Marc Weiswasser

What’s in a Title?

VICE PRESIDENT of Operations

Most of us are familiar with the large casinos in Las Vegas or Atlantic City, but how many of us have been to a small casino in a rural setting? Across the U.S. there are 435 casinos that have between 50 and 300 slot machines, with the majority of these located in Nevada. Some of the smaller towns include Fernley, Lovelock, Tonopah, Minden and Wells. I thought we would take a peek at one of these smaller operations and chat with an executive from a rural property.

Marcus Suan started his gaming career as Senior Computer Designer with IGT – one of the largest slot machine manufacturers – designing casino floor layouts at more than 1,500 casinos worldwide. He also worked for Coast Casinos and successfully opened up the South Coast, Suncoast and The Orleans in Las Vegas. He had experience with Boyd Gaming and was the Chief Operating Officer and General Manager of the Railroad Pass in Henderson, Nevada. For more than 18 months he has been at a small town in Northern Nevada as the Vice President of Operations.

G&L: Tell us about the Red Lion and Gold Country properties.

MS: The Red Lion Hotel & Casino and the Gold Country Inn are located in Elko, Nevada, which is in the heart of the largest producing gold mining district in the U.S. and the fourth largest gold producing area in the world. The properties are owned by Larry Woolf, who was recently inducted into the Gaming Hall of Fame and is founder of Navegante, a casino management firm.

The Red Lion is the largest, nicest and only full-service property in Elko. It has more than 400 employees, 222 hotel rooms, 300 of the most popular slot and video games, eight table games, a poker room and three dining options.

The Gold Country Inn, located directly across the street from the Red Lion, has 150 hotel rooms, more than 100 gaming devices, billiards and an RV park. A nice attribute is that it is adjacent to a shopping center with lots of options including a huge grocery store.

Marcus Suan, Vice President
of Operations for Red Lion and
Gold Country properties.

Marcus Suan, Vice President
of Operations for Red Lion and
Gold Country properties.

The Elko area is also known as Cowboy Country where the famous Cowboy Poetry gathering is held every year. It is also home to a very large Basque community and hosts the annual National Basque Festival. The properties are located on Interstate 80, convenient from Twin Falls, Idaho; Salt Lake City, Utah; and Reno, Nevada. We are not a destination resort, so to speak, and receive a lot of business from travelers going to or from major cities.

G&L: What is the history behind the properties?

MS: The properties were part of a portfolio that Tod McClaskey developed and operated throughout the northwest. He, along with partner Ed Pietz, bought the first of their Red Lion properties in 1959 and grew the company to 52 properties with 11,000 workers in eight states, the largest privately held hotel chain west of the Mississippi River at the time. The Elko Red Lion was unique as it was built with a casino

Mr. McClaskey took advantage of the fact that gaming was only taking place in Nevada and Atlantic City. Elko had a great airport, and he envisioned casino junkets being brought to Elko, which he successfully did by developing Casino Express Airlines and had multiple daily flights coming in and out all over the west coast. After his passing, Navegante purchased the Red Lion portfolio, excluding the Casino Express planes. Since then, Navegante has redeveloped and spent millions modernizing the properties.

G&L: Describe a typical day in your work schedule.

MS: There is never a typical workday, but I try to start the morning going through business emails, which might pertain to a slot machine jackpot notification, security incident, customer issue or anything else that the staff feels needs my attention. I walk the floor and check in with all the managers, directors and staff and then walk the interior and exteriors.

Customers are always the first objective of every day. I want to be sure that they enjoy their time spent on the property. Secondly, I focus on the employees because, for the most part, they love our properties and consider them home. We are like family.

G&L: How many people do you have under you, and who do you report to?

MS: We have approximately 430 employees and are one of the biggest employers, with one of the biggest payrolls, in the entire county. One department we have that is not typical is our Chevron Station and Convenience Store, which is a very busy amenity. This has been a fun learning experience for me, and I work for and report directly to the owners.

G&L: What are some of the biggest challenges in your department?

MS: As mentioned, the Red Lion is located in the heart of the nation’s largest gold mining district. The mining operations are unbelievable, and the employers are incredible and offer great pay, awesome benefits and are some of the best community partners I have ever seen. Given that, collectively the mining industry generates thousands of jobs which keep the unemployment levels in Elko and the surrounding counties very low – standing at this moment at 2.9 percent. So, my primary challenge is staffing. Competition for gaming employees is fierce, but in the end, everyone wants to work at the Red Lion as it is the biggest and best property in the area and known to be a great place to work!

G&L: Where do you see the future of the industry going?

MS: I have been in gaming for almost 30 years and have seen the industry go from Hollerith punch cards to magstripe, from coin-in slot machines to bill acceptors and from coin-out hoppers to ticket printers. I see gaming continue to grow with the latest and greatest in technology because the next generation of gamblers will be the most computer literate yet, and regulators will have to keep up with that technology, too.

Whether it be a large casino in Atlantic City, or a smaller casino in Elko, Nevada, there are a lot of similarities in running the operations. As such I’d like to thank Marcus for his comments, and if you have any comments, I would appreciate hearing from you, too!

Marc Weiswasser is a Managing Member of, an Executive Recruiting firm for the gaming & hospitality industry. He can be reached at 702-947-8897, or