September 19, 2017
By Richard N. Velotta
A casino manager and philanthropist, the inventor of the automatic card shuffler, the man who brought “Wheel of Fortune” to casinos and a businessman who pioneered gaming along the Rancho Drive corridor and participated in the development of major Strip resorts will be inducted to the American Gaming Association’s Gaming Hall of Fame next month.
Diana Bennett, John Breeding, Joe Kaminkow and Melvin Wolzinger will be presented with the industry’s highest honor in an invitation-only ceremony Oct. 4 at the Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas.
“The class of 2017 is quite special in the unique ways they shaped the casino-gaming industry,” said Geoff Freeman, president and CEO of the association, which will bring about 26,000 industry professionals to the Sands Expo and Convention Center for its G2E show Oct. 3-5.
“From revolutionizing the way games are seen and experienced, to reshaping employee operations and business development, these leaders’ achievements extend throughout the nation and even the world,” Freeman said in a statement announcing the honorees.
The Gaming Hall of Fame, formed in 1989, has honored leaders who have distinguished themselves through significant contributions to the industry. This year, more than 100 people were nominated for the recognition with four selected by a committee of seven gaming industry stakeholders.
Bennett, daughter of industry icon William Bennett who led MGM ResortsInternational predecessor Circus Circus Enterprises, started her gaming career at the Flamingo. She eventually joined her father at Circus Circus and led the development of Excalibur and Luxor for the company.
She branched into computerized gaming systems and was president of Casino Data Systems, which was acquired by Australia-based Aristocrat Technologies in 2001.
Bennett worked with privately held Paragon Gaming and under her leadership developed River Cree Resort and Casino in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, and led revitalization efforts at Las Vegas’ Riviera Hotel. Paragon also assumed operations at Westgate Las Vegas and the Hooters Hotel, acquiring the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Lake Tahoe and developing Parq Vancouver.
Today, Bennett is president of the Bennett Family Foundation leading charitable efforts for youth and women’s organizations, educational and health initiatives and the arts.
Breeding was working as a long-haul truck driver in the 1980s and was fascinated by blackjack card-counters beating casinos in Atlantic City when came up with the idea of an automatic card-shuffling machine.
Breeding developed the Shuffle Master, the first of dozens of card shufflers he invented in his home. His Minnesota-based company eventually developed chip sorters for roulette, electronic table games, internet games and a new table game that could use the shuffler he devised — Let It Ride.
His company, Shuffle Master Entertainment, was acquired by Las Vegas-based Scientific Games and ceased operations in 2013.
Kaminkow was one of the pioneers of bringing pop culture into gaming. He led the industry’s development of slot machines tied to licensing brands from movies, television shows, quiz shows and personalities.
His most successful pairing of “Wheel of Fortune” to slot machines is a casino staple. He also brought “Sex and the City,” “Game of Thrones” and Britney Spears to slot designs.
Kaminkow founded his own online social gaming company before being tapped by Aristocrat to bring his games to the casino floors in an immersive experience with new-age cabinets.
Wolzinger, known as “a founder of Las Vegas,” has been in the industry for 70 years, moving to Las Vegas to develop a slot route after retiring from the Air Force in 1946.
He opened Ernie’s Bar in 1962 in what was then the north end of town along Rancho Drive. His efforts eventually led to the arrival of Texas Station and Fiesta Rancho to the neighborhood.
He was an investor in Steve Wynn’s Golden Nugget in the 1970s and served on the Mirage Resorts board of directors from 1973 to 2000. When MGM Resorts International acquired Mirage, he served on that board through 2012 when he was named director emeritus of MGM.
Wolzinger also led many nonprofit organizations spanning education, athletics and the Jewish community.
At a glance
The Global Gaming Expo is the largest annual gathering of the $240 billion U.S. casino industry, which supports 1.7 million jobs in 40 states and is Nevada’s dominant employer.