Laubach, Luciano: 2022 Inductees in EKG Slots Hall of Fame
February 15, 2022
Special Report by Frank Fantini
Publisher Emeritus, Fantini’s Gaming Report
The following is an article by Frank Fantini on Mike Laubach and Bob Luciano as the two newest inductees into the EKG Slot Awards Hall of Fame.
An infectious smile.
A ready wit.
A hearty laugh.
A bigger than life personality.
Those are immediate and unanimous responses from persons asked to describe Mike Laubach who is being inducted posthumously into the Eilers & Krejcik Slot Awards Hall of Fame.
Then there were the business qualities of the Corporate Vice President of Slot Operations at Boyd Gaming:
A good negotiator.
A keen understanding of the player and player experience.
A shrewd analytical intelligence.
Combine those personal and professional qualities, and you have a hall of famer.
“Mikey mixed personal life with business. He would get to know you – “What do you think of politics?” – then flip over to business. He offered therapy and mentoring,” recalls Bob Parente, chief revenue officer at Scientific Games.
Laubach’s humor was genuine but was always focused on work and was spot on,” Boyd Senior VP Chris Gibase noted. He used that humor to get his point across, and it worked as well with those below him and those above him in the organization, Gibase added.
Laubach’s understanding came from long experience on casino floors. He started in 1975 when he joined his father as a slots employee at Harvey’s casino in South Lake Tahoe.
From there, Mike made numerous stops on his journey, including the Stardust on the Las Vegas Strip, Sam’s Town and Hollywood Casino in Tunica, Mississippi, helping open Delta Downs for Boyd in Vinton, Louisiana, slot director at Orleans in Las Vegas and then, in 2019 rising to corporate office at Boyd’s headquarters in Las Vegas.
All of the knowledge accrued through that long experience was much in demand.
“Mike wasn’t a CEO or a game inventor, but he was an influencer as we say today. People wanted to know his understanding,” long-time associate Mark Morton said. “He was always focused on the player experience,” the Senior Vice President for Sales at Marker Trax added.
Parente agrees. Mike was a popular panelist at the user conferences of slot manufacturers. “He would sit in a corner and all of a sudden he’d pipe in, and people were always interested in what he had to say. He’d simplify everything down to the player experience,” Parente said.
Morton summed it up: “Mike was super intelligent.”
Mike also had a reputation as a fair negotiator. “He looked at pricing – average sales price was important – but he was really fair and you knew where you stood with him,” Konami COO Tom Jingoli recalls.
“At the end of the day, Mike would convince you that what was good for him was good for you, too,” Morton noted in wry admiration.
After a sales presentation, Mike would say “We’ll take care of that, and you knew you were good,” Parente says.
But it was Mike’s humor and bigger than life personality that is recalled most fondly.
Jingoli described him as “a tremendous human being.”
“He had a huge, huge personality. Mike was the funniest man I’ve ever met. He could never do enough for friends and family,” Morton said in summing up his friend.
And, oh by the way, he helped Boyd Gaming continue its steady growth.
In that regard, this is a fitting tribute from the man who has long been the top guy at Boyd, CEO Keith Smith: Mike was an important part of the Boyd leadership team. Our slot floors are a significant part of our overall business – and Mike was responsible for ensuring our slot floors were as competitive and successful as possible.
“Mike was a part of the Boyd Gaming family for more than 30 years and was respected and liked throughout our company and our industry. His down-to earth-demeanor and sense of humor won people over quickly and made Mike a perfect fit for the Boyd culture. Mike was not just our professional colleague, but also our friend – and we miss him.
“Again. And Again. And Again. And Again...”
Those were the words Bob Luciano used at the 2013 Gaming Technology Forum Awards to describe his determined efforts to come back from a stroke.
But those words also sum up his career of extraordinary accomplishment in gaming technology innovation, and a man loved by family and revered by friends and business associates at all levels.
As fellow gaming innovation legend John Acres said at that 2013 ceremony, Bob can be “incredibly stubborn.…which is an awfully good quality when you’re right.”
And a great quality to have when overcoming personal adversity.
Bob’s stick-to-it-iveness and intellectual curiosity were evident early. Father Bob Luciano Sr. remembers toddler Bob Jr. with a penchant for tools, sleeping with his wooden hammer, building shelves at three and four years old.
“He was destined to be an engineer,” Bob Sr. said.
Or a motocross racer. Bob raced dirt bikes at the encouragement of Bob Sr. Then, in the summer between high school and college, he signed on with champion motocross driver Tony DiStefano and toured the country.
Though he resisted the temptation to race professionally instead choosing college, Bob remained a motocross enthusiast, winning numerous racing trophies over the years.
In motocross and in business and in every endeavor, Bob is totally committed. “He’s the most driven person I have ever met,” fellow Sierra Design Group founder Rob Miller said.
Or as daughter Gina observes: “Dad works hard and he plays hard.”
Playing hard often involves the entire family – Gina, wife Teresa, daughter Sophia and son Cyrus.
“All of our vacations were adventures like camping in Africa and boating in the Galapagos Islands,” Gina recalls.
Camping in Africa is an understatement. The family one night pitched two tents on the Serengeti Plains in Tanzania. One tent was for eight-year-old Cyrus and 10-year-old Gina. The other was for Bob and Teresa. They heard lions growl through the night and next morning saw paw tracks. “Pretty scary, but we survived!” Teresa recalls with a laugh.
Much like the engineering gene that was passed down from father to son, outdoor adventuring came from Bob’s parents, too. Mother Lori noted that at age 86, she recently climbed a mountain in Mexico to see where Monarch butterflies spend their winters.
Bob will still hike three miles in the mountains with family members, Gina and Teresa say.
“Family is always the most important to him,” Lori said. That devotion to family took all of Bob’s driven energy when he was a young single parent in the years between divorce and marrying Teresa.
Bob would work hard at IGT and then come home and play hard with Gina and Cyrus. “It was work during the week and dirt bike racing on weekends. It’s amazing. He was always with us,” Gina recalls.
During college, Bob interned at Mobil Oil and in his father’s own business where he designed and built labeling machines, which he did before the age of computers, Bob Sr. notes proudly.
Then the opportunity came to work for IGT. “It was a marriage made in Heaven,” Senior recalls.
At IGT and later at Sierra Design Group, Bob became a leader in the most important innovations in gaming technology – central server gaming that led to Class II slots in Indian Country, VLTs elsewhere and today’s emerging historical horse racing machines, ticket-in ticket-out, bonus games on slot machines, thermal printers for slots, Megabucks wide area progressives, among them.
It might have been the development of technology allowing Class II bingo-based slots to operate on all games and systems that was his greatest achievement.
The team that achieved that at Seminole casinos in Florida made possible today’s highly successful Hard Rock International casino enterprise and those of other tribes, according to Hard Rock CEO Jim Allen who was joined in that effort with the late Lyle Bell, fellow Eilers & Krejcik Hall of Famer Charlie Lombardo and Allen himself. “Bob deserves this (hall of fame) honor as much or more than anyone,” Allen says.
Bob is still esteemed by Native Americans for his Class II achievements that enriched often impoverished populations and that contribute to their financial well-being to this day.
“That’s going to be Bob’s legacy more than anything,” Miller says.
“Bob and John Acres are two men in gaming who, you give them a problem and they give you a solution,” Lombardo said.
Luciano also contributed to his and his partners’ success when Bally’s, then known as Alliance Gaming, bought SDG for more than $200 million.
The success at SDG came in part because of his natural generosity. “Bob got performance out of people without being a drill sergeant. Bob was the most generous person,” Miller says. “He was always the first with a gift for an employee, such as for a new baby. Everybody was family.”
Another measure of Bob’s success as an engineer and innovator comes in the sheer number of patents he holds – more than 300; and they are not all in gaming. They range from pharmaceutical packaging to golf.
There may be more coming under the Luciano name. Son Cyrus is the third-generation to be an engineer and has worked with John Acres. Grandson Huckleberry, at two-and-a-half years old, tears apart and puts together his toys, just like his grandfather at the same age.
As Bob Sr. says, the apple doesn’t fall far from the family tree.