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Company founder ‘shuffles’ his dreams

Nov 11, 2003 7:25 AM

In the gaming industry, Shuffle Master has grown to become one of the most respected names in the business, producing table games, slot machines and, of course, its signature shuffling devices.

Equally important, Shuffle Master represents one of America’s true success stories. The company’s growth was a 10-year, overnight success story, in fact.

What began as a truck driver’s idea became a $600 million corporate giant in a classic rags to riches scenario.

"I truly lived the Great American Dream," said founder John Breeding, who turned 65 last month. "I was a truck driver in 1982. During one of my breaks, I read an article in the Wall Street Journal that triggered an idea about the feasibility of producing an automatic card shuffler

"I never wanted to be a captain of industry," Breeding continued, adding that he believed he was "an entrepreneur who had overstayed his usefulness."

Thus, Breeding left the company he founded and turned to the "soft" life ”” selling furniture.

Thus he is now applying his entrepreneurial skills to Zinaz, a retail furniture and home decorating center that opened last week in Henderson.

"Once I had the people in place at Shuffle Master like CEO John Lahti, I knew they could take the company to the next level," Breeding said.

His leaving, however, doesn’t diminish the insight it took in setting up Shuffle Master.

"I was never a gambler," Breeding said. "While driving down the highway, I decided to design this thing in my mind. I went to see a mechanical engineer and he said he thought we could do this. We failed, so I had to raise some money."

Breeding decided to incorporate in order to raise funds and came up with $30,000. He was told the company plan could be implemented in six months. It wasn’t.

"My determination to see the dream through was that I wasn’t playing with my money any more," Breeding said. "It was my friends and friends of their friends. Lots of blue-collar workers were investing in my dream. It wasn’t a situation where you get frustrated and throw the thing on the floor."

So with some imaginative "shuffling," Breeding convinced enough backers to raise $1.3 million. The process took 10 years, but in 1992 the first automatic shufflers debuted at Bally’s Las Vegas.

"The first year we sent off 56 shufflers," Breeding said. "The second year over 250, the third year 1,000. Now the company produces 11,000 automatic shufflers, plus the Let It Ride game, Three Card Poker and other products."

At the height of Shuffle Master’s success in 1997, Breeding decided walk away and retire with his wife to Sedona, Arizona.

"I built a home there and kept in touch with the company," he said. "When my wife passed away last year, I needed something. The opportunity with Zinaz presented itself and I was energized. We bought some 4,000 pieces of furniture and nearly 12,000 accessories from all over the world. It’s very colorful and whimsical — it’s a browser’s paradise."

Plans for Zinaz are to say on the West Coast for the next year or two, then head east. In the meantime, Breeding is still gung-ho about the gaming industry.

"I am very pleased in the direction Shuffle Master is going," he said. Gaming is one of the most stable industries you could be employed with or invest in. It never drops too far, never climbs too high. Trying to stay ahead of the competition keeps the momentum going forward."

Tom Barry, legal representative for Shuffle Master, said Breeding’s strong will made Shuffle Master a success.

"I always believed in John," Barry said. "His original models at Shuffle Master were awfully big. As the computers and circuitry became smaller, he maintained the ability to stay a step ahead. He will do the same in his new venture."

Even though he is enjoying the "soft" furniture life, Breeding did leave the door open for a return to gaming if the right opportunity came along.

"If Steve Wynn made an offer, I would be flattered," he said. "There is no place like Las Vegas. I love it."