Faces of Gaming: Debi Nutton — Everi board member, gaming trailblazer

December 16, 2023 1:08 PM
  • Tom Osiecki — CDC Gaming Reports and Raving Partner
December 16, 2023 1:08 PM
  • Tom Osiecki — CDC Gaming Reports and Raving Partner

Debi Nutton is a trailblazing woman in gaming with a talent for stepping out of her comfort zone.

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During her early days as one of the first women to deal craps in Las Vegas, Nutton determined then and there she was going to run a casino.

“I believed that once I became a crap dealer, I’d one day run the casino. At that time, for a woman to look at any coworkers and say that, they would have thought, ‘Are you nuts? You’re a female. What makes you think you can run a casino?’

“But I said it. I said it with as much confidence as I could. I meant it. I don’t know how I knew it. I looked around and I said this is what I want to do. I don’t want to be a dealer forever. I don’t want to be a floor person forever.  I want to run this casino. And I did,” Nutton declared.

That was the beginning of a gaming career for self-described shy person, Debi Nutton, living life out of her comfort zone.

From dealer to vice president and board member

Debi Nutton began her career dealing craps in Las Vegas, defying societal norms and marking the start of a four-decade gaming journey. Nutton, an executive coach, gaming consultant, and member of the Everi board directors, served as the executive vice president of casino operations for Wynn Las Vegas before launching her own coaching practice.

She emphasizes the opportunities Vegas provides and recounts her journey from nursing to successful gaming executive. Facing challenges as a woman in the crap pit, Nutton’s resilience led her to roles at the Sands, Mirage, Treasure Island, MGM Resorts, and Wynn. Despite the adversity, she thrived, becoming a symbol of empowerment. In 2019, she founded her coaching and consulting firm. Passionate about mentoring, Nutton’s advice to women in gaming is rooted in honesty, resilience, and stretching beyond comfort zones.

In April 2023, Debi was asked to join the Board of Directors for Everi Holdings, a leader in the gaming and fintech space.

She’s also a former member of the advisory board for the Global Gaming Expo (G2E) and served as an original board member for Global Gaming Women. Ms. Nutton’s passion for the gaming industry and her meaningful contributions were honored by Global Gaming Women with the 2018 Great Women of Gaming Lifetime Achievement Award.

Vegas equals opportunity

“I was born in Butte, Montana and I lived in Montana until 1968. Due to my mother’s inclination to move, I frequently changed schools. After residing near Spokane, Washington, for three years, my brother, a Marine Corps veteran, recommended relocating to Las Vegas for better prospects. Following his advice, we moved to Las Vegas and it proved to be an excellent decision for myself and my family. Las Vegas provides a friendly atmosphere with abundant opportunities and it’s certainly facilitated a very successful career with amazing connections.

“When I first graduated from UNLV nursing school, I worked at the Sands Hotel, where the Venetian is now. I’d been promoted to dice-pit manager, but I was afraid that I needed to also work as a nurse to sharpen the skills I’d been taught. I work the dice pit at the Sands on swing shift and on the orthopedics floor at University Medical Center during the day.

One memorable episode as a woman working in a male-dominated world was when her casino bosses told her that bending over the game would ruin her ovaries.

“At the Sands were many men who felt that females didn’t belong in the dice pit. Also, I’m not the type to walk into an employee break room and just sit down with people and start to talk. I don’t have that comfort level.”

Instead, because she was shy, she preferred to read and be alone by taking breaks in the casino women’s restroom.

“In the early days, there was always an attendant who cleaned the restroom and kept them nice. Her name was Queenie and I fell in love with her. There were also couches in the ladies’ restrooms, places to sit and relax in the lounge. On my breaks, I visited with Queenie. It was just what I needed,” Nutton said. “She was my first unofficial coach.”

Dipping a toe in the water

“The toughest job I ever had was trying to fit in at the Sands. I was young, 25 years old. Most of the men were at least 45 and had been there a long time. No women had ever tried to put a toe in the water of the dice pit at the Sands. One other lady in the dice pit was a dealer, but I started in the box and that proved to be difficult.”

From the Sands, she moved on to Palace Station.

“At the time I joined Palace Station, I’d dealt craps for only six months. I went home every day and practiced practiced practiced, so I’d get better. I never wanted to be tapped off the game because I couldn’t handle the action.”

I asked Nutton what was inside of her that helped to thrive as a woman in a changing environment.

“Getting into gaming, I think I had to prove to myself that I could do it. Also, failure was not an option. We’re all different, but plenty of females will tell you the same thing. It isn’t personal. That’s one of the reasons I went into coaching.

From Palace Station, Nutton moved on again, this time to the Flamingo, before rejoining the Sands at age 25. She was promoted to dice-pit manager at the Sands in 1985 at age 29.

From the Mirage to the Wynn

“Back at the Sands, when I went on my breaks and looked across the street, I saw this beautiful property that they were building, with a volcano and beautiful landscaping. I remember thinking, ‘I want to work there.’ When I applied at the Mirage, they hired me to run the dice pit on swing shift. That was a big deal, a female running the dice pit on swing.

“When we first opened, they hired 27 pit managers and 6 shift managers, and there were only two female managers. That’s where all the good happened in my career. The Mirage had a different mentality. That’s where all the good happened in my career. The Mirage had a different mentality. The Mirage didn’t care that I was female. They just wanted me to maintain a standard of excellence that Mirage Resorts was known for.

“I was at the Mirage for under two years, then transferred to the Golden Nugget as a shift manager and opened Treasure Island in 1993. When MGM acquired Mirage Resorts, I went to the MGM Grand as the VP of casino operations.

“The MGM Grand had had seven different casino managers in seven years. I believed the dealers must be thinking, Seven in seven years. How does she think she can be different than the other seven? When I was introduced to the dealers, I said, ‘I didn’t come here to fail; I came here to succeed. I wouldn’t have taken the job if I thought I was going to be the eighth in eight.’ I told them, ‘Bet the over.’

“I worked at MGM Grand for 12 years. I only left when I was asked to become senior vice president of casino operations at Bellagio.”

After joining the Bellagio team, Nutton decided to make another move and join Wynn Resorts.

“I thought, I’ve already left MGM, a place where I was so comfortable. Why not really shake it up and finish my career with the company that provided such a wonderful opportunity in 1989?”

In 2013 Nutton once again stepped out of her comfort zone to join Wynn Resorts as the executive vice president of casino operations.

Executive coaching and operations consultant

In 2019 Nutton left Wynn Resorts and started her own executive-coaching and operations consulting firm.

After departing her full-time job at the Wynn, the company offered her an opportunity to work on the opening of Encore Boston Harbor.

“They said to me, you don’t have to work full time. We’d like you to go to Boston once a month and assist with opening the casino. That was perfect for me and I truly fell in love with Boston.

“Before that even ended, I got a call from Scott Sibella, who was then the president of Resorts World. I’d worked for him at MGM Grand. He said, ‘I know what you did for Encore in Boston. Will you do that for Resorts World?’ II didn’t have to travel. It was in Las Vegas.

“I started there in December and in March, we were forced out of the office and working remotely due to the pandemic. That really opened opportunities for me. Working remotely suited my lifestyle.”

“After Resorts World opened, I focused strictly on my own business. I received a call from Mike Rambolz, executive chair of the board for Everi, and he asked me if I wanted to be considered for a board position. I was beyond honored and said of course I want to be considered. I’ve respected Mike my entire career. I was super happy to join them.”

Mentoring and team building

I asked Nutton how she focused on mentoring and team building in her consulting business. She said that her passion for mentoring is related to her time with Global Gaming Women.

“I was honored to be one of the original board members of Global Gaming Women. The group was started as a concept of the American Gaming Association. The senior vice president was Judy Patterson. She reached out to MGM Resorts. Jim Murren, the CEO at the time, selected me.

“The original GGW group were amazing women — Patti Becker, Virginia McDowell, Eileen Moore Johnson, among others. GGW worked hard to achieve the success they enjoy today and I couldn’t be prouder of all they’ve accomplished.

“The reason I wanted to be a coach is to offer guidance and support to women at all levels of an organization. Many people don’t get the level of attention that they need. Many times in my career, I felt like such an outlier and wanted a mentor or friend to talk with. During my time at MGM, Cynthia Kiser Murphey and Renee West were amazing role models and mentors for me. Renee even encouraged me to become an executive coach.”

I asked Nutton about her approach to team building.

“How you build a team is you don’t make assumptions that people are going to take advantage of you. Because they don’t. There are always a few bad apples, but most of the apples are good.

“I think I was a good team builder, because I assumed the best about people. When you go into a situation assuming the best, most of the time, people live up to your expectations.”

Advice for women in gaming

I asked Nutton what advice she would offer young women looking to advance in the gaming industry.

“Honesty is always number one. Always be honest; I think we’re only as good as our word. Hard work would be number two. Get in and get your hands dirty. Then try to have fun with it all, instead of taking it all so seriously. I took a lot of it really seriously. I could have had more fun.

“Also, stretch yourself.

“As I discussed on a panel for Global Gaming Women, women need to apply themselves. Sometimes women think, ‘Unless I’m 100% qualified, I shouldn’t apply for a job.’ If you’re 75%, then go and sell yourself and say these are my qualifications and I know I can do it.

“I’m the craps dealer who said I know I can run the casino someday and I believed that I could do it. So don’t set your sights short. Don’t assume you can’t do it because you haven’t done it. Just think, ‘I’ve got this’ — then go out and find good mentors.

“I dealt at a time when women were rare and we had to prove our value. We’ve proved our value by being strong, intelligent, and banding together. We’re certainly stronger when we support each other and advocate for others.”

That’s good advice from Debi Nutton, who continues a rising career as a trailblazing woman executive and still finds new ways to live out of her comfort zone.

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 tosiecki@cdcgaming.com