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Mixing business and pleasure

Lancee Bjork Anderson//September 17, 2007

Mixing business and pleasure

Lancee Bjork Anderson//September 17, 2007

What do gambling, celebrities, modeling and Prague have in common? One man: Lakes Entertainment general counsel Damon Schramm. I recently sat down with Damon to get some insight on the life of an in-house attorney, and got a little more than I bargained for. Let’s face it, you just don’t find many attorneys these days who date celebrities, volunteer for a humane society, count cards at the blackjack table and admit their real reasons for going into law.

Minnesota Lawyer: When did you decide to go into the practice of law?

Damon Schramm: It was in high school when I used to watch “L.A. Law.” I wanted to be like Arnie Becker and have the Porsche, the lifestyle, etc.

ML: What made you decide to go in-house?

Damon: I worked at a few firms and decided I didn’t like litigation. I spent too much time in the law library and drafting form documents. So that’s when I got into corporate law. I never really thought about going in-house until this opportunity came along. I liked the idea of working with [CEO] Lyle Berman. Plus, the job here at Lakes Entertainment included two of my passions: poker and craps.

ML: Tell me a little bit about Lakes Entertainment.

Damon: It’s a gaming company that develops and operates casinos. We just opened our Four Winds Casino in Michigan and have many more developments underway. We are also the majority shareholder in WPT Enterprises, which owns the World Poker Tour television series.

ML: What do you like best about your job?

Damon: The gaming industry is just a really fun industry, and I get to go to Las Vegas. But most of all it provides a wide variety of work, and I get to be actively involved in the business decisions as well as legal decisions.

ML: Lakes Entertainment just put out its second quarter results for 2007, and revenues are noticeably down from the same quarter in 2006. What’s the reason for this?

Damon: Almost all the revenues from 2006 were derived from the World Poker Tour, and World Poker Tour revenues are down for the quarter primarily because they haven’t aired as many episodes as the second quarter last year. But Lakes Entertainment is growing tremendously and will likely continue to do so as we open more casinos. We only have two open so far, our most recent being the Four Winds in Michigan, which just opened the beginning of August.

ML: Do you gamble when you visit Four Winds Casino?

Damon: Definitely. Nobody there knows I’m on the team so I can do some unbiased reporting on how smoothly things go, or don’t go.

ML: What’s your favorite casino?

Damon: It would have to be either Bellagio in Las Vegas or our Four Winds in Michigan. It’s a great casino, and if it were on the strip, it would be the second largest casino in Las Vegas.

ML: What’s your favorite casino game?

Damon: Definitely poker — Lyle gives me advice. And craps. Craps gives you the best odds of winning. I used to count cards at Blackjack and win all the time, but it took the fun out of the game so I quit.

ML: So do you watch Lyle on TV during World Poker Tour?

Damon: Yes. I think he’s one of the best, him and Jennifer Tilly.

ML: I understand you’ve had an interesting “side job.” Can you tell me about that?

Damon: Soon after the Czech Republic adopted capitalism, I helped to start a company in Prague that would help entrepreneurs and emerging companies get financing through the European Union structural funds. I got to meet the nation’s cabinet and ambassadors, and I helped make cutting edge plans for companies to go public.

ML: What do you think of the tremendous increase in associate salaries that is occurring right now? How will you handle increased fees as general counsel?

Damon: It is pretty crazy. Good general counsels will be in control of legal costs, and I think most good firms are willing to work with clients to keep costs down. With the increase in salaries, law firms will have to get better at negotiating fees. I look at my bottom line and determine if I’m getting the right amount of value for my legal dollar. So if firms are going to raise fees to accommodate the increase in salaries, they’ll need to increase the value of the legal dollar for me.

ML: What do you think of the mindset that in-house is a much easier lifestyle than law firms?

Damon: It’s definitely not true. It is not 9 to 5. You still have to work until the work is done, and sometimes that means late nights and long weekends in the office.

ML: It sounds like you’re really busy. What do you do with the little free time you have?

Damon: I like to volunteer. My motto is, “to whom much is given, much will be required.”

ML: What are some of your other hobbies, you know, things you do for fun?

Damon: I like to golf, play squash and basketball, go to the theater and travel. And I do some modeling.

ML: Have you met any celebrities?

Damon: I actually dated one, Anaida, a pop star in India. I was treated like royalty when I went over there. Otherwise, Michael Jordan, Scotty Pippin, Patrick Ewing and Kirby Puckett.

ML: Do you feel like you’re “living the dream” as you imagined?

Damon: Well, no Porsche yet, but I do enjoy it more now than I thought I would.

ML: Would you recommend a student attend law school?

Damon: That depends on their reasons for wanting to go.

ML: Say … they want to be like Arnie Becker?

Damon: (laughing) Maybe I’d tell them to be more realistic first.



Born: April 18, 1968; Olivia, Minn.

Education: William Mitchell College of Law, J.D., 1994; University of Minnesota Duluth, B.A., 1990

Employment: Lakes Entertainment, general counsel, 2005-present; Gray Plant Mooty, partner, 2003-05; Duckson-Carlson, associate/partner, 1998-2003; Law Audit Services, staff attorney, 1996-98; Larkin Hoffman Daly & Lindgren, associate, 1994-96

Community Activities: Animal Humane Society, Make-A-Wish Foundation of Minnesota, People Serving People

Hobbies/Interests: Art, golf, music, sports car collector, squash

Lacee Bjork Anderson is an attorney placement director with The Esquire Group, A Special Counsel Company in Minneapolis.

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