Seated in his Golden Gaming headquarters, wearing blue jeans and a simple button-down shirt, Blake Sartini is extolling the virtues of growth. This is one of his favorite subjects.
Growth, development, expansion — all are ways to map success, chart fulfillment, and validate his business and personal decisions.
There even is growth on Sartini’s face, in the form of a field of whiskers allowed to grow for at least a day.
As founder and CEO of Golden Gaming Inc., Sartini points to the growth of his company’s PT’s taverns. Tooling around the Las Vegas Valley, it is hard to miss his handiwork. Forty-five of his PT’s and Sierra Gold taverns operate statewide, including 42 in and around Las Vegas.
The number of Golden Gaming taverns has doubled in the 15 years since Sartini took over the company, originally named for founders Phil and Tom Boeckle.
The company’s three newest outposts include a PT’s on the corner of Post Road and the 215 Beltway, in a tavern that once was an O’Aces Bar & Grill; a PT’s on Boulder Highway and Horizon Drive, which once was Tomfoolery Pub; and a PT’s on Eastern Avenue and Pebble Road, which opened under the company’s new, country-themed moniker, PT’s Ranch.
“We are looking at a natural evolution of the brand because it has been so successful here in town for so many years,” Sartini says. “We just continue to try and improve on it. When locations open that we feel meet all of the requirements for our model, we take advantage of that.”
The establishments are built near high concentrations of residents who want a good time, seamless in-and-out access, good food and a familiar staff.
Crucial to the success of PT’s over the course of its history are video poker machines. PT’s essentially was built on the play of Las Vegans who ducked into the taverns after work, often at Strip or neighborhood resorts, and plugged quarters or bills into machines.
“Our places tend to be retail-oriented in the form of food and beverage, but yes, gaming is a big support to that,” he said. “I would say that the percentage (of profits) we’ve made through gaming over the years has remained pretty constant, through all the economic changes we’ve had.”
Where the company’s growth is potentially stunted is beyond the borders of Nevada. Gaming is so vital to Golden Gaming’s properties that developing the brand in California or Arizona would require a significant shift in business strategy.
“We have no immediate plans to expand outside of Nevada, first of all, but it is a perceptive question to consider because we have had a lot of success in this state, in this region,” Sartini said. “We think the formula for what we build and what we operate in regards to a tavern experience is transferable to other jurisdictions, to other states. That could come either in the form of a wholly owned development or a franchise-type of formula. But the thing that is difficult for us in Nevada is the component of gaming is such a large component of the revenue, the model would change significantly in terms of pricing, menu offerings, drink pricing and so on.
“It’s not so prohibitive to the point that we wouldn’t do it. We’ve actually had some inquiries around taking this concept into some of the surrounding Western states, and we do think it’s transportable. We do think we could be successful in other states.”
At the moment, Sartini said the most responsible means of growing the company is buying existing establishments and giving them a PT’s-style makeover.
“When we look at the acquire-vs.-build proposition, it is much more economical to acquire, rebrand and re-establish a brand than it is to build from the ground up,” he said.
But, he added, “we still own significant parcels of real estate around town that we intend to develop when we think it’s appropriate to develop.”
Golden Gaming also owns 8,500 slot and video poker machines statewide in 650 locations, including most convenience and grocery stores. Sartini’s company is the largest slot operator in the state.
As is characteristic of a man who has lived in Las Vegas for 50 years, the 55-year-old Sartini says he will not outgrow his Southern Nevada roots.
He spent his formative years as a casino executive, first with Michael Gaughan and the Barbary Coast and later as a key official with Station Casinos. He remains a family member by marriage to the Fertitta clan, founders of Station Casinos, through his wife, Delise, who is the sister of Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta III, who operate Station Casinos. The couple have been married 31 years.
Sartini has long said that the tutelage of Station Casinos founder Frank Fertitta Jr. was a pivotal experience in his life, and he now is in position to give the same sort of guidance to his sons, Lorenzo and Blake II. Both are executives in the Golden Gaming operation.
But they still have to grow through the company organically. The man at the top isn’t offering any favors.
“I have a great team that’s been with me for a lot of years, and my attitude is: My sons have got to earn their way to wherever they end up, and they have to accept that challenge,” Sartini said. “I think, in the end, it’s what’s best for the business, and one thing the family has always rallied around is the idea of, what’s best for the business is best for the family.”
To reinforce the philosophy, Lorenzo and Blake II do not report to their father.
“They both report to the chief operating officer,” Sartini said. “They are held accountable like everybody else.”
It’s another life lesson in the Golden Gaming operation, where Blake Sartini preaches that neither the company, nor the family tree, grows overnight.