The Seneca Nation's top casino employee, Mickey Brown, resigned Wednesday, saying his task of getting the nation's casinos up and running was complete.
"Not many people get an opportunity to do something like this in their professional lifetime, and I'm very grateful for the opportunity," Brown said. "It was a hell of a run."
Seneca Nation President Barry Snyder, whose campaign included a promise to remove Brown and replace him with a Seneca, praised Brown's contributions to the nation's fortunes.
"Mickey added tremendous value to the Seneca Nation and its gaming corporations by attracting a high-caliber senior executive team and by leading the Seneca Gaming Corp. and its subsidiaries through the challenging developmental stage," Snyder said in a statement.
Snyder, who initially recruited Brown as a casino consultant for the nation before it signed its compact with New York State, called Brown "instrumental in the success of our gaming operations to date."
With Brown as its chief executive, the nation's gaming arm opened its first casino in about 100 days, on Dec. 31, 2002. Then it built a parking garage, and another casino in Salamanca. A 26-story Seneca spa hotel has risen next to the Niagara Falls casino, with a partial opening set for Dec. 15.
With a permanent Salamanca casino and hotel under way, more than $540 million in construction has broken ground on Brown's watch. The nation also raised money on Wall Street for the first time in May 2004, issuing $300 million in bonds backed by casino revenues, which went to finance construction projects.
John Pasqualoni, the casino corporation's chief operating officer, will step in as acting executive while a "limited" search is under way for Brown's replacement, Snyder said.
Snyder's statement did not mention the ongoing financial review of the Seneca Nation's casino operations, launched in November after Snyder was elected. The audit report was initially due in February, but it has yet to be released.
Last week, the nation made Snyder full-time chairman of the Seneca Gaming Corp., at $100,000 a year, to give the nation direct control of casino operations.
Brown said he started discussing his exit with Snyder in January. He will be a consultant until the hotel is finished, or Dec. 31, whichever comes first, he said.
Brown, a lawyer, said he will return to the New Jersey law firm he left to work for the Senecas. He might work for Indian tribes again, he said, but not in so demanding a position as the key person in a casino start-up.
"This is my final project from the ground up," he said, describing 12-hour days, six or seven days a week. "I enjoy it, but it consumes all of your life, and even anything you do socially has some relation to the business."
He said he plans to sell one of the two Niagara Falls condominiums he owns, but keep the other. "I plan on being back here frequently," he said.
The Niagara Falls gaming industry should grow into adulthood in the next year or two, Brown predicted. It has stimulated the creation of a new conference center, development of an entertainment district on Third Street and the building of 600 first-class hotel rooms.
"I think there's going to be a more intense, combined effort to sell this city," he said. "And I think that's good."
National developers have started to figure out how they may be able to capitalize on the 15,000 to 20,000 daily casino visitors, Brown said.
"I think the Seneca Nation took a chance here," he said, "and for the members of the Seneca Nation and the citizens of Niagara County, that chance has paid off."