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'It's a good game to be in'

Following Larry Ho, past locked doors and "staff only" signs, through the winding hallways that snake through the Starlight Casino, everyone he passes enthusiastically belts out, "Hi, Larry!" As the recently hired executive general manager of the Sta

Following Larry Ho, past locked doors and "staff only" signs, through the winding hallways that snake through the Starlight Casino, everyone he passes enthusiastically belts out, "Hi, Larry!"

As the recently hired executive general manager of the Starlight Casino in Queensborough, Ho oversees about 500 employees working on the casino's 80,000square-foot gaming floor, five restaurants, 850 slot machines, and high-stakes VIP room.

Not bad for someone who is just 32, but Ho has gaming in his blood.

"Being born and raised in Vegas, both my parents were dealers, and I grew up in the industry," he said. "I've been in it for over 12 years now, and pretty much worked every single job except being a dealer."

Ho studied accounting at University of Nevada Las Vegas, where he got both his bachelor's and master's degrees. He started working in the business as an intern, before he was even old enough to gamble in the casino, doing night audits at a small casino called the Nevada Palace.

After graduating, Ho went to work for MGM Resorts, which owns most of the iconic Las Vegas Boulevard's high-end casinos, where he held titles like internal auditor, chief financial officer, director of finance and comptroller.

After eight years with MGM, Ho followed his former boss and mentor to the B.C.'s Gateway Casinos and Entertainment, which owns 12 casinos and bingo halls in B.C. and Alberta.

LARRY HO Now for the first time work-Starlight Ca ing in the top job in the casino, Ho describes it as "absolutely one of the most interesting jobs in the world." "I think it's the best job ever, to tell you the truth. It's sort of like a small city in itself where you're running food and beverage, you're running entertainment, running a casino floor," Ho said. "It's all lumped in, in this industry. That's what I absolutely love about it. Each day is never the same."

Ho said he is proud of some of the directions the Starlight is taking under his guidance, including community outreach. He's particularly fond of the relationship the casino is making with New Westminster's artistic community, many of whom now have art hanging at the Starlight's lobby and newly opened No. 9 VIP room.

o "When we just finished this VIP expansion, I said, 'Why don't we look at purchasing art from local artists?' and so we went with that route. I'm actually pretty proud of that - going local and putting that into our high-end product," he said.

And it's not just art. Flowers for the VIP suite are purchased from local florists, the business sources locally where possible, and there are a number of new charitable projects Ho said the casino will be donating to or contributing in-kind staff time for.

"That's one of the things I've been trying to work with - how can we get involved more and more within the community, instead of just writing a cheque and posing for a picture? We should be able to do a lot more," he said.

As for developments in the casino, Ho said the August opening of the VIP room has been a particular thrill. The room caters to the casino's highest-end gamblers who are willing to lay down single bets totalling more than an average person's annual salary.

"One of the best things about Starlight is our high-end clientele and driving that business. There's no adrenaline rush like it because you have a lot of heavy hitters," he said.

"They have to have a certain amount of buy-in, which I can't disclose, but it's in the hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars. . In Vegas, we call them whales."

Spending a life in gaming doesn't mean the potential for moral or ethical dilemmas is out of mind for Ho. To reconcile it, he said he sees gambling as a matter of personal choice and responsibility.

"It's a tough question. Like anything else, like tobacco or the fast food chains and liquor. At the end of the day, it's the consumer's dollar, and there has to be some form of control and responsibility there," he said. "We are an entertainment destination, and that's kind of how I see it, but there has to be personal responsibility."

In a career where it may be just as hard to predict the next trend as it is to predict where the roulette ball will fall next, Ho said he'll just keep learning about the ever-changing tastes of casino goers until one day, maybe, he'll go back to Las Vegas to run one of the casinos he got his start in.

"I would say I'm a student of the business even though I've been in it for over 12 years," he said. "At the end of the day, it's a good game to play."

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brichter@royalcityrecord.com