The House Always Wins

Don Barden rolled thedice when he anted up millions for a Las Vegas casino. It turned out to be a sure bet.

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Consumer spending on commercial casino gaming in 2001 (the latest figures available, which don’t include Native American operations) totaled $25.7 billion, compared with $24.3 billion in 2000 and $22.2 billion in 1999. “So we’ve seen a dramatic growth in the industry and a lot of that has to do with the proliferation of gaming, which is going to continue,” Russell predicts.

Barden is fully prepared to cash in on that growth. He sees his decision to expand and renovate his operations as a wise investment. Already, he’s experiencing a greater rate of growth in 2003 than in previous years. “So far this year, we’re trending upwards toward double-digit growth, so we want to be able to absorb that growth,” he says, noting that his properties must expand to handle the demand. “Essentially, we’re turning away people on weekends [at the Black Hawk location] because of capacity.”

These moves are also evident at the flagship 34-story, 638-room Las Vegas property where about $2.5 million worth of improvements have been made. “The vision that I have for this property is what I call positioning,” explains Mike Darley, vice president and general manager of the Las Vegas casino. “We could lay back and not do anything with this property, but what we’re trying to do is build the skill set of our employees, the morale, and the physical property so that when the economy turns around, we’re positioned to take advantage of [it].”

Not only is Barden Companies upping the ante to meet the market’s demand, but it’s also looking at ways to ensure continued interest with stepped-up marketing efforts, including a campaign targeted at African American consumers. “A lot of people don’t know my casinos are African American-owned,” asserts Barden, who intends to spend at least $1 million on the effort. “I want to change that. The plan is to initiate an advertising campaign in local and national black publications as well as market directly to African American organizations, such as fraternities, sororities, or professional groups.”

It also makes good business sense since African Americans spent some $30.5 billion in travel and represented about 9% of the 35 million visitors to Las Vegas in 2001. And Barden will be the beneficiary since 95% of his company’s revenues are derived from gaming. The remaining revenues are generated by real estate development and Namibia-based operations that retrofit American-made vehicles from left- to right-hand drive for sale in that African country. The Namibian business grossed roughly $12 million in 2002.

Like the casino-goers who frequent his establishments, this CEO is not afraid to let it ride — but he always takes a calculated risk. In 1986, Barden began the task of wiring Detroit for cable, concentrating his efforts in less affluent neighborhoods at a time when other cable operators believed the risk too high, and that residents would have trouble paying monthly bills. Barden Cablevision would prove them wrong and boast some 120,000 subscribers. The enterprise became successful enough to make Barden Communications Inc. the nation’s fifth largest black-owned business,

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