Gaming leadership: Holly Gagnon ‘pivots’ from CEO to consulting role Howard Stutz, CDC Gaming Reports · September 29, 2020 at 7:20 am After the coronavirus pandemic forced Seneca Gaming Corp. to close its three upstate New York casinos in March, CEO Holly Gagnon put together an extensive reopening plan for the properties. However, Gagnon wasn’t around when the locks came off the doors in June. In mid-May, Seneca Indian Nation decided not to renew Gagnon’s contract, which expired at the end of that month. Gagnon was one of the gaming industry’s few female corporate CEOs. During her tenure, she oversaw the significant growth of the tribe’s properties, including a $40 million renovation at Seneca Niagara, a redesign of the hotel rooms at Seneca Allegany, and the introduction of sports betting at all three resorts. Seneca Buffalo Creek is located in downtown Buffalo. Seneca also became one of the largest private-sector employers in Western New York. “It’s been a privilege to work with the amazing team members,” she said in a May 19th statement. “I’m proud of everything we have accomplished together.” Gagnon didn’t waste any time moving onto new projects. She opened her own consulting business – HGC Hospitality Gaming Consulting – joined the University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ International Gaming Institute as a distinguished fellow, and is also helping IGI Executive Director Bo Bernhard plan the school’s upcoming Executive Development Program, which is moving from its annual Lake Tahoe setting to a virtual format for this year. In an interview, Gagnon said the pandemic and its associated disruption has given her one word that describes the year. “Pivot is really the perfect buzzword word for 2020,” she said. Gagnon has seen the gaming industry deal with “significant events and crises” during her career, such as the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 on New York and Washington D.C., the upheaval on the Gulf Coast due to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and, now, COVID-19. Crisis management and dealing with massive business disruption is part of the overall theme of the EDP conference. Gagnon, too, is pivoting – away from 12-hour days devoted to planning how to reopen Seneca’s casinos during a pandemic while keeping customers and the workforce safe and on to her next chapter. “I’m happy we had those plans in place and people were prepared,” Gagnon said. As for her next move, in some ways, she’s looking to take a breath. “It’s a tough year to make any plans,” Gagnon said. “It feels good to do more with UNLV. The consulting business allows me to give back. It’s important for our future that we educate the up and coming leaders in this industry.” Gagnon is a founding board member of the Global Gaming Women trade organization and has chaired its mentorship committee. Gagnon said she was proud that 60% of her management team were women, as were two of the three property general managers. Seneca Nation Vice Chairman Klint Nephew credited Gagnon’s leadership with keeping the tribe’s casinos “competitive in an over-saturated marketplace.” Prior to joining Seneca, Gagnon was CEO for Chumash Enterprises for the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians near Santa Barbara, California She began her gaming career at Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut, where she remained for eight years. She served in several financial and operational roles in six years with Harrah’s/Caesars Entertainment. Gagnon was a divisional vice president of finance with MGM Resorts and served as president of the company’s Gold Strike in Tunica, Mississippi. Bernhard said the IGI asked Gagnon to come aboard this summer. “We’re really fortunate to be able to build with this kind of talent and experience,” Bernhard said. He noted that, of Atlantic City’s nine casinos, four now have women general managers. Bernhard hopes to see that type of management at the corporate level. “It really unfortunate that there is a lack of female leaders in gaming,” he said. “I’m hoping that changes.” Howard Stutz is the executive editor of CDC Gaming Reports. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.