Staff & Wire Reports |
Most casino presidents fret about how much money gamblers are winning, the amount their customers are spending on food and drinks and how to get more people to drop more money in their casinos.
Don Marrandino is concerned about all those things. But at any given moment, he might also be thinking about how his voice sounds on the new Donny Osmond single, when that guitar Nils Lofgren promised him might show up and how to better market Sammy Hagar's tequila. The new eastern regional president of Harrah's Entertainment, responsible for the gambling giant's four Atlantic City casinos, earned the nickname "Rockin' Don" during 20 years as a Las Vegas casino executive.
He partied with Hagar, the former Van Halen singer, opened a bar at one of his casinos with country giant Toby Keith, jammed onstage with John Eddie more times than he can count and helped revive the careers of Donny and Marie Osmond by booking them to an extended run at the Flamingo, one of the Harrah's casinos he formerly headed.
That was long before the former teen idol went on to heightened fame by winning this year's "Dancing With The Stars" competition. "Don, he's just like Mr. Cool, you know, Mr. Too-Cool-For-The-Room," Donny Osmond told The Associated Press. "I met him, and we just hit it off immediately. I like Don's personality." After they exchanged lines in exaggerated "Sopranos" dialect, "that was an immediate connection," Osmond said. "He said, `Well, maybe Donny Osmond is a kind of cool guy, he's not so goody-goody after all, ya know?' " Their friendship quickly blossomed, to the point where Osmond invited Marrandino to sing backup on his latest single, "I Have You To Thank."
"He thought I was just, like, placating him a little bit, just doing him a favor," Osmond said. "But it actually added a great little element, an edge to the background vocals that it needed." The Atlantic City-born Marrandino will oversee the company's four properties there — Caesars, Bally's, Harrah's and Showboat — and Harrah's Chester in Pennsylvania. Not surprisingly, Marrandino is looking to entertainment as one way out of Atlantic City's prolonged slump. The nation's second-largest gambling market is in the third year of a revenue decline that began when slots parlors started opening in Pennsylvania and New York, draining away some of Atlantic City's most reliable players.
"We'll try anything to get people to come here. Entertainment can help lead the way out of this," he said. "Our goal is to have big-name entertainment every weekend, have those ballrooms full with thousands of people who might not otherwise come here, who can then go out and gamble and eat and drink and see that there's a lot more Atlantic City has to offer than they think." He booked rapper Snoop Dogg into the House of Blues, a nightclub at the Showboat Casino Hotel more commonly associated with '70s and '80s rock acts, and added a cooking show with celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse.
Marrandino is also not shy about speaking out on what he feels needs to change about Atlantic City — starting with the Boardwalk. "The Boardwalk is one of our best assets, but it's not what it should be right now," he said. "People walking on the Boardwalk need to feel safe and see it clean." Abandoned or run-down houses near casino developments should be bought on the open market or taken through eminent domain after paying the owners a fair price, he added. In early October, Harrah's flew 2,600 of its best high-rollers from all over the country to Atlantic City.
That paid off not only at the slot machines and table games but also in the flood of positive comments they made to casino workers while they were here, he said. A few weeks earlier, the company hosted a special weekend aimed at gay tourists. "We'll try anything to get people to come here," he said. And Boardwalk Hall needs to be used a lot more than it is now, he said, cycling back to entertainment. "You could have 10,000 people each weekend flowing out of that hall after a big-name concert that wouldn't otherwise have come to Atlantic City," he said. "That's a tremendous opportunity that we need to make better use of."