When it comes to the global gaming industry, Melanie Gross has a 360-degree view.
The former communications major and web designer has worked both in the real-money gaming world and on the social side (Farmville, anyone?). That breadth of experience comes in handy in her current role, as head of online casino for Caesars Interactive Entertainment.
Looking back, the Bayonne, New Jersey native says her path seems predetermined.
“My family would visit Atlantic City and stay at Caesars, so in some ways I grew up with the Caesars brand. Games were just part of our life—board games, card games—we monetized them and reinvented the rules. I should have realized this is what I was meant to do.”
After graduating from Boston College, Gross studied in London, and “just by happenstance” landed at Cambridge Interactive Development Corp., later Everest Gaming. “I started as a front-end engineer, using my web design background,” she says. “I loved the fact that I could marry technology with gaming. But over time I realized I wanted to be closer to the business side.” She switched to a product and marketing role, and “never looked back.”
From Everest, she moved to Zynga, then Tapjoy, and in 2013, joined CIE, making a full circle from real-money gaming to social gaming and back.
Today, her days are as diverse as her background. “A typical day can run the gamut from looking at KPIs to looking at our roadmap and making sure the promotions we’re planning and the new games we’re launching all go smoothly. I work with our legal teams or compliance teams, and with the graphic design team to approve graphics or brainstorm new ideas. I work with the IT team, Service Operations and third-party vendors. It’s really touching every department in the business.”
She firmly believes customers can have just as much fun playing online as they do in a land-based property—and vice versa.
“To me, interactive gaming and real-money online gaming is not a separate casino company or a separate brand. It’s an extension of the Caesars brand and business. Our Total Rewards loyalty program is integrated on our online sites. As people play on HarrahsCasino.com and CaesarsCasino.com, they earn the same Tier Credits and Reward Credits they have offline, and they can use those credits for a trip to Atlantic City, a room in Vegas or an ice cream cone at Harrah’s New Orleans.”
In 2017, says Gross, CIE is committed to seeing continued growth in New Jersey and beyond. “I’d love to see all 50 states be legal for online real-money games, but we’ll take one at a time. Pennsylvania will probably be our next step, because that’s the state with the most traction. It’s too soon to tell when it will happen, but I think it’s inevitable.”
Meanwhile, she enjoys the view from both sides. “If you’re truly passionate about your work, you’ll always go the extra mile. You use that passion and trust in your team to get you through the highs and lows, the successes and failures. I have faith in our team, and a passion for what we’re doing.
“We like to say we’re a startup backed by an empire.”