Giovenco poised to replace Dan Lee at Pinnacle?

Nov 17, 2009 5:02 PM
Gaming Insider by Phil Hevener |

Will John Giovenco jump at his opportunity to get back into the CEO business and replace Dan Lee in the top job at Pinnacle Entertainment?

It depends.

I found interesting views on either side of this issue during my informal poll of gaming executives who have previously seen a lot of the former Hilton Gaming boss’s approach to life in the casino business.

A former senior Hilton executive who worked close to Giovenco for years concluded, "I can’t imagine him doing anything other than taking a decent amount of time – maybe a couple weeks – to search the world for talent before deciding there is no one better suited than him to running the company."

If Giovenco takes this road to the future, it might speed up the process that will eventually have Pinnacle planting its first marquee in the Las Vegas area."

But another former Hilton employee disagreed. "John’s not the young man he once was. I think he lives back East now and Pinnacle, not having a major Las Vegas address at this point, is going to make a difference to him. Pinnacle does not yet have a nice place for him to hang his hat in Las Vegas … Going to lunch at someone else’s hotel is not likely to interest him."

But the good news for Pinnacle is that it has a deep bench.

Experienced executive help was just a phone call away as Lee abruptly resigned last week following his heated exchange with a St. Louis County Council member whose vote on a rezoning matter was not to Lee’s liking. The vote involved a Pinnacle competitor.

 The result is that Pinnacle board members Giovenco and Richard Goeglein, a senior executive a few years ago with the Aladdin, quickly stepped up to take care of things until Lee’s replacement is found. CEO is probably not the job for Goeglein, but whatever the decision may be, there is no shortage of top executive talent, considering the number of people who have left other companies and appear to have a lot of time on their hands.

As for Lee, he has previously shown a tendency to make remarks he might have pulled back had he given them a bit more thought. He labeled Boyd Gaming’s successful Delta Downs in Louisiana "a piss ant little horse place with slot machines up under the grandstand out in the tobacco fields."

This was during a recent conversation with gaming analysts who were questioning Lee about competitive factors in the Lake Charles, Louisiana, area where both companies operate.

In St. Louis last week, Lee was attending a County Council meeting that approved a zoning matter for a casino development that will compete with Pinnacle’s River City complex. The latter is opening in the spring.

Missouri gaming officials who are always on the alert for any kind of reason to give the gaming business a figurative strip search, called for a state police investigation of Lee’s comments to Councilman Steve Stenger. What Lee had said when he got in Stenger’s face was that he "never ever forgets things like this," presumably referring to the vote.

Where did Lee think he was, in Nevada or something? He has never perfected the skills necessary to appear humble and appreciative of Missouri’s willingness to let gaming executives walk around, breathing the same air as regular people. He forgot that some state governments – Missouri being one of them – prefer to keep the gaming industry and its leaders on the shortest possible leash.

On the other hand, perhaps Bill Boyd saw the chance for a little payback and got on the phone to a St. Louis friend saying he wouldn’t mind if …

No, no, no. I’m letting my imagination run away with me. That kind of thing only happens in the movies, right?

Question? Comment? E-mail me at: Phil Hevener