Faces of Gaming is an occasional column from consultant Tom Osiecki about interesting and engaging people in the gaming industry.
As a young accountant and tax lawyer, Allan Solomon enjoyed working on mergers and acquisitions.
At the time, he couldn’t imagine that he’d become the co-founder of Isle of Capri Casinos and, after retirement, principal and chairman of the Foundation Gaming Group, which today owns two Mississippi casinos, the Waterview and Fitz hotel-casinos.
Solomon helped create a fast-growing, innovative casino company and was an integral participant in the development of the dockside gaming industry.
Along the way, he accumulated some remarkable stories.
In May 2022, Allan Solomon became the fourth person ever to be awarded the Industry Pioneer Award by the Mississippi Gaming Hall of Fame.
As pioneers go in the Mississippi gaming industry, it doesn’t get much better than Solomon’s ownership of gaming license number two.
With over four decades in the industry, Solomon served as executive vice president and counsel for Isle of Capri Casinos until 2008 and was initially chief financial officer and treasurer.
I knew Allan Solomon during my years as senior director of marketing and corporate marketing senior director at Isle of Capri Casinos, where Solomon was known for his enterprising business acumen.
In Solomon’s gaming career, he participated in two historic firsts.
Working alongside the late Bernie Goldstein, Solomon helped kick off gaming’s next wave as they spearheaded the first company in the country to open a riverboat casino. That opening day in Iowa was complete with a live broadcast of “Good Morning America” with Vanna White.
Later, as co-founder of Isle of Capri Casinos, Solomon helped open the first casino in Mississippi.
While working as a tax lawyer, Solomon helped Isle of Capri Casinos founder Bernie Goldstein solve a tax issue. That led to the relationship between Solomon and Goldstein that created Isle of Capri Casinos during the skyrocketing era of riverboat and dockside gaming.
“Bernie came up with the idea of riverboat gaming, because Iowa was the first state that thought about doing that. In Bettendorf, the slogan was, ‘Last one out, turn off the lights.’ And they did it, but the state put particular rules in at that time. You had to cruise for three hours. You could have gambling only while cruising. You couldn’t bet more than $10 on a hand at a time and you couldn’t lose more than $200 on a cruise.” Solomon said.
According to Solomon, Illinois quickly passed gaming. “We saw that Illinois forgot to put engines in the boats. So they didn’t have to leave the dock and there were no restrictions,” Solomon related.
Isle of Capri becomes reality
Faced with competition without restrictions across the river in Illinois, Bernie Goldstein moved the Emerald Lady and Diamond Lady riverboats down the Mississippi River to Biloxi.
“I’m sure that anyone who was in either the riverboat business or the gaming business thought we were crazy. I mean, who’s going to come and gamble in Biloxi and on a riverboat? It ended up that we didn’t have to cruise and there were no limitations,’” Solomon said.
“When we opened, it turned out to be an enormous success. People were waiting in line. We didn’t have room to put people on the ships. We were out during the day serving guests orange juice as they were in line,” Solomon recalled.
Mississippi modeled tax rates and regulations after Nevada, creating a favorable operating environment for the state’s new industry.
“That’s one of the remarkable things about Mississippi. They engaged in economic development, looking to develop the region and bring in jobs and visitors, and really had an idea for the future,” stated Solomon.
Adventures in development
From success born in Mississippi, Solomon moved across the country, looking to grow Isle of Capri Casinos. In the process, he helped create the wildly successful dockside gaming industry.
“I think we eventually ended up with 14 profitable casinos, but when I counted them up, I was involved in 18 or 19 different locations,” Solomon said.
“Our lawyer in Mississippi introduced us to the DeBartolo family in Louisiana and had access to open a casino in Bossier City or Shreveport. I went to New York and sat down with Salomon Brothers. At that time, they were intrigued that we had Biloxi and Vicksburg, and we needed money to do Bossier City, Louisiana. One of the senior partners came in. He listened to the story and said, ‘I don’t even know what I’m doing in this room.’ Well, within 30 days, they were lending us $105 million, our first loan,” Solomon recalled.
Topping Trump and Stations Casinos
Hilton owned a dockside property in Kansas City, Missouri, that was slated for sale by the board, giving Solomon an opportunity, though it required persistence.
“I was familiar with the vice president of Hilton, which was selling a casino in Kansas City. I said to him, ‘This is something we’d like to own.’ He said, ‘I got it sold to Donald Trump.’ I said, “What if Donald doesn’t want to buy it? Will you sell it to us?’ He asked me, ‘Why won’t Donald Trump buy it?’ I said, ‘I don’t know. Strange things happen,” said Solomon.
Trump ended up not taking the deal.
Solomon called again. “’I understand Trump isn’t buying it. I said we want to buy it. And he said, ‘I got it resolved.’ I asked him, ‘Who did you sell it to?’ He said, ‘Station Casinos. They’re the largest operator in Missouri and I’m going to make a deal with them.’ Again, I asked, ‘What happens if they don’t want to buy it?’ He said, ‘Why wouldn’t they want to buy it?’ I said, ‘I don’t know. Strange things happen.’ then they too didn’t buy it.”
Solomon’s group took a look at the financials and bought the Kansas City casino from Hilton for $33 million. “That’s been an extraordinarily successful casino too,” Solomon said.
That’s a mountain
“I got a call from the VP in charge of acquisitions at Caesars. He said, ‘I have a great property for you in Black Hawk, Colorado. We had it all lined up, but the board turned it down, because there’s a $5 betting limit. They don’t want Caesars to have that kind of image.’”
Solomon met the Caesars vice president at an intersection in downtown Black Hawk and asked him where the casino was. The VP told him, “Here it is. It’s this mountain.”
Solomon was nearly speechless. “What?” he muttered. “Are you kidding me?”
“Well, it has to be excavated,” the VP explained, “which will run you eight or nine million. But it’s all approved, so you can build the casino.”
Solomon remembered thinking, wow, nine million on the mountain alone — with no assurance. “The Isle Casino Black Hawk turned out to be one of the most successful properties for Isle of Capri Casinos,” declared Solomon.
Changing the Constitution of Florida
Solomon and Goldstein acquired Pompano Park in Broward County, Florida, for $10 million at a time when there was no casino gambling in the state except on Native American reservations. Some casinos had tried several years earlier to pass casino gambling in Florida, but it was soundly rejected.
Solomon and Goldstein put together a proposed constitutional amendment that would permit slot machines only in in Broward and Dade County, subject to local approval. Solomon hired a former head of Florida’s Department of Education and cabinet member as a spokesperson.
“The Senate was in our favor, but the House was always against us and we couldn’t put in what the tax rate was going to be, except to say the legislature would set the tax rate. We had the election and we won by 50.1%.,” Solomon recollected.
“We had plans for what we were going to do to develop the properties, though not necessarily spending big dollars. We had good management to do that. The other thing that we did was borrow a lot of money from major brokerage houses in New York. They were interested in lending money to casino operations. The industry really benefited from that. The big boys wanted to get involved,” Solomon said.
Post-retirement, an owner again
After retiring from Isle of Capri, Solomon formed the Foundation Gaming Group, which began by managing distressed properties in Mississippi. Foundation acquired the old Isle of Capri Casino in Vicksburg, Mississippi, which was called Diamond Jack, and now operates it as Waterview Casino and Hotel. Foundation later bought the Fitz Casino and Hotel in Tunica, Mississippi.
Solomon credits success in Mississippi to the business-friendly operating model adopted by the state.
“Other than Atlantic City and Nevada, Mississippi has the lowest tax rate of any state, which is a big plus for Mississippi, because they have 24 or 25 casinos now. This is good business development and they have rules in force in terms of development of hotels and other non-gaming amenities. They have really done an excellent job,” pronounced Solomon.
And if anyone in the gaming industry can make a pronouncement about good business development, it’s Allan Solomon.
Former entries in the Faces of Gaming series:
Tom Osiecki is a casino consultant who writes an occasional column for CDC Gaming Reports called Faces of Gaming, about interesting and engaging people in the gaming industry.
Tom Osiecki is a marketing and management consultant for Raving Consulting and can be reached for consulting engagements at 775-329-7864.
If you know of a fascinating personality in the gaming industry you would like to see profiled, please send Tom Osiecki an email at email@example.com.