Keeping up with the (Jan) Jones

Jan 4, 2005 4:19 AM

Jan Jones is out of office and doesn’t have to worry about being politically correct any more. The former mayor of Las Vegas, who is now the senior vice president for communications and government relations for Harrah’s Entertainment, can let fly with her opinions and take the skin off anybody she pleases:

On Steve Wynn: He "remains the greatest visionary in this town. Every time Las Vegas has taken a step forward, Steve has been the lead. The man is a genius. I can’t wait" until Wynn Las Vegas opens in April.

On Mayor Oscar Goodman: He "doesn’t really impact the gaming industry. He’s a great cheerleader for Las Vegas and he likes his job."

These days, while Jones says Las Vegas politics is no longer her focus, the 55-year-old Stanford graduate wants it on the record that while she was mayor, the groundwork was put in place for much of the redevelopment that has taken place downtown. Included is the $70 million Fremont Street Experience.

But that was then and today her life, beyond her husband and three children, is all about Harrah’s Entertainment, a company that generated $4.3 billion in revenues in 2003. Harrah’s operates 28 casinos in 12 states across the U.S. including 12 that are land-based, 12 riverboat casinos, and four that it operates on behalf of Indian tribes in Arizona, Kansas, North Carolina and California. As her company biography says, Jones is responsible for communicating the company’s position on critical issues facing Harrah’s and the gaming industry.

In order to do that, she has put together a team of executives that includes four regional vice presidents and she spends two or three weeks a month on the road.

Her group — she calls them "enlighteners" — massages legislatures in 13 states in addition to the federal government in Washington. Their primary message is that lawmakers are making a mistake when they approach gaming as a taxing vehicle rather than an economic engine. The goal of Jones’ group is to get state lawmakers to see the advantages in taxing the gaming industry fairly.

She also has oversight responsibility for Harrah’s public relations, press relations and diversity programs. Jones says in her position she has to be responsive to four distinct constituencies — Harrah’s employees, the community in which Harrah’s properties are located, gaming industry regulators, and Harrah’s investors. At Harrah’s she has a hand in the company’s corporate diversity program, an effort that hasn’t made as much progress as she would like to see. Asked why there are so few women who have reached her level in gaming, she says "diversity in our industry is more of a goal than a fact."

She is happiest with Harrah’s for "the freedom they’ve given me in building my department and positioning my company." She is proud that Harrah’s, through its code of commitment to the guests, has "led the industry in establishing a program that has become the standard for responsible gaming."

She says she is "amazed at the depth and breadth of talent" at Harrah’s. "It’s a very visionary and creative group of people," many of whom "were not necessarily bred in gaming." She said that while "this industry is filled with brilliant people," what makes Harrah’s different from other properties is that it is willing to hire people with diverse backgrounds.

All of that talent is going to be put to a test once Harrah’s merger with Caesars is approved and two different kinds of gambling clientele are brought together. "It will have its complexity and challenges," she says of the merger. "We’re looking to build a corporate identity."

Harrah’s won’t "want to change Caesars," she said. The merger will allow the customers to "still be loyal to Harrah’s but have different gambling experiences."