino Lake Tahoe and manages Oyo Casino Hotel in Las Vegas.
Menke had more than three decades of experience in the hospitality and gaming industry. Paragon, which was launched in 2000, developed Parq Vancouver in British Columbia, Canada. Located in the city’s entertainment district, Parq Vancouver was managed, developed, launched, and operated by Menke and Paragon until February 2019.
Las Vegas restauranteur Elizabeth Blau, who worked closely with Menke and Bennett on their projects, including Parq Vancouver, said he was a charismatic operator who set the tone for the development side of the business.
Menke was credited with expanding Paragon’s portfolio by managing properties over the years in Laughlin, western Canada, and two Strip resorts, the Riviera and Westgate Las Vegas.
“Scott was certainly one of the good guys,” said longtime Nevada political consultant and advertising executive Sig Rogich. “He and Diana had a tremendous partnership. She relied on him.”
To Blau, the working relationship developed into a family relationship. She said Menke and Bennett were “inseparable” and created a company that was “doing incredible things” for their community.
“You become part of their extended family when you work with them,” Blau said. “At his heart, Scott was so philanthropic. For any organization in the city, he and Diana were first to host an event or raise money.”
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Former Nevada Secretary of State Ross Miller, who worked as the legal counsel for Paragon, said Menke was more like an older brother to him than a boss. He called Menke’s passing “a tough loss for the community” and the “tight-knit” company.
“Scott was a godfather to countless people,” Miller said. “He was one of the most caring and tremendous individuals.”
Publicist Amy Rossetti said sharing the news of Menke’s passing was “truly one of the hardest things I have ever had to communicate.” She called Menke a mentor who encouraged her to work in-house with a Strip resort for the learning experience before she opened her own company and took on Paragon as a client.
“He was always tough on me, he made me work hard for everything, and I never will forget him for it,” Rossetti said.
Menke’s career was influenced by three members of the American Gaming Association’s Gaming Hall of Fame – his uncle William Bennett, Diana Bennett, and Si Redd, founder of International Game Technology.
Menke first came to Las Vegas in his early teens and later pursued a hospitality degree at UNLV. He interned at Circus Circus, where he was mentored by his uncle.
In 2016, Menke was profiled by UNLV as part of the “Fraternity of Brothers,” all of whom graduated from the hospitality college between 1986 and 1989 and went to work in the gaming industry, including George Maloof, Rob Oseland, and Scott Menke.
“He was a splendid guy, intensely loyal, who build a great cadre of friends,” Rogich said.
Being William Bennett’s nephew didn’t earn him any favors, Rogich recalled. Menke learned the essence of the casino business in order to understand how all the parts work together.
After graduation, Menke took on management roles at the newly opened Colorado Belle in Laughlin, Nevada, and later served in a similar capacity at the neighboring Edgewater Laughlin. Both properties were owned by Circus Circus Enterprises.
He was appointed to the company’s executive team in a role in which he reported directly to Bennett. Menke coordinated and oversaw development efforts of Las Vegas’ Excalibur and Luxor properties, which included a combined 10,000 hotel rooms that were constructed in the early 1990s on the southern end of the Las Vegas Strip.
After William Bennett left Circus Circus, Menke structured the acquisition of the Sahara in Las Vegas by his uncle’s Gordon Gaming. He then played a key role in the redevelopment and transition of the property to a new management team. In 1997, Menke led the reorganization of the Oasis Hotel-Casino in Mesquite on behalf of Redd.
Menke was single, but always surrounded by his numerous family members and friends. Services are pending.