WEEKLY FEATURE: A New Day for Caesars

The roots of Caesars Entertainment are proud and resilient. Recent history has been somewhat spotting, and the reformed Caesars Entertainment following the bankruptcy isn’t changing things very much. Richard Schuetz (l.), a champion of women’s equality in the industry, offers his opinion.

In the early 1970s I worked for Bill Harrah. I certainly wasn’t what most people would consider a big deal for my occupation was as a dealer during the middle of the night, and I did this so that I might pay for my education. I would see Mr. Harrah on occasion when he was in the building, and when he was in the building he was working. His eyes were in constant motion ensuring that the store looked just so, that everyone wore a nametag, and that there was not a speck of dust on any surface. As I continued to navigate my way through the casino industry, moving on to both bigger and better, and smaller and worse experiences, I came to appreciate the importance of Bill Harrah.

I believe that there have been two transformative individuals in the U.S. casino experience. One is Mr. Harrah and one is Steve Wynn. I had the honor of working for both, and in each instance twice. I would argue that Bill Harrah’s great innovation in the gambling business was to run his casinos as a business. He introduced modern business practices across the board, providing a clean and safe working environment and an early effort at human resources. And while it might sound strange to applaud a man for running a business like a business, one does want to remember this was the casino business in the early 1970s in Nevada.

I believe that what Mr. Harrah did was clean up the business to the point where it was suitable for export, and without this clean up, exporting this product would have been problematic. When Atlantic City became the second U.S. major casino market, it did so because the industry had been legitimized to the point where a jurisdiction could consider introducing casinos as a tool of economic development, and behind this legitimization stood the looming presence of Bill Harrah.

I was proud to be a Harrah’s employee, and I was proud that I got my start there. I still am. As I watched the company evolve through the decades, I sometimes admired its progressiveness and vision, and other times was dumbfounded by, shall we say, its curious behavior. As I watched Harrah’s, I always imagined what Bill Harrah would be thinking if he were watching the company from wherever deceased casino owners go to watch their old companies.

Watching Harrah’s in the 2000s was difficult for me, and I would guess, the late Mr. Harrah. There was the rather large miss with failing to gain access to the most amazing gambling market on the planet, Macau. Then Mr. Adelson out-smarted, out-spent and out-hustled Harrah’s in Singapore. Then came the Great Recession. Harrah’s response to the Great Recession was to basically bleed the company to near death. Saddled by a crushing debt load piled on almost concurrently with the starting of the Great Recession, the company appeared to initiate a cost containment program that was like the Energizer Bunny in its persistence. Cut here, cut there, cut everywhere, and next quarter we will do it again. Defer maintenance, live off of the seed grain, and watch tons of talent walk away, dazed and confused.

The company, as if attempting to run away from all of this, then changes its name from Harrah’s Entertainment to Caesars Entertainment. Then there was the whole “assets, assets, who has the assets” period of financial engineering that gave us terms like “Good Caesars and Bad Caesars” as if the company had become a player in a Rene Descartes dualism drama.

And once this episode was over came the bankruptcy, a process that I thought sometimes resembled a clown car, and at other times a dumpster fire. Overseeing this all was a board of directors of all men, including David Bonderman, who stepped down from Uber’s board for making a sexist remark about a fellow board member, but was apparently cool to stay on Caesars board, for after all, there were no women on the board of Caesars for Mr. Bonderman to insult.

I’m sure that gambling historians will long be looking into the travails of Caesars. I personally cannot overlook the fact that a board of directors made up of all men was in some ways responsible. But who knows?

Now we have the new Caesars, and they have apparently cast off their old problems and their old image. They have exited bankruptcy with the blessings of all relevant regulators, have a cleaner balance sheet, and have announced a new board of 11 individuals to lead them into the future. As if to show how new and improved they have become, they managed to appoint one woman to their board of 11 members.

Fifty-one percent of the employees of Caesars are women.

Articles by Author: Richard Schuetz

Richard Schuetz started dealing blackjack for Bill Harrah 47 years ago, and has traveled the world as a casino executive, educator and regulator. He is sincerely appreciative of the help he received from his friends and colleagues throughout the gaming world in developing this article, understanding that any and all errors are his own.