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Tony Mistretta has held several executive positions at Las Vegas casinos, including currently as vice president of marketing for SLS, located where the Sahara used to stand on the northern end of The Strip.

For Mistretta, who moved here from Buffalo, N.Y. in 1995, some of the best memories of his career always will be the years he spent as a casino host.

“It’s the most exciting job in the world,” Mistretta said. “You get to solve problems for people, make them happy, fix their trip.”

Not only did one of his clients introduce him to the woman he ultimately married nine years ago, but Mistretta also got to hang with and live the life of the rich, if not famous. One of his favorite experiences was taking 30 high rollers to Waterfall Resort, a fishing lodge in Alaska. Mistretta said they brought back 100 pounds of salmon, halibut and red snapper.

“We can do many things with our players that we could not do on our own,” he said. “But you always have to be sure to keep one solid foot in reality, knowing that this is the player’s lifestyle, not yours.”

SLS, which stands for “style, luxury and service,” opened two years ago this week following a $415 million renovation after the Sahara shut down.

Mistretta has been on the job for four months following a short stint at the Downtown Grand. He’s also worked in executive roles at M, Hard Rock and the Palms in recent years. It’s a long way from the construction job he left in Buffalo.

Mistretta said he attended college at Buffalo State for six years, changing majors three times, but never graduated. He had a difficult time trying to decide exactly what he wanted to do with the rest of his life.

His late mother, June, raised him by herself after her husband of 18 years died from a heart attack when Tony, the couple’s only child, was just 2 months old. She asked her son, who was in his mid-20s at the time, “Do you want to be swinging a sledgehammer when you’re 40?” and then encouraged him to follow some trusted friends to Vegas.

“My mother was an amazing person,” he said. “To have the strength to tell me I should move across the country and see what I can make of myself and to make her proud. She also told me, ‘Just don’t ever give up your (Catholic) faith.’”

Mistretta, 49, said he’s proud of being from a blue-collar city like Buffalo, but he and his mother realized he had to get out to get ahead.

“The opportunities weren’t quite there anymore,” he said. “Las Vegas had a lot of opportunities.”

He’s certainly taken advantage of those, working his way to the top after starting out as a telephone operator at MGM. At one point, he became an independent rep, where he got paid commission only for the customers he brought to casinos, with no benefits. That was exciting for a while, but then he got married, had a kid and realized he needed more financial stability.

“When you work for yourself, you only eat what you kill,” he said.

Mistretta decided to go back to totally working for the casino. Well, casinos.

Many top executives in this industry tend to change properties from time to time. Your team today could be your primary competition tomorrow.

“Big city but a small town,” is how Mistretta described it.

When he got his first casino-host job at the Rio, a mentor of his told him, “Always be good to everybody on your way up because you’re going to see every one of them on the way down.”

“There’s kids that were clerks at the Rio (when he worked there) that are now vice presidents or GMs at other properties,” Mistretta said. “That’s how this city works. It’s a very different industry. It’s so close-knit that most people know almost everybody.”

Mistretta said he was attracted to SLS because it has “a lot of potential.” So far, he’s been focused mostly on organizing the promotional schedule. He said he’s also tried to be aggressive and give the casino what he called “the best baccarat rebate program in the city.”

What he likes most as a VP these days, however, is being able to mentor others who are working their way up in the industry like he once did.

“As I got older,” Mistretta said, “that became more important than chasing down the biggest players.”

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