At Home With: South Point GM Ryan Growney

As general manager of the South Point Hotel Casino & Spa in Las Vegas, Ryan Growney proudly serves as South Point owner Michael Gaughan’s right-hand man. The South Point this month plays host to the Ariat World Series of Team Roping Finale, and as always Growney and Gaughan will be greeting team ropers from far and wide. Growney lives in Las Vegas with his wife, Sierra, and their little girl, Scarlett, who was born in Vegas during the 2019 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.

Q: How long have you served as general manager of the South Point, and how many hats do you wear in that capacity?

A: I’ve been the GM since 2010, so 10 years now. When I was the assistant general manager in 2005, the guy who was running the equestrian center quit. So Mr. Gaughan said, “Go grab your jeans and your cowboy hat.” You do wear a lot of hats with this job—one day I’ll be in a tuxedo for a charity ball, and the next day I’ll be horseback, because a roping, cutting, barrel race or mounted shooting event’s in town. The greatest thing about the casino business is that you never know what’s going to happen. Between our convention business, bowling tournaments, restaurants, arena events and all the rest of it, there’s always something going on here at the South Point. I’m in jeans, boots and a cowboy hat when we have a horse event in the building, and I love it.

Q: Is it true that stock contractor John Growney—who you think is a distant cousin of some sort—was your first brush with cowboy life?

A: Thirty years ago, when I was 10, I was sitting up in the stands at the NFR and John jumped over the bucking chutes and came up and said hello. He told me, “When you’re old enough to drive, come spend a summer and work for me.” When I was 15, I got dropped off at the rodeo in Santa Maria (California) and worked for him for three months before Mr. Gaughan flew me home from the rodeo in Joseph (Oregon) to start football practice. For seven years—all through high school and through my junior year of college (at Georgetown University)—I spent my summers working for Growney Brothers Rodeo. By the end of it, I was horseback getting bulls out of the arena.

Photo Courtesy of Ryan Growney

Q: How hard did COVID-19 hit Las Vegas in 2020?

A: It was devastating. We had to go buy chains and padlocks, and shut the South Point doors for the first time since we opened. We’ve purchased 800,000 facemasks this year at a buck apiece. It was tough when the strip was pitch black and looked like a zombie apocalypse. But this town is tough and it has diversified beyond hotels, casinos and the convention business. We had the highest unemployment in the country, but companies like Tesla and Switch have come here now. And with our good food and parking, 60 percent of our South Point gaming is locals, so that stays steady.

Q: How about the one-year NFR move to Texas?

A: I’m on the NFRC (National Finals Rodeo Committee), and with regulations in place that would not allow for tickets to be sold, the prize money just wasn’t there. It was tough to see it go, but the contestants and stock contractors deserved a good-paying NFR, and we wanted what’s best for rodeo. So it needed to go to a state with looser restrictions. Meanwhile, we stepped on the gas during the downtime and made a lot of improvements here at the South Point, including expanding the Poker Room and remodeling the Oyster Bar. And we had a presence in Texas, because we want to make sure we’re still supporting the contestants, the fans and the sport of rodeo.

Q: Your boss has been a big supporter of cowboys, as was his mentor, Benny Binion, before him.

A: Yes, and Mr. Gaughan has taught me more than any person on the planet, including about cowboys. I learned to appreciate the Western way of life at a very young age. I drive a pickup truck, and I married a country singer (Sierra Black). Mr. Gaughan has been taking care of cowboys since before it was cool to take care of cowboys in Las Vegas. It’s in his DNA, and he’s been doing it all his life. We love cowboys at the South Point. We’re legitimately happy to hear boots and spurs going down the hallway.

Q: Have you ever team roped?

A: I’m a better trick roper than team roper. I went to work in the casino business out of college, and didn’t ride a horse for 15 years. So I absolutely appreciate how hard it is to be a good team roper. Calf brandings, yes, but no roping out of a box for me. I’d have to commit more time than I have to get good enough not to let a partner down, and I’m too competitive to go at it halfway. I have time for one frustrating hobby, and that’s golf.

Q: Do you have a favorite team roper, and do you have time to watch any of the Finale?

A: I do have a picture of Derrick Begay riding a buffalo in my office. He signed it, “RG, How the West was won. Thank you, DB.” When the team ropers are in town, I try to make every short go. Those short rounds are on my calendar. TRJ