IGT's Mathewson remembered as industry founder, community benefactor

Former IGT Chairman and CEO Chuck Mathewson at the company's showroom in a 2008 photo.

Former IGT Chairman and CEO Chuck Mathewson at the company's showroom in a 2008 photo. Photo: IGT

 At first, Chuck Mathewson viewed his initial investments into slot machine developer International Game Technology as a short-term deal.

However, IGT founder Si Redd asked him to join the board of the Reno-based company during the early 1980s and take a larger role in the operations. Mathewson figured the commitment wouldn’t last too long.

“He really thought it was going to be kind of a short-lived situation where he could fix a couple of things (at IGT) and sell out of it at a profit,” his son Robert Mathewson recalled in a recent interview.

More than 40 years later, Charles “Chuck” Mathewson, who died Oct. 24 at his home in Reno at age 93, is remembered as a gaming pioneer whose leadership of IGT brought an industry-wide technology change to the slot machine floor. He helped transform IGT from a small Northern Nevada gaming machine manufacturer into the industry’s worldwide standard-bearer.

Mathewson was inducted into the Gaming Hall of Fame in 1997.

“Charles, or ‘Chuck' as he was known to his friends, demonstrated throughout his extraordinary life the art of the possible and helped make Nevada into what it is today,” former governor and UNR President Brian Sandoval said in a statement.

Mathewson and IGT donated a combined $10 million toward construction of the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center at UNR, one of the most technologically advanced university libraries in the country. UNR is in the process of developing the Mathewson University Gateway — the future home of the school’s College of Business, a life sciences building and a third-yet-to-be determined building.

Sandoval said the site “will be the physical manifestation of the connectivity and shared vision for the future that exists between our campus and downtown Reno.”

Oddly, Mathewson originally declined having his name on the building,

“People he respected said to him, ‘Chuck, you know if you put your name on this it will attract other people as well,’” Robert Mathewson said.

Growing IGT

During Mathewson’s more than two decades at the helm of Reno-based IGT, the company introduced gaming innovations, such as computer-driven slot machine reels and the first wide-area progressive jackpots, commonly known as “Megabucks.”

Mathewson was IGT’s CEO when the company introduced “Wheel of Fortune,” the slot machine based on the popular television game show that remains a staple on casino floors worldwide more than two decades later.

The “Wheel of Fortune” brand is now utilized across IGT’s gaming, lottery and digital portfolios. The company has made more than 250 variations of the “Wheel of Fortune” slot machines and the games have paid out more than $3.3 billion in jackpots over the last 25 years.

“IGT extends its condolences to the family of Chuck Mathewson and would like to acknowledge his tremendous contributions to the gaming industry over many decades,” the company said in a brief statement. IGT was acquired by Italy-based lottery giant GTECH Holdings in 2015 for $6.4 billion. The combined company retained the IGT name.

Mathewson was a Southern California-based investor in the early 1980s, having led several companies — including founding the Jefferies & Company investment firm — and was involved in businesses and arts endeavors. His investments into IGT started out slowly, but over time increased, leading to the offer from Redd.

“The next thing you know, he moves to Nevada and is telling me and everyone how much he loves it, what a great sense of community it had, and how he just loves the people working at IGT,” Robert Mathewson said. “It really took his life in a different direction.”

Legacy building, however, didn’t drive the gaming executive, according to his son.

“He loved working, creating and doing deals,” Robert Mathewson said. “What he loved most was meeting people early in their careers who were young, ambitious and working hard. He liked to help them out.”

That interest in people was part of the reason IGT acquired rival slot machine developer Anchor Gaming in 2001. Anchor not only held several patents to the spinning wheel devices used in the “Wheel of Fortune” slot machine, but its chairman and CEO, T.J. Matthews, caught Mathewson’s attention. Following the merger, Matthews became a board member and chief operating officer of IGT, eventually becoming chairman and CEO in 2003.

“Part of the reason he did the Anchor deal was because of T.J.,” said Robert Mathewson, who served for several years as an IGT board member after his father retired. “He saw something in T.J.. If there is a legacy, I think it would be about the people he worked with and the friendships he developed.”

Matthews said Mathewson was prominent throughout the entire industry.

“He was a bigger than life and an important figure that had influence in all the areas where he interacted,” Matthews said. “He knew people on a much more intimate level than I did. During our expansion outside of gaming into other areas, he afforded us important introductions. He was one of three people that made a big difference in my professional life.”

Supporting the gaming industry

Longtime gaming political insider and gaming attorney Frank Fahrenkopf Jr. said Mathewson was part of a small group of gaming CEOs who convinced him to start up the Washington D.C.-based American Gaming Association (AGA) in 1994. The trade organization was created to lobby against attempts at federal oversight into the rapidly expanding U.S. gaming industry.

Because IGT was the only gaming equipment provider among the founders, Mathewson was the logical choice to be the organization’s first chairman. He held the role for seven years.

In 1997, the National Gaming Impact Commission was created to conduct a two-year study of the industry, and Fahrenkopf said Mathewson played key roles in advocating for the position of legal gaming.

“I always knew I could pick up the phone and call Chuck,” said Fahrenkopf, who spent 19 years as the AGA’s CEO. “He had great advice. He was a very wise man and had good instincts.”

Fahrenkopf added the gaming industry faced headwinds from an anti-gaming movement in the United States.

“It was a tough time,” Fahrenkopf said. “But Chuck was right there with good advice. He had a lot to do with our success. I don’t know how we would have gotten off the ground without Chuck.”

Robert Mathewson said his father “was very proud of helping create the AGA. The gaming industry needed a voice, and he was able to engineer IGT as a neutral party.”

Disclosure: Frank Fahrenkopf serves on The Nevada Independent’s advisory board.

Setting an example

One aspect of Chuck Mathewson’s personality, according to Robert, was that he always answered his own phone.

“My father was really an old stockbroker. He was accessible and everybody was shocked by that,” he said.

Mathewson remained an active investor after retiring from IGT and served on numerous boards and in advisory positions. He established the Charles N. Mathewson Foundation in 1993, which provides financial support for the arts, education, medical research, and social services.

“Chuck’s example was one that all Nevadans could relate to,” Sandoval said. “Respect the value of great ideas, encourage the value of great ideas in others, and use all of your energy and support in making these dreams a reality.”

Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve said in a statement that Mathewson made numerous contributions to the community, including “an extremely generous gift to the Nevada Museum of Art.

“We will forever cherish these amazing contributions to our community and think of Chuck fondly whenever we get a chance to experience them,” Schieve said. “I would be remiss not to recognize his unprecedented career at IGT. Transforming the company from a small Reno business to a household name known across the nation, Chuck will always be remembered as one of our region’s greatest business leaders.”

Mathewson died on Oct. 24 surrounded by his family. In a statement, the Mathewson family said “he came from humble beginnings and was proud of having worked in the family grocery business before serving our nation in the U.S. Army for two years.” Mathewson later earned a degree in finance from the University of Southern California on the GI Bill in 1953.

Mathewson began his career in the securities business as a board marker, “the lowest position in the business because it was the only job he could get,” according to his family.

“He was determined to succeed in that industry and his lifetime achievements from that inauspicious start were remarkable,” the family said in a statement.

Mathewson is survived by his wife, Stacie, his five children Paulina, Robert, Curtis, Easter and Miles, and their families. A private family service will be held at a later date.

Howard Stutz is a reporter with The Nevada Independent, a 501(c)3 nonprofit news organization. This
story was first published Nov. 3 by The Nevada Independent and is republished here with permission. Go to nvindy.com for more Nevada news.


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