Mark Tricano: How Fontainebleau Las Vegas will set the benchmark as a resort

January 23, 2024

Fontainebleau Las Vegas President and gaming industry veteran Mark Tricano spoke exclusively to Gaming America about how the resort will set the stage after a tough act to follow in Miami Beach.

Mark Tricano was appointed President of the Fontainebleau Las Vegas six months before its opening, but nearly 16 years after the project was announced. He began his journey in the gaming industry as Director of Planning & Analysis with Harrah’s Entertainment in New Jersey back in 2006, just a year before the Fontainebleau Las Vegas originally began its construction. He has risen among the ranks in several gaming companies across the globe, and while both the Fontainebleau’s and Tricano’s trajectories may be unusual in other industries, the President of The Strip’s newest resort said, “When it comes to the casino business, I don’t think anyone has a traditional journey or one that’s been planned out.”

The Fontainebleau President grinned from his Las Vegas office, which included a tabletop scale model of the Fontainebleau resort, as he told Gaming America that his career has taken him “through lots of twists and turns from New Jersey, to Las Vegas, to Ohio to Asia.” The executive has, however, also been known for a particular catchphrase that applies not only to his career, but to the plot twists in the Fontainebleau Las Vegas’ story so far: “Somehow you work hard, you do the right thing, and everything else takes care of itself.”

Predecessors’ visions

In Las Vegas, Gaming America not only had the pleasure to speak with Tricano about the upcoming opening of the Fontainebleau Las Vegas, but also to hear about the property’s imminent debut as the subject went rapidly through the gaming industry rumor mill. The general consensus of those talking about the property was right: the Fontainebleau will be aiming for more of a luxury market on The Strip. It’s no surprise either when looking at the history of the property and its origins in Miami Beach, or when interpreting the bow tie logo of both resorts, as it adorns building facades, floor tiles, the Fontainebleau website and more. If there was any doubt in one’s mind that this project would be a high-end entrant onto The Strip, Tricano cleared that up by saying, “We’re definitely taking a luxury position in the marketplace and we think there’s an opportunity to redefine luxury in Las Vegas.” He continued by saying that in addition to "humanizing hospitality," the Fontainebleau Las Vegas will also look to “liberate luxury.” Tricano more than appreciates the property’s history in Miami, but his efforts across the country will include elevating the brand as well as maintaining its allure. He said, “It’s delivering that experience in a more modern format that is less beholden to the traditional norms of these definitions of service.” If any further doubt remained that the sleek, simple, geometric Fontainebleau logo may not be a bow tie, look no further than Architect Morris Lapidus, designer of the original Fontainebleau Miami Beach, who wore a bow tie throughout his adult life and left black marble bows in a white marble floor as his signature in the property.

Another name synonymous with the Fontainebleau brand throughout the decades has been Jeffrey Soffer. Though hotelier Ben Novack founded the Fontainebleau Miami Beach, which opened in 1954, it was sold to Stephen Muss in 1978, and then later to Turnberry Associates in 2005 for $165m. Turnberry Associates was founded by Jeff’s father, Donald Soffer. Jeff had begun his journey with the firm in 1987, 18 years before the purchase of Fontainebleau Miami Beach. The same year in 2005, Fontainebleau Resorts LLC was established by Turnberry Associates, now owned by Jeff. It is his quote that greets visitors to the Fontainebleau Las Vegas administrative offices: “We serve the most important guests in the world.”

Tricano agreed, expanding, “We have been serving the most important guests in the world for 70 years. When our ownership frames that and puts that perspective forward for the organization, and the mindset of our team members, it helps provide that North Star, that guide, on the expectations of how we view the people who walk through our doors.” Tricano says he is very fortunate to be entrusted with his role as President of the Fontainebleau Las Vegas, bestowed upon him not only by Soffer but by Brett Mufson and Koch Industries. Mufson was previously appointed President and CEO of the property in January 2023, as Soffer’s long-time business partner, and will remain President of Fontainebleau Development. It takes a village of executives to raise a luxury hotel and casino, after all. Tricano was ever-grateful for the chance to be part of something of this scale, commenting that opening a casino on the Las Vegas Strip was a “once in a lifetime” opportunity. Considering factors at play such as the necessary capital for one to be developed, the gaming industry knowledge needed to run such a property and the ultra-competitive nature of Sin City’s most famous area, he’s absolutely right. He commented further, “When I think about our task at hand, and what we’re about to do in the next 60 days, you can’t help but get excited about it.” That 60-day period encompasses everything from mid-October to mid-December when we spoke to Tricano, but obviously the real work begins after the Fontainebleau Las Vegas opens its gilded doors (it launched on 13 December, with Gaming America in attendance at a lavish launch).

Rare opportunity

In addition to the trust instilled in him by the developers and executive team working toward their shared Fontainebleau goal, Tricano is "privileged" to have worked with several "great bosses" throughout his career. “From each one I tried to learn something different,” he said, “just a different perspective on how you lead and manage, how you prioritize your work, or some of those attributes that say: ‘This person really understands how to get to the crux of an issue to solve problems and improve business.'” Tricano added that he was fortunate to have inspirational figures present in his career from an early age.

That once-in-a-lifetime opportunity Tricano mentions also extends to the fact that the Fontainebleau Las Vegas is a one-of-a-kind property. Though Tricano acknowledges the fact that the Miami property’s rich legacy has helped to make his job a bit easier, that was a destination with a different aim. The Strip’s sister property in Miami Beach operates without a casino. “One of the things that’s so interesting, exciting, challenging for me is we’re not part of a large network; we are creating the systems,the processes, the culture from theground up.” The Fontainebleau’s foray into casino gaming will require much more than just picking out the perfect bow tie for its dealer’s uniforms. But how much of a focus will the property place on gambling when that isn’t what the Fontainebleau brand is known for – though Las Vegas certainly is.

Tricano says the opening of the Fontainebleau Las Vegas is about fulfilling promises that the executive team has made to the members joining them, as well as to the brand and its ownership. The satisfaction of those agreements is what “creates a business that is ready to stand for generations.” Part of withstanding that test of time is noticing when trends change during the natural progression of those generations. The Fontainebleau Las Vegas will admittedly be aligned more with the modern consumer and current times, which for Tricano began after the year 1999. “As our business has evolved over the past 24 years, the customers have changed, their expectations have changed, how we derive revenue and profits from the business has changed – and we’re in a fortunate position to be able to design and incorporate all of those elements in a really holistic fashion.” The modern casino resort customer is also looking for just that: a casino and resort. Tricano says achieving the balance when offering multiple potential revenue-generating amenities will be crucial.

Elements of success

There were four specific elements Tricano mentioned that help to keep a property, or a least the Fontainebleau, in vogue for decades: architecture, style, celebration and sophistication. The influence the Miami Beach Fontainebleau has had is evident in the hotel’s strong appeal, as well as in its much-copied curved façade and other distinctive design elements. Tricano noted it is amazing for a property to stay relevant for 70 years, and compared it to another famous local property, which opened 12 years after the first Fontainebleau resort. “For us in Las Vegas, we might look at Caesars Palace, an iconic property that opened in 1966,” he smiled as he said, “You might have to fact check me on that one.” But there was no need; he was absolutely correct.

Architecture alone won’t turn a property from a hotel into a destination. Tricano agrees with the likes of Yves Saint Laurent and Coco Chanel as he states, “You know, fashions come and go, but style is more eternal.” Cultivating a unique and enduring signature style is part of what has made the brand recognizable as well as desirable to many guests, and film crews, for years. The sophistication that comes to mind is seen within not only the bow tie motif, but also the imagery on the Fontainebleau Las Vegas’ flashy new website. Tuxedos, champagne, roses, marble, chocolate truffles, cufflinks, chandeliers, and rich blue and gold hues show the homepage visitor what an actual visit to the Fontainebleau could bring. Tricano said of one of the other more surprising elements the brand hopes to encapsulate in its experiences, “I think there’s also a level of celebration that’s with the Fontainbleau.” While luxurious images of elegant stays play in an enticing loop, the website also shows the brand’s playful and celebratory side by splicing in images of happy hotel guests licking birthday cake from their fingers, pool goers holding drinks served in pineapples as they swim and a fluffy poodle in a signature bow tie, winking at the camera. The curation is evident; every still and every clip was chosen to specifically invoke future guests’ individual versions of indulgence. Tricano said, “When I think about what we’re trying to do here, as I speak about redefining luxury on the Las Vegas Strip, I think about those four elements and how they are relevant for our project in Fontainbleau Las Vegas, but also for our members that join us, to understand that perspective and that history.”

When it comes to reinventing the Las Vegas wheel, and drawing in both new and frequent casino resort guests to a property, the Strip isn’t even where a property has to be these days. Derek Stevens’ Circa Resort & Casino has also cultivated a style all its own, and a fanbase in the Downtown area loyal to the specific vibe of ‘bigger is better’ luxury that Circa offers with its stadium pool and sportsbook. Calling itself the “conduit between the Las Vegas of yesterday and the Las Vegas of tomorrow,” an aim that many newer and older properties alike would set their sights on, Circa may not be competing for the Fontainebleau’s customer demographic, but every casino resort in Las Vegas is in competition for that untouchable, icon status. Tricano said of Stevens, “I think what he has done Downtown, as a visionary in that landscape, has been tremendous, not only for Las Vegas in that location, but in many ways challenging us within our own industry to think different and do better.” It’s impossible to say now whether the three-year-old Circa will stand the test of another 67 years, but starting out strong could certainly help to maintain some crucial early-on momentum.

Somewhere special

Being in Sin City and on the Strip, however, places any new hotel or casino into a prime, bustling mecca of tourists and locals alike. If resorts are in competition with each other, Las Vegas is in competition with the world for visitors’ attention, and every year more facets are added to the Las Vegas experience. The biggest names in music perform regular, sellout residencies (some from inventive new venues like the Sphere), while professional sports like the F1 Las Vegas Grand Prix and the 2024 Super Bowl will also put the city even more firmly on the map. When it comes to the advantages this location will no doubt bring, when compared to a Miami locale, Tricano said, “I think we’re certainly fortunate in Las Vegas to be in a location that offers so much to many different customers, because that traditional norm of being a gambler’s paradise – that’s changed over the years. We do offer more; we continue to diversify and grow as an industry.”

‘History’ is a word that came up often in Gaming America’s interviews with both Fontainebleau Las Vegas COO, Colleen Birch, as well as with Tricano. And while it’s clear that certain elements can definitely aid in a property’s goals of being timeless, relevant and respected, the next 70 years will bring an untold number of innovations on concepts both new and old. The resort industry, the gaming industry and their renowned intersection in Las Vegas show absolutely no signs of slowing down. Every hotel, every casino, every show and every guest are looking for the heightened versions of experiences of years gone by.

When asked what he hopes the history books will eventually say, when looking back upon the opening or the potential legacy of The Fontainebleau Las Vegas, Tricano responds, “Here’s an organization that helped evolve the market in a way that continued to excite, entertain and drive the overall vision for Las Vegas. And they did it in a way that we’re proud of.” He added that this pride must come not only from an ownership perspective, but from all the members that work at the Fontainebleau Las Vegas. Tricano nodded as he summarized his ultimate feeling of success: “If all the members that work here said, ‘I was part of that; we did something special and we made a difference.’”