Inside USD

Las Vegas Gamble pays off for USD’s Breitling

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Dream big.

Two small words, yes, but for Tom Breitling, it’s a mindset that took him from wanting to be the next Bob Costas to becoming a entrepreneur and brokering two separate $100 million Las Vegas business deals.

Breitling, a 1991 University of San Diego graduate (B.A., Communications), returned to his alma mater last week for two events that highlighted his entrepreneurial abilities. The president of the Las Vegas-based private investment company Breitling Ventures spoke May 1 to USD alumni, friends and business students to promote his new book Double or Nothing: How Two Friends Risked It All to Buy One of Las Vegas’ Legendary Casinos. The next day he served as one of three judges for the finals of the USD School of Business Administration’s inaugural Business Plan Competition for undergraduate and graduate students.

Breitling, 38, talked about being a USD student and interning at a San Diego television station, where he made a great friend in Lorenzo Fertitta. Fertitta ‘91 runs Station Casinos in Las Vegas and is an owner of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, a national mixed martial arts organization. It was through Fertitta that Breitling met Tim Poster, who played a major role in his big dreams coming true.

Poster convinced Breitling to leave his $12,000 a year job at a TV station in Victorville, Calif., to join him at Poster’s Las Vegas Reservation Systems, Inc. in 1993. The business, benefiting from the Internet boom, became Travelscape.com, which, in 2000, was sold to Expedia.com for more than $100 million. Breitling served on Expedia.com’s board of directors for two years.

In 2004, Poster and Breitling took on a new project — a childhood dream of Poster, Breitling says — to own a Las Vegas hotel and casino. The duo purchased the Golden Nugget hotel-casino properties in Las Vegas and Laughlin for $215 million. Poster and Breitling became the youngest casino owners in Nevada. Bringing back a “vintage Vegas” atmosphere, the duo starred in a Fox reality TV show “The Casino.” They hired legendary singer Tony Bennett to help bring in crowds. In September 2005, the duo sold the properties for approximately $340 million, giving Breitling a second $100 million windfall by age 35.

The two business deals put Poster and Breitling’s entrepreneur skills on the map. The key to a successful partnership, Breitling says, is that “great partners really have complementary skills set,” noting that Poster had the Las Vegas savvy while Breitling, who is originally from Minnesota, was “the square.”

Breitling’s strengths involve communication skills and a levelheadedness to do what it takes to succeed for the sake of the partnership. Together, Breitling and Poster, were a well-oiled machine.

Breitling provided several other nuggets of advice for those in the audience with entrepreneurial aspirations during a question-and-answer segment at the end of his speech.

• “Regardless if the project is big or small, you need to have an entrepreneurial spirit.”

• “Be a student and don’t stop being a student.”

• “Never think you know all there is to know.”

• “Be willing to take risks.”

In addition to his investment interests, Breitling gives back to the Las Vegas community and beyond. He is a student mentor and serves on the capital campaign committee for the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy, a K-12 model charter school that offers academic programs to enhance a child’s character, respect, motivation and self-discipline. He contributes to the Nevada Cancer Institute and in 2007 he started the Thomas C. Breitling Endowed Scholarship Fund at USD, which awards a scholarship to an undergraduate business student from Nevada to attend USD.

“It’s one of the true pleasures in life,” said Breitling in USD’s Honor Roll publication about the importance of giving back. “Education is important to me, and America is the land of opportunity; giving back is a way to make our country better.”

Breitling, who was married last fall with USD’s Reverend Monsignor Daniel J. Dillabough officiating, is preparing for fatherhood. He and his wife, Vanessa, are expecting their first child in August.

— Ryan T. Blystone

For more on Tom Breitling, go to www.tombreitling.com/

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