|By Karen Florin, The Day, New London,
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Apr. 25, 2006 - Mohegan -- William J. Velardo has resigned as chief executive of the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority following an 11-year tenure that saw the tribe's Uncasville casino evolve from a hole in the dirt to a thriving, billion-dollar corporation.
Velardo, whose last day at Mohegan is May 4, will be returning to his hometown of Las Vegas to work in an undisclosed casino beginning June 1. He said Tuesday that his new employers asked him not to speak about his new job for a few more days.
"It will be quite an adjustment to return to Las Vegas," he said. "With respect to Mohegan, they are in very capable hands."
Though he was under contract with the Mohegans until 2009, Velardo, 51, said he wanted to be closer to his 80-year-old mother, son and other family members who live in Vegas.
Mitchell Etess, president and chief executive of Mohegan Sun, will assume the additional duties of chief executive of the gaming authority, which is the tribe's corporate arm. Jeff E. Hartmann, chief operating officer of Mohegan Sun, will serve as chief operating officer of the authority.
Mohegan Tribal Chairman Bruce "Two Dogs" Bozsum said Velardo has been talking with him about the potential for leaving.
"An opportunity came up suddenly, and he took it," Bozsum said of Velardo's quick departure. "I guess we were sort of lucky to have him here for so long. He's been here from Day One and put a lot of effort into making us successful."
Velardo, who earned $1.1 million last year and received a $373,000 bonus, started his gaming career as a busboy at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas, where his father once worked as general manager. He went on to become a blackjack dealer and eventually worked his way into management. He is a graduate of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, with a bachelor's degree in psychology and a master's degree in business administration.
By the time he arrived in Mohegan in 1995 as an executive vice president, he had worked in Lake Tahoe and New Orleans and served as senior vice president of casino operations at Trump Plaza in Atlantic City.
At Mohegan Sun, where Velardo helped the Mohegans develop their initial business plan, he had made it a point to learn every employee name, but then the business grew too quickly. When he walked the gaming floor, he would stop to pick up garbage and throw it away. He worked closely with problem-gambling professionals, telling them frankly that "allowing someone to consume the product when you know the person suffers from a gambling disorder is wrong."
Bozsum said Velardo was a good leader who had a great sense for gaming and changes in the industry. In 2004, after serving as Mohegan Sun's president, general manager and chief executive officer for four years, Velardo relinquished daily management of the casino to Etess to concentrate on the Mohegan's out-of-state gaming investments. The tribe purchased the Pocono Downs Raceway in 2004 and is still waiting for a license to operate slot machines at the harness-racing facility. The Mohegans also are partnering with tribes to open in Wisconsin and Washington State.
"All plans are on schedule, with the exception of the delays we have experienced in Pennsylvania," Velardo said Tuesday.
The Pennsylvania gaming board is scheduled to hold a licensing hearing on the Pocono Downs project Thursday.
Etess, a longtime friend and colleague of Velardo, said he is sad to see him go, but that the property is in good shape.
"What he's done here, to have been the general manager of a property that went from where we started to what it is today, is incredible," Etess said. "The culture that has been developed among the employees is a real tribute to Bill."
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Copyright (c) 2006, The Day, New London, Conn.
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