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WHEEL MAN: Jon Gray

Vice President and General Manager, The Linq

WHEEL MAN: Jon Gray

Coming from the little town of Tonopah, Nevada, Las Vegas was always the big city to Jon Gray.

“When I was growing up, my grandparents lived in Las Vegas,” he says. “I was always intrigued by the bright lights and the monstrosities that were the resorts in those days. Las Vegas represented the big city to me, and I knew I wanted to be in the big-city environment coming from such a small town.”

Gray’s career following his graduation from the University of Nevada Las Vegas has skyrocketed. From an entry-level position as a front desk clerk at Bally’s, he quickly was hired at the Palms, where he worked under property president George Maloof in developing the property’s non-gaming amenities.

“At the Palms, I got the experience of what it was to be the owner of a property,” says Gray. “I was with him every day, on the phone at 3 a.m. It exposed me to every facet of the business from casino to operations, marketing, sales, strategy and more. He’s been a terrific mentor and we still have a great relationship.”

As general manager of Caesars Entertainment’s most important current project, the Linq, on the Las Vegas Strip between Harrah’s and the Flamingo, which will include a street of bars, restaurants and retail capped by an observation wheel even larger that the ones in London or Singapore, Gray is acutely aware that non-gaming revenues are important to the company.

“People can find their favorite slot machine or table game in the casino closest to their homes these days,” he says. “Las Vegas has become the entertainment mecca of the country. While we still have those blackjack games and slot machines, there’s a lot more energy here. Las Vegas has some of the best nightlife venues, the greatest restaurants and the best shows in the world. We’ve stayed ahead of the curve, but now we constantly have to top ourselves. And that’s what we’re doing at the Linq.”

As comfortable as Gray was at the Palms, the Linq offered something that was important to him.

“I wanted to be part of something that changed the face of the Strip,” he says. “It fills a void in the marketplace, and that’s something that is very exciting.”

A proven success wherever they get built, Gray says the High Roller, the official title of the wheel, will change the landscape of the Strip.

“This is a 550-foot observation wheel,” he explains. “It’s going to dramatically change the way the Strip looks. It will focus attention on the center of the Strip where Caesars has so many properties, and bring excitement to the area.”

In addition to the High Roller, the bars, restaurants and retail contained in the Linq will be unlike anything in Vegas.

“We have 32 tenants,” says Gray. “They are primarily dining and entertainment options—about 70 percent—with balance in retail. They will be mostly new to the Las Vegas Strip. For example, we have Brooklyn Bowl, which has just one location in Brooklyn. Rolling Stone called it one of the best places to watch a show; they’ve done everyone from Kanye to Adele. They hosted an Obama president’s dinner. Great bar and restaurant, all focused around bowling. That’s just one example of the unique establishments we’re bringing to the Linq.”

Gray says the Linq will be open 24 hours, with the wheel operating from about 10 a.m. to 2 a.m., with some “sunrise” rides scheduled.

“We want to create a non-intimidating environment where everyone will be comfortable,” he says. “It elevates the experience that you find today on that side of the Strip but with something for everyone, although it’s geared to the Gen X-Gen Y generation because our research shows that by 2015 that group will account for more than 50 percent of the visitation to Las Vegas.”

The experience at the Linq will be carefully crafted to ensure that customers are not bored and have stimulation during their entire visit.

“I’m very involved in curating their experience in the public spaces of the project,” says Gray. “And we want to make sure that there is always something to see, whether it’s bands, musicians or some other kind of entertainment. There’s an area behind the wheel that’s capable of doing festivals, concerts, fights or large gatherings.”

Gray also wants to make sure that the High Roller experience is top-notch.

“We’ve thought about every second of your experience from the instant you walk in the door to when you leave,” he says.

Roger Gros is publisher of Global Gaming Business, the industry's leading gaming trade publication, and all its related publications. Prior to joining Global Gaming Business, Gros was president of Inlet Communications, an independent consulting firm. He was vice president of Casino Journal Publishing Group from 1984-2000, and held virtually every editorial title during his tenure. Gros was editor of Casino Journal, the National Gaming Summary and the Atlantic City Insider, and was the founding editor of Casino Player magazine. He was a co-founder of the American Gaming Summit and the Southern Gaming Summit conferences and trade shows. He is the author of the best-selling book, How to Win at Casino Gambling (Carlton Books, 1995), now in its fourth edition. Gros was named "Businessman of the Year" for 1998 by the Greater Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce, and received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Gaming Association in 2012.

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