Faces of Gaming: Roger Gros — Chronicler of the gaming industry for four decades and counting

January 6, 2024 11:46 AM
  • Tom Osiecki — CDC Gaming Reports and Raving Partner
January 6, 2024 11:46 AM
  • Tom Osiecki — CDC Gaming Reports and Raving Partner

Roger Gros’s path to chronicler of the gaming industry is a circuitous and fascinating tale.

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Gros started his young life wanting to be a rock star, became a dealer in Atlantic City, and went on to tell the story of the gaming industry as a reporter, writer, and publisher for nearly 40 years.

Gros is publisher of Global Gaming Business magazine and has been president of Casino Connection International, the magazine’s parent company, since 2002. Prior to forming CCI, Gros was vice president of Casino Journal Publishing Group from 1984 to 2000, editor of Casino Journal and National Gaming Summary, and founding editor of Casino Player magazine. He co-founded the Southern Gaming Summit (1994) and American Gaming Summit (1995) conferences and trade shows. Gros was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2012 American Gaming Association’s Gaming Communications Awards.

Casino Connection International publications

Global Gaming Business Magazine is the preeminent monthly gaming-trade publication focusing on the international casino industry. GGB News is a weekly e-news magazine and can be found at www.ggbnews.com. Tribal Government Gaming is a comprehensive annual report on the state of the Indian gaming industry and includes distribution at NIGA. The company also produces numerous yearly issues, including Tribal Government Gaming, P3 (Progressive Products Preview), and Casino Style. The company also runs iGamingPlayer, a B2C igaming publication.

From Brooklyn and D.C. to rock ’n’ roll and casinos

“I was in Brooklyn recently for the first time in probably ten years and it was great being back in my old neighborhood. I was born in a house that my father’s side of the family was born in, starting in the late 1800s.

“When my aunt passed away in the 1970s, my father sold it to another family, and they’re still there. So this house has been in two families for almost 150 years, which is pretty incredible.

“I didn’t grow up in Brooklyn. When I was about five years old, we moved to Long Island where my father worked for the Air Force at an airbase. That closed and we moved to the middle of Georgia. It was a big change in lifestyle, going from New York City down to Georgia. We stayed there only a year; it was just too much of a culture shock. Then we moved to outside Washington D.C., where I went to high school and started my college career,” Gros said.

“Like many people my age, I was influenced by the Beatles, who changed my perspective of the world. I met a guy in high school, we formed a band playing original music, and stayed together for about 10 years. In D.C., we met an Argentine who was our manager. He took us to Argentina for almost a year, where we made a record and performed on the “American Bandstand” of Argentina several times. It was a great experience.

“We were supposed to go to London and continue our career, but our manager kind of fell apart. It would have been perfect because it was the rise of the punk-new-wave era, which was a lot of the music we did.

“Eventually, I married a woman from Atlantic City. I started a band with a friend of my wife’s. We played around the South Jersey and Philadelphia area for a good 15 years. It was original music as well. My friend was a great songwriter, but he got sick and passed away in the mid-1990s.

“By that time, I’d had two children. I figured I had to get serious. I took a job as a dealer at Caesars when they first opened in 1979 and worked there for a couple of years.”

“I moved to the Golden Nugget while Steve Wynn owned it, and that was a huge educational experience for me. He’s a genius. He sat at our baccarat game when we were hanging around waiting for players just to shoot the bull with us.

“I was contacted by a guy named Glenn Fine, who ran a casino-employee newsletter called Casino Journal. He didn’t know anything about writing or running a publication. I majored in journalism, although I never graduated, and I loved writing. He let me write and run the magazine. I received a ton of experience there.”

Into publishing

After Steve Wynn sold the Golden Nugget and moved to Las Vegas, Gros got into publishing full-time in 1984.

“I took a chance, quit that job, and worked full-time writing for Casino Journal. Then, we started conferences and trade shows, including the high-level American Gaming Summit, partnered with the American Gaming Association.

“Then the AGA started their own show, Global Gaming Expo. At that point, I continued to work for G2E, putting their conference program together, and left Casino Journal. Frank Fahrenkopf, president of the AGA at the time, came to me and said, ‘We really need a vehicle to publicize the AGA and what we’re doing at G2E. We’ll give you some seed money and you raise some more.’ I did and that was the birth of Global Gaming Business.

Casino Journal faded away and now we’re the only magazine left in North America that covers gaming worldwide. We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished. This industry needs an independent voice and that’s what we are.”

In a world of electronic publications, I asked Gros what percentage of his magazines remain in print.

GGB News and The Daily Updates are all online, but we still print the three annual publications in addition to GGB, which is delivered to 10,000 casino executives and marketing executives.

“We’re one of the last publications in the gaming industry that actually publishes a physical magazine every month. I do that, because whenever I talk to CEOs or chairpersons of companies, they always tell me they read the magazine on the plane. I think it’s important that you keep a physical presence. I’m old school when it comes to publications. I like to hold and read books and magazines in my hands.

“When I was with Casino Journal, we started a consumer magazine, Casino Player, that’s sent out to gamblers. Glenn Fine and his brother Adam both passed away, but Lisa Robertson, our art director, took the helm and she’s still running it today. It’s one of the better casino-gambling publications and I’m proud to have been a part of the birth of that magazine.”

Won’t Back Down

Along with starting publications, Gros’s entrepreneurial nature involved starting several conferences. With his company, Inlet Communications, Gros consulted with G2E. I asked him to relate stories about the challenges of running the G2E conference.

‘When the company that ran the World Gaming Congress bought Casino Journal, I didn’t want to work for them. My wife will tell you that we had our third child at the same time I quit my job. I took a chance. Clearly, it was a big risk, but I really enjoyed putting the G2E conference program together. For a long time, we were the best conference in any part of the industry and I worked solely for them for seventeen years.

“We spent a year and a half ramping up to the first G2E. Reed Exhibitions was running it at the time, and they, along with Frank Fahrenkopf and Judy Patterson at the AGA, put so much energy into it. Then, 9/11 happened three weeks before the show.

“There was a lot of discussion — are we going to do the show or postpone or cancel it? We went through with it. It was a good decision; it was such a devastating time for the industry, so it was an opportunity for us to get out there and show the world that we weren’t backing down. At that point, it was exceedingly difficult to get people on airplanes again and the 10,000 attendance was just a drop in the bucket of what we were expecting. It went as well as could be expected that year and I think that showed everybody that we were in it for the long haul.”

“Later, G2E was held shortly after the October 1, 2017, mass shooting in Vegas. Again, the AGA wondered whether to go or cancel and again, it was a go and an important decision to make. The industry really appreciated the fact that G2E went forward and we addressed the issues at the conference itself. There was a lot of discussion about the shooting and the ramifications. We got out in front of that. The industry was well served by having that show go on rather than canceling it.”

“The pandemic, of course, was a tough time for everybody. My magazine almost folded. Nobody was buying slot machines or going to casinos for months on end. That was another point where we didn’t back down. We started our daily update as a part of GGB News that we put out once a day. Every morning, we come out with original reporting on one issue or another. We started that during the pandemic to make sure everybody knew what was going on and what the industry was thinking. Casino executives from around the world during that time said we kept everybody informed and we got a lot of kudos. But it was very difficult to do.”

Bestselling Author

“I used to write about how to play casino games, giving the odds without getting too deep into the weeds. In 1996, a British publishing company, Carlton Books, asked me to write a book, How to Win at Casino Gambling. I got my first royalty check and we’d sold 125,000 copies. Las Vegas-based gambling publisher Anthony Curtis talked to me at the time and he was floored. Anthony publishes a vast variety of gaming books and he said, ‘We don’t come close to that number.’ Anthony thinks that the number of books sold is second only to Beat the Dealer by Ed Thorp, the classic blackjack card-counters book that he published in the early 1960s. I thought that was pretty cool.”

A Health Scare and a Resolution

In his December 2023 column for Global Gaming Business, Gros revealed a recent major health incident that changed his perspective.

“I’d never had health problems in my whole life. Two summers ago, I started having a pain in my neck. It traveled all the way down my back and eventually got so bad, I couldn’t even walk. I went to doctors here in Nevada and none of them knew what was happening.

“Some of my friends connected me to the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in downtown Las Vegas, a branch of the Cleveland Clinic. They did some tests and told me I had to get to the Cleveland Clinic right away. Something was seriously wrong and they didn’t know what it was.

“My wife took me to Cleveland, and the first day, they found out my heart was deteriorating. Two days later, I was on an operating table having open-heart surgery. I have pig and cow valves in my chest right now. They told me that if I hadn’t shown up at Cleveland when I did, five days later I would have been dead.

“I’m very grateful to those who helped me at the Cleveland Clinic and to the people in Vegas who really showed that they cared about me. Of course, my wife, Becky Kingman Gros, really is the brains behind my company. She runs all the financial business and marketing and PR.

“She’s the COO and she took care of me while still running the company. The other good thing was my staff stepped up. I had nothing to do with the magazine for four months. They did all the work and just told me to get better. I did and I’m so grateful to them for helping me out and basically saving our company.”

I asked Gros if he’d changed in any way after going through that experience.

“I try to work less and my staff showed that they have the ability to do this. I’m kind of a micromanager. From early on, I did everything, from the writing to the printing. I used to deliver the magazines when we got here to Vegas. I know now I don’t have to do that anymore. I’m trying to take some steps back and enjoy myself. I have four grandsons and I want to spend more time with them.”

Biggest Changes

Based on his forty years of experience as a top storyteller for gaming, I asked Gros what the biggest change he’s seen in the gaming industry was.

“I think technology and the addition of igaming to the equation really make a difference. At this point, I’m afraid that the industry hasn’t understood the connection between online and land-based casinos. They haven’t really figured that out yet. That’s one of the areas where I think they can grow.

“Igaming is only in six states now and I think it’s slow. In fact, we discussed this recently when we had a luncheon in New York with a number of casino execs. A lot of land-based executives came together, and it was interesting to hear them talk. Some of the land-based guys are still afraid that with too much igaming, people won’t come to their casinos, especially the tribes. The tribes are really fearful of that.

“I think that’s the biggest change and it’s ongoing. The igaming industry is still in its infancy; hopefully, they’ll figure it out.”

I asked Gros who the most influential people he encountered in gaming were.

“Well, you know, I kind of regret that Steve Wynn isn’t in the industry now. I got to know him well when I was working for him, and as a journalist, I interviewed him at least half-a-dozen times. Every time I walked out of one of those interviews, I’d learned something new and was just amazed at his depth of knowledge. Steve Wynn is a true visionary.

“But other people, like Stanley Ho in Asia, started business in Macau. I only interviewed him one time. Kirk Kerkorian was another genius. A lot of the guys in the top tier at MGM, Sands, and Caesars owe a debt to Kerkorian. He really understood the industry.

“Sheldon Adelson was another. He was a genius, and the fact that his company survives and still thrives without him is an indication of what he meant to the industry.”

I asked Gros if he had any Donald Trump stories:

“I have a million of them. I lived in Atlantic City when Trump was king of Atlantic City. He knew me personally. He was on the cover of our magazine a half-dozen times. He always used to say, ‘You’ll sell a million of them.’ I didn’t have the heart to tell him we didn’t sell the magazines.

“I wrote a 6,000-word feature on him. He picked out one little sentence and said, ‘I will never advertise in your magazine again.’ He was a character. We had a very good relationship and I still admire him.”

Future of the Gaming Industry

“I think it’s very healthy. For many years, we had that dirty side of the industry. People believed the industry was sleazy because of the movies. Early Las Vegas was sleazy, connected to mobs and things like that. For 50 years now, it hasn’t been like that. And attitude is really changing. People understand it’s casino entertainment. The industry is doing a great job of addressing responsible gaming. The tobacco industry didn’t do anything like that when it came to cigarettes or cigars. They paid a terrible price. That’s really a credit to the founder of the American Gaming Association, Frank Fahrenkopf.

“We’re talking about it and out front, proactive. That’s the most important thing that we’ve done in the industry over the last 50 years.

“The industry in Nevada is very healthy. I think you’ll see that across regional casinos around the country, because casino entertainment is really popular now.”

Momentous Years

Roger Gros’s vast accomplishments as a writer and gaming publisher are as deep and wide-ranging as the modern gaming industry itself. Plus, he does it all with a handful of freelancers and a tiny staff. Below is his statement from the December issue of Global Gaming Business, in which where he wrapped 2023, a year in which he recovered from an illness that nearly took his life.

Gros wrote, “I can tell you that 2024 will be a momentous year for GGB. We’re going to redouble our efforts to be the true voice of the gaming industry, both online and in real life. So come along for the ride. Let’s all confront these issues and make our industry more transparent, more efficient, and more profitable for everyone.”

It’s just another example of how Gros simply won’t back down.

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