When Jan Jones Blackhurst began working at Caesars Entertainment, it was a very different company.
It was known as Harrah’s Entertainment and the company had just moved its headquarters from Tennessee to Las Vegas.
Since then, Jones, the former mayor of Las Vegas, has seen Caesars expand dramatically.
It’s now a dominant player in the global casino industry, but the black cloud of a bankruptcy restructuring lingers over Caesars’ largest operating division.
Blackhurst told KNPR’s State of Nevada that Caesars’ properties are very profitable but they couldn’t make up the debt that was put on the company when it moved to private ownership.
She said everyone believed the industry was recession proof and no one knew the economy was going to crash the way it did. She said the section of the company that is in bankruptcy will emerge in 2016.
“This was an unfortunate economic outcome but it doesn’t define who we are as a company or what we stand for,” Blackhurst said.
Casinos in Macau helped some casino companies weather the economic downturn, but she said Caesars Entertainment is not looking to expand into China at this point.
The casino executive did voice strong support for online gaming. She said people who gamble online end up becoming customers for brick and mortar businesses. Blackhurst also said that millennial customers do everything online and casinos that don’t tap into that market could lose out.
“If you’re not that mix, then is there a real threat that they will deselect gaming as an entertainment of choice and move on to other things,” Blackhurst said.
Part of the effort to embrace technology should include skill-based slot machine games, she believes.
“You’re going to have to find a way to adapt to the interest of the upcoming consumer,” Blackhurst said, “If you don’t interest them, they’re going find other things to entertain themselves.”
She said the casino floor of Caesars Palace in the future will have more interactive and social forms of gaming.
“I think it is going to be more interactive,” Blackhurst said. “I think there is going to be multiple ways to play and many of those ways will be on devices.”
The core of playing at a casino is the social aspect, she said, and that element is not going away.
“You just have to realize that as the world changes and technology changes you need to be able to provide that entertainment in many different offerings and on many different platforms,” Blackhurst said.
She also believes the future of gaming must include women, especially in the board room. Blackhurst said it’s not a matter of ‘us’ versus ‘them’ but a matter of showing people they can improve their businesses by including women in the conversation.
“Better decisions are made when women are at the table,” she added. “We need to look at how those cultures can support women in making sure they can advance to the highest levels of corporate America.”
As for her future, the door is still open. After two terms as a popular mayor, Blackhurst took her understanding of government to Caesars, but that doesn’t mean she is done with public office.
“Never say never,” she said, “But not this year.”
Blackhurst credits her years in public service with influencing how she now works in the corporate world.
“I learned more from government about coalition, about consensus about understanding that there are many stakeholders that you can educate and then use to drive an agenda,” she said.
She believes businesses should actually be run more like a government, than the other way around.
Jan Jones Blackhurst, executive vice president, Caesars Entertainment
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