Gary Selesner has been at the helm at Caesars Palace for more than two years. He had directed expansion programs and renovation efforts, creating a property that has continued to be in demand by the “whales” in the casino business, but with one difference. The middle-market appeal of Caesars Palace has broadened substantially. Selesner explained the philosophy and background of one of gaming’s most iconic property when he met with Global Gaming Business Publisher Roger Gros at his office in Caesars Palace Las Vegas in September. To hear the full interview, which includes Selesner’s views on sports events, the Asian market and the value of his longtime employees, go to www.ggbmagazine.com, click on the podcast button and go to the archives.
Global Gaming Business : You’ve been head of Caesars Palace for a little more than two years now. Reflect on your that time and what you learned about operating one of the most recognizable hotels in the gaming industry and indeed the world.
Selesner: I feel blessed and fortunate that, at this time in my career, I have been able to work here. It’s been a dream to run this hotel and it’s an honor to have this position.
It has been a tremendous experience; very positive in almost every instance. The assignment when I was brought in was very simple. We were to merge two great companies’ mindset about how to market this property. Some people expressed fears when Harrah’s acquired Caesars that Harrah’s didn’t know the luxury business that Caesars was in. So when we came in, we came in with a soft touch, at least initially, trying to respect the great traditions that had been established here during the 41-year history of Caesars Palace. The job was to preserve the best of those traditions, especially as it pertains to the high-end product. With the best villas in town, we’ve actually been able to grow the high-end business. At the same time, we’ve been able to plug into Harrah’s expertise at slot marketing and middle marketing with the integration of the Total Rewards system. This has dramatically grown this segment of the market. We’ve managed to grow all revenue streams. We’ve managed to find that sweet spot where we continue to position the property at the high end, but also build the value of the brand.
You announced an impressive expansion over the summer, on top of some just-completed projects. Why have you decided to forge ahead so soon after the last expansion?
First of all, because the last one was so successful!
Looking down the road, there’s a lot of competition coming, especially in the luxury section of the market. In one respect, it’s a way to prepare for that competition, but also to expand and enhance Caesars Palace so it can be the flagship of the company as we grow internationally.
Explain the details of the expansion project.
Most important is the addition of the Octavius tower. This is further west on Flamingo and it will create an octagonal pathway around this property, which does not exist now. It will improve traffic flows tremendously.
At the base of that tower will be three poolside villas, which will join two other villas at the pool and six penthouse villas. We’re also renovating the Forum tower, parts of which have not be fully renovated since it opened, including the famous suite that was in the Rainman movie.
We’re also renovating the sports book, the food court and the older of the two areas of the convention center and adding 260,000 square feet of meeting space. That will give us a dramatic presence in that market.
Most visibly, we’re going to renovate the entrance to Caesars Palace, which had a very low ceiling. Much of it is iconic so we’re going to take a contemporary approach to similar designs.
Let’s talk about entertainment. Celine Dion is ending her incredible run at Caesars later this year. People forget that was a very controversial decision when this show was announced. You’ve already signed Bette Midler to take her place. What is your philosophy in regards to entertainment?
You’re right. The decision to build the Colosseum and bring in Celine was widely questioned. But it’s turned out to be very important to the repositioning of Caesars Palace and regain its place at the top of the market.
Our customers have come to expect the biggest entertainment in the world from Caesars Palace. There’s a legacy there from the days of Sinatra and the huge fights. The Colosseum was a natural extension of this legacy.
With Celine leaving, we will bring in the same big-league entertainment that our customer expect. It’s very difficult to compare someone with Celine. We think we’ve found that with Bette Midler. She’ll do a different kind of show. We expect it to be a mixture of music, comedy and variety, but still a major entertainment experience that the market demands.
With Wynn and the Venetian having properties in Macau, have you seen any drop-off in Asian business here? Or is there actually an increased desire for Las Vegas when Asian customers visit Macau?
Asian business is up. The Strip’s numbers have been propelled by baccarat. Caesars has been marketing in this area for 30 years. We have marketing offices in Hong Kong, Tokyo, Singapore and elsewhere. Macau is creating new customers every day. At some point, a lot of those customers want to come and see what Las Vegas is all about. In the last year, we’ve seen a record number of new customers coming out of that region.
Harrah’s clearly sees Caesars Palace as its flagship. Does that put any extra pressure on you to lead it in the right direction?
It makes it more fun for me. We will continue to enhance, add to and improve this property so it can be the flagship for future Caesars Palaces. It’s an awesome responsibility to be creating things that will be brands for future Caesars Palaces, so that really colors your decisions. That’s a big responsibility but I’m blessed with a tremendous management team and employees with whom I’m very proud to be working, so how could it be stressful?