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Of all the bets Berman has placed, the smartest was to gamble on Indian gaming with his 1990 decision to join forces with a Minnesota tribe, the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Indians, and build a casino on its reservation 70 miles north of Minneapolis. In return for managing the place, Berman and his partners got 40% of the profits for seven years, after which the tribe took over. Eager to duplicate the model, Berman backed three more Indian ventures: the Grand Casino Hinckley, also in Minnesota, and two casinos in Louisiana. In 1999 a predecessor company, Lakes Gaming Inc., which was publicly owned, earned $54.7 million in management-fee income and had a net profit of $28.8 million. Berman has done so well that in 1997 executive-compensation guru Graef Crystal called his compensation package for the previous year--which totaled $18 million in salary and stock options--the "third most outrageous" in the U.S.
But not everyone has fared well from Berman's business ventures. In the mid-'90s, his firm, then called Grand Casinos Inc., invested heavily in a hyped Las Vegas casino and resort, Stratosphere, that ended up in bankruptcy court nine months after a ballyhooed opening. Stockholders lost millions. As for Berman, he unloaded a block of stock before it plummeted. Disgruntled shareholders sued, claiming they had been misled over potential profits. The suit was settled for $9 million, but in the agreement Berman denied the charges.
Today Berman has deals to develop five more Indian casinos: three in California, one in Massachusetts and one in Michigan at a prime spot just 70 miles east of Chicago.
THE AFRICAN CONNECTION. They don't make them more controversial than Solomon Kerzner. There's the over-the-top casino he built on a South African homeland, taking advantage of apartheid; the money scandal that linked him to a Prime Minister who had to resign; the succession of wives, including a former Miss World; and these days the Mohegan Sun, a billion-dollar Indian casino in Connecticut that he made happen.