In in his own words: Bonanza Casino GM Ryan Sheltra
July 22, 2013
Northern Nevada Business Weekly: Tell us about your company and the duties of your position.
Ryan Sheltra: My father, Russ, started Bonanza in 1973, so this is our 40-year anniversary. He bought this business from Don Baldwin; it used to be a Food King mini-mart, which was a predecessor to Warehouse Markets (now Scolari's). My dad bought several of Don's stores from him as he was coming out of college. This store he bought on a sales contract written on the back of a napkin. No money down, no lawyers, no official contract. That is what started the Bonanza Casino. As general manager I run the day-to-day operations of everything under this roof.
NNBW: How did you get into this profession?
Sheltra: I never knew anything else. Growing up in gaming, I had watched a few other very successful gaming families such as the Caranos, and taking a page out of their book I went to Las Vegas out of Wooster High School. During the summer while I was in school I worked at some great properties — I am probably the only front-desk clerk to interview with (Peppermill owner) Bill Paganetti. I worked for the Peppermill, the Las Vegas Hilton, Caesar's Palace and Caesar's Tahoe. In 2000 I was getting ready to go back to Las Vegas and had a real nice job offer at the Aladdin, and my dad wanted some succession in management. Instead of going to Las Vegas I stayed here and I've loved every minute of it.
NNBW: What's the most important thing you have learned in your career in gaming?
Sheltra: The thing I tell every member of my management team, which has served me so well, is to be fair and consistent. People will not always agree with what you have to say, but if you are fair about it and you are consistent in your management, you will keep yourself out of trouble.
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NNBW: How did the recession change the way you do business?
Sheltra: We faced a lot of obstacles. Back in 2004-2006, you didn't have to be a good manager to survive or be successful, but since then we have seen a lot of companies go by the wayside, including some in gaming. Businesses that are still here today are good at what they do. We were very aggressive in capital reinvestment. When we were in the boom years, we were dumping tons of capital back into the product to bring this property up to date. When the recession hit, for us, what really hurt is that I didn't realize how closely we were tied to the housing market. Up here in North Reno, so many tradesmen live in the North Valleys. The electricians, carpenters, plumbers, those people are our people. When they hurt we hurt. But because we had dumped all that money into the remodel we were able to weather the recession. We also were not saddled with debt; we did everything out of operating capital.
NNBW: Where do you see the future of gaming in northern Nevada?
Sheltra: It is critical for the future of northern Nevada to diversify from gaming. We don't have the tourist market we used to have, and it is not going to get any better. That doesn't mean we are ever going to stop trying, but the economy locally has to create more jobs in non-gaming, which in turn will feed the gaming product we have here.
NNBW: What's new for the property?
Sheltra: I'd like to keep growing the Bonanza. My dream is to someday be able to provide a room product up here. I think that is a very realistic goal for us. We are a small, family-owned local casino, and we have grown over time. I'd like to keep pushing forward.
NNBW: How much satisfaction do you derive from working alongside your father?
Sheltra: That sometimes can be a difficult relationship, but for my father and I that is just the opposite: We complement each other. My background is marketing; my dad is real strong in finance and food and beverage. Between the two of us it is a great one-two punch. Our staff loves watching us interact because we don't always agree. We just repainted this building and remodeled the outside in much more modern colors with earth tones and stacked stone. My father had this building painted red for 40 years. We had to hire Don Clark of Cathexes to be the referee between the two of us and help guide us into the color palates that we chose. God bless Don, he saved the family!
NNBW: What's the most fun you have had on the job?
Sheltra: It certainly was a lot of fun having Megabucks hit here a couple of months ago. We had an $11.8 million jackpot hit at the Bonanza. I was in Maui on vacation, but I have an iPad that keeps me in constant contact with the property — it drives my wife crazy. That probably was the most exciting day in the history of the Bonanza.
NNBW: What was your first job?
Sheltra: When I was in high school I worked at the Bonanza Casino in accounting.
NNBW: Tell us about your dream job. Why aren't you working it?
Sheltra: I'm doing it — I don't want to do anything else. I have no aspirations to be anywhere other than where I am. I am a Nevada boy, and I don't have any desire to go anywhere else.
NNBW: How did you establish the concept of Cactus Creek steakhouse, and how do you differentiate yourself from other steakhouses in town?
Sheltra: It started with our director of food and beverage, Chris Romm. Chris started with our wine list. We brought in Silver Oak, Mondavi, Duckhorn, Opus, Frog's Leap and offered it at a very nominal markup. Our steakhouse started attracting people from Caughlin Ranch, Somersett and even Montréux. That gained so much traction that chef Romm said we have to go to 100-percent prime beef. We went all-in on the steakhouse, and we serve the top 1 percent of beef in America.
NNBW: What are your favorite hobbies or pastimes? How do you spend your time away from work?
Sheltra: It is all about my children. Running was my passion, but my children have taken that over. When I am not at work I am with them. My boys play a lot of baseball that goes year-round. As my children have gotten older, it has gotten more fun and it gets better every day.
NNBW: What did you dream of becoming when you were a kid?
Sheltra: I wanted to be a firefighter and an astronaut.
NNBW: What's the last concert or sporting event you attended?
Sheltra: I took my oldest son Cole to an Oakland A's baseball game. He won the local pitch, hit, run contest and got to compete at the A's stadium. Afterward we got to watch the game.
NNBW: Where's your perfect vacation spot?
Sheltra: Being with my family on Lake Tahoe. I enjoy traveling and seeing new places, but for me there is nothing better than Lake Tahoe and being with the family.
NNBW: What do you like most about working and living in northern Nevada?
Sheltra: Being born and raised here, I know everybody. I cannot go anywhere in this valley and not know people. There are a lot of good people here.