First Days In America: Casino Exec. Karen Goforth

Jul 11, 2019

Wanting to explore and see the world in her early twenties, Karen Goforth came to the United States from Melbourne, Australia about 40 years ago. When she arrived, she discovered more opportunities for women in the states. Today, she tells us her story for our series, “First Days in America.”

It was challenging for Karen Goforth to leave her life in Australia but her thirst for adventure pushed her to move to the United States in her early twenties. 

She decided to move to the country after attending a friend’s wedding in Mammoth Mountain, Calif. The United States was everything she imagined. 

Family photo of Karen Goforth (5), her mother and her sister (3) at their family home in Melbourne, Australia at their christening
Credit Courtesy of Karen Goforth

“Everything was so big when I first arrived to the states,” Karen said. “All you see is cars, you see buildings, you see people, and the food and portions--everything is so large.”

These were some of the first sights and sounds that she learned about watching American television in Australia. It was like she had already been to the states before.

After returning to Australia, she realized how much she missed America, so she dropped everything, including her then-boyfriend and job, to chase new opportunities in an unfamiliar country.

Karen was ready to grow more, but her mother was not ready for her to leave.

Her departure from Australia was hard on her mother since Karen’s sister also left home at the age of 15, but this was Karen’s chance to explore life without any barriers.

Australia was very unionized when Karen was growing up, so there were not many career opportunities for her to take advantage of as a woman during her time there. In Australia, the union is a group of workers or employees that come together to achieve a common goal. These goals can include work-related issues, like fighting for higher pay or better working conditions, but obtaining these goals requires negotiations with employers, and, ultimately, nothing is certain.

Traveling was the main goal for Karen. She needed to see the world, yet it seemed like she was already familiar with the unexplored land of the U.S.

Karen returned and moved to Mammoth Mountain, where she fell in love with the U.S. the first time and wanted to see the sights she had always imagined.

Some of her first destinations on her American adventure were popular California tourist attractions like Hollywood Boulevard, Rodeo Drive, and Disneyland.

“It was everything I expected,” Goforth said. “We had all American programs on our television so I had a lot better understanding of what the American way was, and that’s why I was excited come over.” Along with new sights came new opportunities for Karen. Working in construction was an opportunity she never imagined, since that wasn’t a common job women did back home in Australia.

“I jumped at it,” she said. “I thought it was amazing to be able to put on a bag and have nails and a hammer and all that kind of stuff, and I felt really cool running around looking like a carpenter. I was excited about it.”

Karen eventually built a successful career in human resources, becoming vice president of HR for three casinos in Reno. Even though Karen did not have any prior experience in the casino industry, working with people is something that she enjoys. She has gratitude for the opportunities she has been given and is content with the choices she has made.

“I wasn't leaving just because I thought I could change my career path, but when I got here, [it] just seemed like this was where I was supposed to be--in America,” she said.

This story was produced by Nathaniel Perez, a student at the Reynolds School of Journalism who participated in NPR’s Next Generation Radio program, which mentors student reporters.