Lyle Berman shattered the notion that you had to be a gaming guy to be successful in the gaming industry. He quickly proved that if you could provide value to customers it didn't matter if you were selling coats or handle pulls.

I can’t claim to know Lyle Berman well. He spoke at one of our conferences a few years ago and I did get to chat with him for a few minutes. I said hello to him at G2E last year and he was very cordial. He didn’t have to be so nice. But that’s the way he is.

But I have followed Lyle Berman’s career. I have watched him play championship poker on ESPN. I’ve gotten to know dozens of senior-level executives who once worked for or are currently working for one of Lyle’s casino management companies. I’ve watched him innovate in the gaming industry with the World Poker Tour and with PokerTek. I’ve noticed his involvement with unique companies like Horizon Kid’s Quest and Rainforest Café. I’ve read “I’m All In,” his wisdom-filled book of life lessons and business stories.

As such, I don’t feel that I need to personally “know” Lyle Berman to unequivocally state that he has been the true quiet giant of the gaming industry and has contributed mightily to what is good about our business. He taught us customer focus when we didn’t much have one. He has trusted, empowered and supremely valued his employees before that notion became popular. He has embraced the communities in which he has done business. He has been far ahead of the marketing curve, understanding how product, promotion and pricing are linked, and that it is indeed wise to focus your marketing dollars on the customers who spend their gaming dollars with you.

Every gaming executive I know who has worked for Lyle Berman is a quality manager and a quality person. I don’t think that is a coincidence. I asked a few of them about him. One of them spoke about his amazing ability to admit a mistake quickly and insist that his executive team always challenge him to keep those mistakes to a minimum. Another related how he evaluated a competitor’s food product and quality - by taking his entire management team to the targeted restaurant and ordering (and sampling) everything on the menu. Another mentioned the prominent plaque in his office which speaks to “fighting hard, but when the day is done, moving the team forward”.

I was at the grand opening of Red Hawk Casino in California last year, which is managed by Lakes Entertainment, the second successful casino management company Lyle Berman has started. Lyle was there, but you never would have known it, as the grand opening ceremonies were about the tribe and its traditions, as well as the new employees of the new casino. It was clear that Lyle understands who he really serves as the company chairman.

“I’m All In,” his excellent book about his life and career, has a section about his “Thirteen Secrets For Success In Business”. Among the nuggets of advice (“Learn before investing … Develop the discipline to bail out of a bad investment … Invest your time as well as your money” … and more ) there were also the following Berman gems:

  • Trust your intuition.
  • Reduce hassles and time-wasters in your life.
  • Have a passion for your profession.
  • Understand the roles that luck and skill play in your success.
  • Remember that vision is nothing without execution.
  • Take the road less traveled.
Clearly, Lyle “gets it”. Whether it’s understanding business, people, or just what matters most.

Lyle Berman shattered the notion that you had to be a gaming guy to be successful in the gaming industry (he came out of the leather apparel industry, for crying out loud). He quickly proved, however, that if you could provide value to customers it didn’t matter if you were selling coats or handle pulls.

While there may be some out there, I have yet to meet a gaming executive who knows Lyle Berman who doesn’t like and respect him. That’s a rare thing in our rough-and-tumble industry.

But what I admire, even envy, most about him is that he has had fun along the way, and that the way has been Lyle’s way. If he wants to play high-stakes poker he does it. Start a casino management company, he does it, twice. Buy and sell a clothing business (three times), why not? Invest in concepts that look innovative but have huge risks, hey, it’s just a bet.

I have no idea what the future holds for Lyle Berman, and I’m betting that he doesn’t know either. But whatever it is that grabs his attention, his involvement or his investment, it’s a lock (to use a gambling term) that he will go all in.

Thanks, Lyle, for bringing that style and philosophy to the gaming industry and showing us something which, given the nature of our business, we should have been doing all along.