Don H. Barden made history in December 2001 when he became the first African American to own a major hotel and casino in Las Vegas. A half decade later, he has won the rights to become the first African American to open a casino and slots parlor in Pittsburgh, beating out two larger companies, Isle of Capri Casinos Inc. and Harrah’s Entertainment Inc.
The 63-year-old owner and CEO of Detroit-based Barden Cos. (No. 6 on the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 list with $519 million in sales) beat out the two competitors to build and operate a casino on Pittsburgh’s North Shore. The $450 million deal, made through PITG Gaming L.L.C., a subsidiary of Barden Cos., will result in the construction of the 400,000-square-foot Majestic Star Casino. The casino will feature 3,000 machines and add 2,000 within 24 months of its opening, which Barden hopes will be in the summer of 2008. “We did our homework, and we followed the criteria for selection very precisely. Some of those requirements included [addressing] the location’s impact on neighborhoods and traffic congestion [and estimating] how much revenue the state would receive under the proposal,” says Barden. “Under those very key items of criteria, if you rank them objectively, we came out on top.” As part of the deal, Barden pledged $7.5 million annually over 30 years for the replacement of Mellon Arena, home of the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins.
Barden Cos., BE’s 2003 Company of the Year, owns casinos in Gary, Indiana; Tunica, Mississippi; Black Hawk, Colorado; and Las Vegas. The bid award, announced at the time of the CEO’s 63rd birthday, was cause for celebration. “I was ecstatic,” he recalls. “It was an awesome feeling to win this because I’m sure that they did this on the merits and that’s all I asked for — to be judged on the content of my proposal and not the color of my skin — because I knew the content of my proposal was extraordinary.”