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Getting ahead in business: It’s no game

When work is over, family life and involvement in her local community of Hawley, PA, keep Pitts busy. “It’s a lot of juggling,” she admitted. “I just try to find a balance.”
TRR photos by Jane Bollinger

June 25, 2014

MONTICELLO, NY — June 30 is a big day for Laurette Pitts. She is a senior vice president and the chief operating officer and chief financial officer of Empire Resorts, which owns Monticello Casino & Raceway. Monday marks not only the 10th anniversary of the Monticello “racino,” but also the culmination of many months of long days working to complete the company’s application to operate one of four new casinos coming to New York State.

Pitts, who grew up in a small town in rural New Jersey not far from Atlantic City, speaks fondly of her childhood in Hammondton (which some will know as the Blueberry Capital of the World for its most famous agricultural product).

“I loved it there,” she recalled recently during an interview, referring to her hometown. “I was related to most of the people in town and knew just about everybody else. The only reason I left was to move up and find a better career.”

Pitts, the younger of two children, grew up in a blue collar family. Her dad owned a trucking company. “That I went to college was really important,” she said. A graduate of Stockton State College of New Jersey, she later earned an MBA at Metropolitan State University in Minneapolis, MN.

Starting out in the casino business more than 20 years ago, Pitts rose through the ranks of the gaming industry, working on the finance and operations side of the business—from Harrah’s in Atlantic City, to the Memphis (TN) area with its many gaming establishments, to New York State working for Seneca Casino Resorts. Closer to home in 2006, she led the team that opened Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs.

When asked about becoming a successful female executive in a male dominated industry, Pitts reflected, “I think we make our choices. When I started out in ’92 in the casino business, it was all men at the top,” she conceded, adding, “I got to work for some great bosses who gave me opportunities, but I was the one who had to push for it. You have to stand up and be recognized and show that you’re dedicated.”

Nowadays more women are coming up in the ranks. “Today our corporate team [at Empire Resorts] consists of four executives; two are women, and our chief counsel is also female. It’s pretty close to 50/50,” she said. “Right now I have two younger women, who are in their late 20s or early 30s, reporting to me.” Pitts’ advice is, “You’ve got to work hard and stay on top of the latest in your area of expertise. Also, I encourage these guys—don’t be afraid to speak up. I don’t want someone who just agrees with me; let’s have a discussion. At the end of the day we can shake hands and carry on. It’s great.”