The Stakes Have Changed
Kevin Nephew ’85 leads the Seneca Nation’s three New York casinos through the pandemic
by Bryan Wendell
There’s a belief in the Seneca Nation that says all members are the same height. Nobody stands above or below anyone else.

It’s a mindset that Kevin Nephew ’85 carries into every interaction, every day.

As the new president and CEO of the Seneca Gaming Corp., Nephew oversees 2,700 employees at Seneca Gaming’s three casinos, located in Niagara Falls, Buffalo and Salamanca, N.Y. He’s the first Seneca Nation member to lead the corporation in its 18-year history.

But even from his new post atop the org chart, Nephew, a sociology major, doesn’t see himself as any taller than before.

Kevin Nephew headshot
Photo: Seneca Gaming Corp. Marketing Dept.
Kevin Nephew ’85 launched a continuous improvement program at Seneca Gaming that prompted more than 1,000 employees to share ideas for making the corporation “better, faster and smarter.”
“Nobody is stronger than anybody else,” he says. “Some of our front-line team members, they know how to make our organization better. We just need to allow them to have their voice, and we need to listen to their ideas.”

Nephew’s organizational skills were quickly tested on March 13, 2020, when he learned that all New York casinos had to close by 8 p.m. three days later due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Still in his previous position as vice president, Nephew helped create a closure checklist of everything that needed to be done to prepare for a shutdown that could last days, weeks or longer.

“Two weeks later, we started working on our reopening plan,” he says. “How do we ensure that customers will feel safe and have a good experience?”

Nephew launched that new plan — which included powering down some slot machines to promote physical distancing, temperature scans when entering the property and requiring masks — in September when New York allowed casinos to reopen at 25% capacity.

These days, you’ll find him walking the casino floor, demonstrating a CEO’s knack for remembering people. He thanks his team members by name, recognizing them even behind their masks.

“I can feel myself ready to shake somebody’s hand, slap them on the shoulder and say, ‘great job,’ ” he says. Even though he has to refrain from doing so, he says, “I can usually tell that person has a smile.”