John Breeding: From truck driver to Gaming Hall of Fame inducteeBy Howard Stutz, CDC Gaming ReportsSeptember 20, 2017 at 11:18 pmIn the mid-1990s, I was part of a team of ambitious 30-something advertising and public relations types from R&R Advertising (now known as R&R Partners). One afternoon, we had the opportunity to meet with the leadership of Shuffle Master, Inc., a small gaming company, at their nondescript Las Vegas offices on Industrial Road (now Dean Martin Drive).Shuffle Master founder and CEO John Breeding had invented a new table game, Let It Ride, which the Minnesota-based operation planned to market to casinos. Breeding, a former long-haul trucker, invented Let It Ride at the insistence of his wife, after a single-deck playing card shuffler he created – and which took 10 years of work – had failed to gain much traction in casinos, which often used three to five card decks in its blackjack games.“My wife said, ‘If you’re so smart, why don’t you invent a game that only uses one deck,’” Breeding told us in that initial meeting. “So I did.”Let It Ride is a poker-based game where a player wins on the results of a five-card hand. The dealer does not have a hand in the game, and the twist is the player has the opportunity to decrease bets if they aren’t happy with the cards. Players can withdraw their initial wagers when a community card is shown, or they can, fittingly, Let It Ride.We were intrigued by the game. Breeding and his top executives – chief financial officer Joe Lahti and sales, service and marketing officer Bill O’Hara – were also curious about us; R&R was the biggest marketing operation in the state.“Why would you care about a little company like us?” the tall, lanky Breeding asked us, in his Midwestern, homespun manner.The answer was obvious: we loved the concept of Let It Ride. It had been approved by Nevada gaming regulators, and the idea of introducing this new game to casinos and the public, and marketing an innovative new gaming company, was a welcome challenge.We also quickly became fond of Breeding and his story. He began tinkering with the idea of developing an automated card shuffler after reading a Wall Street Journal article about casinos dealing with card counting at blackjack tables. Breeding told us he went bankrupt several times while developing the single-deck shuffler. Eventually, he gained the patent and founded Shuffle Master.Breeding and Shuffle Master had more than just Let It Ride; the company was also looking to launch a variety of multi-deck card shufflers. Shuffle Master was giving casinos that took Let It Ride tables a single deck shuffler, as a sort of sample of what they had to offer.Breeding wanted some outside marketing help.Shuffle Master and Breeding got our creative juices flowing. Our first suggestion was to rename the company “Shuffle Master Gaming,” which Breeding and his team quickly accepted.Breeding was the perfect story for business and feature reporters. He did interviews in Las Vegas and Reno, telling the hardscrabble story of going bankrupt while creating a card shuffler and then coming up with a new game that was easy to learn and unique to casinos.Former Las Vegas television reporter Scott Andrus and I came up with a novel idea when he wanted to interview Breeding. We took the gaming executive to the old Flying J Truck Stop on Blue Diamond Road and sat him in the driver’s seat of a 16-wheeler, the kind of truck he used to drive cross-country while coming with the genesis of Shuffle Master. Andrus conducted the interview with Breeding in the truck’s cab.Shuffle Master quickly took off. R&R represented the company for about a year, until Breeding and the team no longer needed our help. By then, they had a growing and successful gaming business to take public.Eventually, Breeding sold his stake in Shuffle Master and retired. Shuffle Master continued expanding, branching into casino management systems, proprietary table games and table games management equipment. Bally Technologies bought the company – since renamed SHFL – in 2013 for $1.3 billion. A year later, Scientific Games paid $5.1 billion for Bally, including the Shuffle Master brand.I have thought about Breeding frequently over the years. The fond memories came flowing back on Tuesday, when the American Gaming Association announced that he was one of four inductees in Gaming Hall of Fame’s Class of 2017, alongside casino developer and philanthropist Diana Bennett, slot machine developer Joe Kaminkow and Nevada businessman Melvin B. Wolzinger.From the cab of his long-haul truck, Breeding created gaming equipment that is now commonplace in casinos around the world. He has earned his place among the gaming elite.Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.