Mary Ellen Kanoff
Gaming Practice Chair
Latham & Watkins
Corporate attorney Mary Ellen Kanoff has been a major player in the Las Vegas development boom.
She arranged debt financing for the construction or expansion of numerous hotels, including Treasure Island, the MGM Grand Hotel and Circus Circus.
While Kanoff says she indulges only “occasionally” in games of chance, she fell into what has become her specialty by chance. It was during a stint as a summer intern at Latham & Watkins in 1982 that she was assigned to a casino project. From there, Kanoff has become one of the firm’s top producers.
Kanoff is also heavily involved in mergers and acquisitions work, managing five M & A; transactions with a combined value of more than $1 billion in 1996. This helped Latham & Watkins become California’s No. 1 law firm in terms of M & A; transaction value.
Gaming law only constitutes about 40 percent of Kanoff’s workload. She has represented Glendale-based foods giant Nestle U.S.A. Inc. in its various acquisitions and divestitures, including its sales of Beringer Wineries and Stouffer Hotels and Resorts last year.
“Mary Ellen and her lawyers have a unique way of fitting in with our in-house lawyers, as opposed to some lawyers from the outside who always want to play the kingpin,” says Jim Ball, Nestle’s senior vice president and general counsel.
Kanoff is also active in entertainment industry matters, acting as corporate lawyer for New Regency Pictures, producer of “Tin Cup” and Oliver Stone’s “JFK.” Her practice has more than tripled in the past three years, with $5 million in billings for 1996.
Kanoff, who grew up in Pasadena, says she decided in fourth grade that she would become a lawyer, visualizing her future based on “Perry Mason” and thinking she would like to “change the world.” She worked from 1978 to 1981 as a marketing representative for IBM in San Francisco after earning her undergraduate degree at UC Berkeley.
Kanoff says her main goal is to broaden her legal involvement with the entertainment business. “I’ll keep my work focused in Las Vegas and Los Angeles, which is where my life will be, and entertainment is one sector that is dynamic and growing.”