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Indian Gaming Magazine Covers the Front Lines as Well as Back Office

Just as a winter’s rain can turn the dry hillsides of the American West to green, American Indian casinos have caused an entire class of vendors to proliferate.

Manufacturers and service businesses have flourished with the growth of the gaming industry. So have a few niche publications, including a San Diego magazine with a goal to be, in Melanie Dellas’ words, “the Inc. magazine for the tribal gaming industry.”

Dellas is editor and publisher of Native American Casino magazine and president of its parent company, Dellas Publications LLC of Bloomfield Hills, Mich. While it may not have 200 pages, big-bucks advertisers or a coveted list of 500 fast-growing companies, her 6-year-old magazine has glossy paper, color printing, national distribution and a place in tribal offices.

And it’s profitable.

“We didn’t start making money really until three years ago,” said Dellas. The 33-year-old entrepreneur is sitting in her office, one flight up from Front Street.

By now she is comfortable enough to embark on a side project: a magazine called Dance San Diego, which made its debut this spring.

Business for her flagship casino magazine “goes in spurts,” Dellas reported. 2003 was “amazing,” she said, but 2004 brought a slump.

Native American Casino generated sales of $414,000 in 2005 and $500,000 in 2006. Dellas said she hopes to achieve revenue of $900,000 in 2007, and is on track to do so. The magazine has two full-time employees, one full-time contractor and seven part-time contractors.

Dellas said she went to college to learn the magazine business, and one of her goals at graduation was to become editor of Cosmopolitan.


Getting Her Foot In The Door

With that in mind, she got work with a sister publication under the Hearst Corp. umbrella, though one with slightly less cachet than Cosmo. For two years, she edited Floor Covering Weekly.

Then she went to work for Indian Gaming magazine in the Seattle area, staying there about a year. It was there that Dellas met her future husband, Bill Woodworth, who is part of the gaming and tribal services practice at the RSM McGladrey accounting firm.

Armed with her magazine experience and some background on the American Indian gaming scene, plus a $180,000 loan from her parents, Dellas set out to create her own magazine in 2000.

She found low-rent office space on Rosecrans Street in San Diego and hired a banquet server to be her advertising manager. With no product to display, the two got a booth at an American Indian gaming trade show and loaded it down with fliers.


In The Beginning

Sencore Electronics, a South Dakota company specializing in gear for fixing video-game displays, became Dellas’ first advertiser.

“A half-page vertical,” she said, slipping into publisher talk for the amount of advertising space Sencore bought. “I’ll never forget them. They took the first leap.”

Eventually she made enough money to put out the first issue.

Dellas dismisses that inaugural, January 2001 issue as “ugly,” and it’s definitely a product of the times.

One article mulled the implications of California’s Proposition 1A, which allowed Las Vegas-style gaming in American Indian casinos, which voters passed one year before.

The Arthur Andersen accounting firm had a full-page ad; the company had not yet made its spectacular fall as part of the Enron scandal.

Dellas put together a story on the Colusa band of California’s Sacramento Valley, which was then trying to diversify by getting into agribusiness.

Six years later, Native American Casino still includes regular profiles of gaming establishments and the tribes behind them.


Covering All The Bases

Dellas says she likes to include content for front-line casino workers as well as for management. Recent magazine articles covered topics such as employee retention in backcountry settings, as well as tips for keeping morale high during a restaurant shift at the height of the holidays.

Peppering the magazine are advertisements for casino games and components (including seats), uniforms, temporary buildings and software, as well as a variety of service businesses.

In 20 years, American Indian gaming has grown from a $100 million business to a $26 billion business, and there is “a huge body of people” hungry for business information, said Randolph Baker, chairman of the Sycuan Institute on Tribal Gaming at San Diego State University.

Like most industries, American Indian gaming has several trade publications. Baker said one thing that sets Dellas’ magazine apart is its design. “Her publication is aesthetically pleasing,” he said.

“She’s doing a good job.”

Every year, Native American Casino magazine includes a directory of U.S. and Canadian casinos in its pages.

But in compiling it, the company doesn’t miss a chance to upsell its customers with a more detailed directory.

The expanded version, available on compact disc or in an Excel spreadsheet download, includes the names of 10 key managers at each casino venue. Cost: $300.

Native American Casino magazine also maintains a Web site. Dellas said she plans to roll out a new Internet product this year, but she declined to give specifics.

And even though Dellas has left Hearst, she can’t resist putting a hint of Cosmopolitan in her magazine.

The cover story for the May issue of Native American Casino is the magazine’s annual survey of the sexiest American Indian casinos.

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