Many would feel that starting a new career during a global pandemic would be the ultimate challenge, but if anyone can do it it would be the brand new president of Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, Melonie Johnson. Coming from a small town in Louisiana and bringing nationwide experience along with her, Johnson is making history as the first black woman to run a casino in Atlantic City. As Borgata (who have set the tone for many other gaming establishments during these times) starts to hear the familiar bells from the slot machines, I sat down to talk with Johnson about how her career path lento Borgata and breaking barriers throughout her career.
Michael Cook: Melonie, Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa is officially open for business. What has it been like to have started a new phase of your career during a pandemic like this?
Melonie Johnson: Arriving during a pandemic was definitely a challenge, we will say that (laughs). It’s exciting though.
Michael Cook: Let’s start at the beginning; when did your passion for working in a casino or the gaming industry spark?
I have definitely done a little bit of everything in my career. I was originally in commercial loans actually. I had not gotten my MBA or CPA, and after a company I was working for filed bankruptcy, I did just that and became a CPA. I ended up at Harrah’s in financial accounting and reporting. That was in the mid 90’s. From there, I went to Six Flags to change things up, then ended up back in gaming. I was at Harrah’s, then Penn National. From Illinois to West Virginia and then I ended up back in the South again (Mississippi). I came back up to Baltimore and now I am at Borgata.
MC: As a native of Louisiana, you are very familiar with working during challenging circumstances. You were in Louisiana during Hurricane Katrina correct? What was that experience like?
I was, but I do see a very big difference between the two. Katrina definitely impacted my home state and in terms of big picture, it is one small area. COVID has impacted the entire country, and globe for that matter.
MC: Has it been difficult being a woman of color in an industry that has historically been run by white men?
MJ: At times it has been, yes. I have made it a point to let my work speak for itself and simply be “Melonie” not the only black person for the company. (Johnson has broken glass ceilings before; In 2015, MGM Resorts International hired her as the property President for Goldstrike in Mississippi making Johnson the first Black woman president ever at that property)
MC: The OUT At Borgata program has been very successful in appealing to the LGBTQ community. Can we expect to see more events geared towards the community as things open up?
MJ: Absolutely. I feel that diversity of all kinds is crucial to in the continuing success, especially right now. That definitely includes the LGBTQ community.
MC: Mentoring is extremely important to you; why do you find “passing it on” to be one of your biggest passions?
MJ: I find it to be probably the most important aspect of leadership actually. I have been a mentor at every job that I have held, and still try to assist people I have worked with previously. Investing in our employees is very important to me; I feel that if we treat our employees well, they in turn treat customers well, and so on.
MC: Like the LGBT community has done, you are breaking ground as one of the few black women to run a casino in the United States. What do you think a lesson could be that has taken you to the heights you have reached in your career?
MJ: Whether it’s an employee or it’s a customer, people have to be valued and treated with a certain level of respect. I think that is so important.
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