Taryn Duffy, director of public affairs for Empire City Casino and Yonkers Raceway, never imagined that she’d one day work in the gaming industry. She started her career as a litigation paralegal in California before entering the political arena. She later took up her position at Empire City and has since played a key role in shaping public policy surrounding the gaming industry.
Today, Duffy has become a staunch advocate for Empire City Casino, the 97-acre facility that offers more than 5,200 slots and electronic table games, multiple dining outlets, entertainment and both live and simulcast horse racing. The casino and raceway is also the largest employer in Yonkers, with 1,200 employees, features the sixth-largest gaming floor in the country and welcomes nearly 8 million visitors each year.
Recently, MGM Resorts International announced that it bought Empire City Casino and Yonkers Raceway for $850 million from the Rooney family, who has owned the racetrack and casino for more than 46 years.
Here, Duffy chats with Business Journal reporter Aleesia Forni about the role she’s had in the growth of the casino, the future of the facility and her love of Audible.
You worked in the political realm earlier in your career. What drew you to politics?
“In short, geography and a hope for work-life balance. I was at a midtown law firm and my daughter was in the first grade at the time. I was looking to secure a position downtown that would ease my commute and provide a regular 40-hour workweek. A position was open working for the speaker of the New York State Assembly. I didn’t even know what the Assembly was at the time and had never given any thought to the legislature that wrote the laws I was filing legal briefs about. The work-life balance worked out well until I stepped into the role of chief of staff for (state) Senator Jeff Klein. Then all bets were off. Sixteen-hour days and six- or seven-day workweeks became my norm, but I enjoyed it. It’s also one of the reasons my daughter started working on political campaigns at the age of 12.”
Why did you decide to transition to the gaming industry? Is that a field you’d ever imagined yourself working in?
“I certainly never imagined myself working in a casino, but I was familiar with Empire City Casino because it was within our senate district. And we worked with them through their development as a casino. I was also familiar with some of the gaming issues through their lobbying efforts. When I was looking to transition out of government, this opportunity was offered to me. I initially turned it down and took another position, but ultimately working on public policy and in the community had become my true love, so I was lucky that the opportunity was still available.”
What are some of your favorite parts about working in the gaming industry?
“I love puzzles. I always have. Public policy and lobbying are puzzle-like. The gaming industry in New York is relatively new compared to other parts of the country and I have truly enjoyed having a role in the policy around this issue, particularly the process of the Constitutional Amendment and subsequent enabling legislation. Working in public policy can be both exhilarating and infuriating at the same time. I’m also very civic minded. And being engaged in the city and communities I love and where I live, has been incredibly rewarding for me.”
What have been some of the biggest surprises about the gaming industry? Or things people might not be aware of?
“The numbers. Undoubtedly. In the same way that anyone could look at a successful industry or business, such as QVC for example, the home shopping company — the numbers, volume and business model are so interesting. But also to learn that this one single company generates an average of $25 million every month for state education and pays a tax rate of nearly 70 percent was incredible. I’ve enjoyed educating elected officials, the business community and residents about the numbers and facts around the New York gaming industry and how it impacts them directly.”
Have there been any mentors who have been particularly influential on you or your career?
“I couldn’t point to any one single person because I have been fortunate to have worked with many people who respect and appreciate hard work and were willing to help identify opportunities. As is the case for most people, the harder I work, the luckier I’ve gotten. I consider myself a lifelong learner. I am constantly seeking out opportunities to learn something new and ways to improve my skills.”
Are you reading anything right now?
“I have always enjoyed reading and have quite a book collection, but my schedule rarely affords me time to sit down and read print, outside all the reading I already do for work. Therefore, I’m a big fan of Audible, because I can listen to books while I get ready for work and in the car. I just finished Jen Sincero’s ‘You Are a Badass.’ I love inspirational books and just started ‘The Tipping Point’ by Malcolm Gladwell. I also enjoy personal finance podcasts, such as Jean Chatzky’s ‘HerMoney’ and ‘The Dave Ramsey Show.’ And when I’m really crunched for time, I turn to Blinkist. It’s the audio version of Cliffnotes.”
There have obviously been some big changes happening at Empire City with regard to the sale. Are you optimistic about the future?
“It’s an incredibly exciting time, not only for the team here but also the city of Yonkers and the state as a whole. The acquisition of Empire City by MGM Resorts is expected to be completed in early 2019. Becoming part of the portfolio of MGM Resorts, a global gaming and entertainment company, will ensure this property will achieve its potential. I am definitely ‘all in’ on Empire City Casino.”