By Jordyn Grzelewski
Allie Evangelista began her life in the United States working as a hotel housekeeper.
Now, 19 years after first coming to the U.S. from her native Brazil, Evangelista is leading Hollywood Gaming at Mahoning Valley Race Course. The facility at 655 N. Canfield-Niles Road has 1,100 slot machines, live horse racing, a staff of a few hundred, and brought in more than $115 million in slot-machine revenue last year, according to the Ohio Lottery Commission.
Evangelista took over as vice president/general manager of the racino last week. The move comes after Penn National Gaming – which operates Hollywood Gaming Mahoning Valley and several dozen other gaming facilities across the country – acquired Pinnacle Entertainment. Evangelista took over the job from former Hollywood Gaming Mahoning Valley GM Anthony “Tony” Frabbiele, who in turn took Evangelista’s former job as manager of the Meadows Racetrack and Casino in Pennsylvania.
“The best way to bring two companies together is to make sure people are out of their comfort zone, that they’re learning about each other’s cultures,” Evangelista explained in a recent interview. “They’re calling this process a cross-pollination.”
Evangelista comes to the Valley with more than a dozen years of experience in the gaming industry.
She first came to the U.S. for a college internship at Walt Disney World, where she met her future husband. After completing college in Brazil, she moved to the U.S. to be with him. The couple lived in Orlando, Fla., for several years, where Evangelista worked as a housekeeper.
In 2006, she started her career in the gaming industry after accepting a job with Ameristar Casinos in Missouri. She worked there for nine years, learning the ins and outs of the gaming business and going back to school to get an MBA and a master’s degree in human- resource management.
Next, Evangelista took a job at a casino in Iowa, where she directed casino operations and later human resources.
Her next career moved brought her to Meadows, where she started out as vice president of operations, then got promoted to general manager. She was there just over two years before making the move to Hollywood Gaming Mahoning Valley.
As far as how she plans to lead the facility, Evangelista does not see the need for any significant changes.
“I think there is already a good culture here, I think team members already feel important and are treated with the respect they deserve – so we want to continue that, and the same thing with our guests,” she said. “We have very good guest service satisfaction survey scores for this property. It’s top four for the company. I think that speaks for itself, so we just need to continue that.”
As she settles into the new job, Evangelista’s first priority will be listening to team members and guests.
As it has been throughout her career, a top priority will be helping others advance their careers, she said.
“I do love the opportunity to help people develop a career in this industry,” she said.
Her attitude toward her work is partly inspired by how she started her life here. She remembers first coming to the U.S. and experiencing culture shock because of Americans’ general attitude toward material possessions.
“Everybody has everything here. [I came] from a place where you have to work really hard to have a pair of shoes,” she said. “I think the ability of being able to work and acquire things, financial wealth, is really nice because then you can go provide to others.”
Evangelista believes others can find some inspiration from her story.
“I think it is a good story, not so much, ‘Oh I made it,’” she said. “I always say, America has vast opportunities. I come from a country where you don’t have the chances we have here. If I don’t speak this language, I don’t have a Social Security card when I’m born – I had to learn how to be part of this country, and if I can make it, why can’t you be whatever you want to be?”