A final romantic dinner for Nancy and Bob Vannucci

On September 10th, the Las Vegas Review-Journal had a touching story about Bob Vannucci.  According to Richard Lake, Vannucci is in hospice care and does not have long to live.  His last wish was a romantic dinner with his wife.  Bob and his wife, Nancy, met and married in 1967 when both worked at the Dunes.  Bob’s career in gaming spanned the same 46 years as his marriage.  Both the marriage and the career reflect his generous and loyal character.

Most of Bob Vannucci’s gaming career was spent in Las Vegas. His last job was CEO of the Riviera.  I met him in Reno in the 1980s, but for years the only times we talked were in his office at the Riviera.  In the mid-1990s when Mike Opton and I went to the annual gaming show in Las Vegas that is now called G2E to display and sell the Nevada Gaming Almanac, we stayed at the Riviera as Bob’s guests.  The Almanac was not making us rich and we needed to reduce our expenses wherever possible, so we were very grateful for Bob’s generosity.  On those trips, he always invited us to his office to talk about gaming, the Almanac, Reno and Las Vegas.  Bob was a practical man with a great grasp of the industry.

In the 1980s, Bob Vannucci worked in Reno.  He was the general manager of the Ramada,  a small and now defunct hotel-casino.  In those years, Bob and Nancy occasionally came to relax to the Comstock Hotel-Casino where I worked; they liked to play nickel video poker.  However, Bob played a much larger role in my career than giving me a free room or some play on our slot machines.

In 1982, when I was promoted to casino manager at the Comstock, I had no academic or practical training for the job.  I was completely without qualifications and there were no books or courses available to help me. The only way I had to learn was from my peers in Reno.  Thankfully there were some who were willing to help and Bob was one of those.  From Bob and the others learned some of the essentials of the job.   For example, when I was doing the study on bus programs I wrote about earlier, Bob provided me with some very important information from his experience with busing.

When Bob got the job at the Ramada they had a bus program.  He looked at it carefully and then eliminated it.  Bob had kept accurate records of revenues and expenses of the Ramada program and on the impact of the loss of the buses.  Bob shared his data with me and he warned me that our gross gaming income would drop dramatically, but he also said our net gaming revenue would increase. He cautioned me to be patient and not panic in the first month or two after ending the program.  His knowledge and experience gave me the confidence to eliminate busing at the Comstock.  It also provided me with the ammunition I would need at the next board meeting to justify my actions.  From Bob I learned to evaluate marketing programs.  His willingness to share his data and experience with me made a significant contribution to my career.  I learned not only his way of thinking about a marketing program, but I learned the importance of cooperation and sharing between peers.

We also worked together on Festival Reno.  Festival Reno was a city-wide gaming tournament that lasted for three or four years in the mid-1980s; teams from each of the casinos competed against each other.  Players competed in slot, keno, blackjack and craps tournaments.  The individuals won the monetary prizes, but the casinos won the bragging rights.  Bob was at heart a marketing guy; he was the most enthusiastic general manager in town.  Bob’s teams dressed in costumes, they had cheering squads and competed in every event.  No other casino put as much into Festival Reno.  I was chairman of the organizing committee and Bob’s enthusiastic support was very important to me and to the success of the festival.

When I read the article about Bob I was saddened by his condition and his impending death.  It is unfortunate that the failure of the Riviera meant financial ruin for the Vannuccis.  It is always sad to see someone you have known and admired suffering and facing death.  I cannot presume to characterize Nancy’s feelings, but when Bob dies, the gaming industry will lose a good and insightful manger and I will have lost a supportive friend.  I regret that I never told Bob how much his support and cooperation meant to me and my fledgling career.  So, even though I know he will never read these words, I must say them: “Bob Vannucci, thank you, thank you for your generosity of spirit, your support and your friendship.”

 Bob Vannucci’s final wish: Romantic dinner with wife of 46 years

It took prodding to get Nancy Vannucci to look backward, but she did it because she is polite. She has been so focused on the present lately, and on the certain future her husband faces, that the past seems so far away. She and Robert worked at the Dunes, she said. She was a telephone operator, he worked the front desk. One day, he sent her a note through the hotel’s pneumatic tube messaging system. Go out with me, he pleaded…They were married a little more than a month later in 1967…Nancy’s health is failing; Robert is dying…the National Hospice and Palliative Care Association recently came out with a new program. It’s similar to the familiar Make a Wish program. In this one, hospices can apply to have one of their patients live out a final wish…Robert eventually worked his way up to casino management, including being president of the Riviera on the Strip. But Nancy said the family “lost everything” a few years ago after the bankruptcy of the Riviera Holdings Corp. “He’s so looking forward to this,” she said in the hours before their limousine ride. “To him, it means everything.” Richard Lake, Las Vegas Review-Journal, 9-10-13


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