Harrah’s pleased with its ‘choices’

Jul 5, 2005 5:20 AM

Harrah’s Senior Vice President Jan Jones says the company’s interest in one of the Singapore casino sites will not affect its plans for continued improvement of its Las Vegas Strip properties.

The company is "very interested" in the process that could land it an eventual Singapore license and a chance to showcase its Caesars brand.

"However, Singapore will not affect what the company does domestically," Jones said.

The Singapore bid process has been delayed about two months, but the expectation is that officials there will okay the start of that process by September or October.

The acquisition of Caesars Entertainment, Jones explains, was framed in such a fashion that it is possible to still "go out and totally re-invent Bally’s (on the Strip), do what’s necessary for Caesars and the Boardwalk in Atlantic City and look at properties in Spain, Rhode Island, Philadelphia, England and New York," the former Las Vegas mayor said. "We set ourselves up financially so we do not have to make choices."

Will the shape of future U.S. development for Harrah’s look materially different from the apparent course of MGM Mirage — which expects to focus mostly in the U.S. on Nevada, New Jersey and Mississippi?

"We’re not going to pull out of our riverboat states, but we are not looking to expand them," Jones said. "We are looking for the bulk of our future investment to be primarily in (those) three states."

But Jones adds that Harrah’s is "excited" about the prospects in the Philadelphia area.

"We like the governor there," she said. "We like the prospects for investing there. If Rhode Island ever gets approved, we think that is an excellent market."

In Rhode Island, Harrah’s continues to look forward to a casino partnership with the Narragansett Indians.

Tribal gaming in California, however, doesn’t look promising at this point, Jones said.

"I think California is going to be on a real slow track because of some of the politics," she said.

The greatest areas for future growth, Jones maintains, is outside the U.S. and, of course, non-traditional areas.

"We’ve got the World Series of Poker, which has proven to be just a phenomenal brand," she said. "There’s not a lot you can do on the Internet here, but there is in Europe and Asia."

As the architect of Harrah’s corporate communications, Jones says one of the gaming industry’s biggest challenges continues to be how to more effectively tell its message.

"We spend hundreds of millions, or maybe billions marketing to customers," Jones said. "Why wouldn’t we take a portion of that money and craft a message that talks about the jobs and the capital investment and the vendors and the employees and how it changes communities and states. Because we are not very well aligned, we do not tell a compelling story and we’re not of one message."

Speaking deliberately, Jones lets the point hang in the air for a moment, then continues. "One thing you learn in communications — it’s all about the message and your ability to communicate it in a clear and consistent on-going fashion. We don’t do that."

How would she change things?

It is the newsmakers and legislators, Jones contends, who need to be reached.

"The public already knows — study after study will show the public does not have any problem with this industry," she said.

Jones has little patience with critics who frame casinos as committing some kind of "unseemly act" because people come into a casino and leave with less money.

When I go to Disney World or to a restaurant or to Neiman Marcus, I leave with less money than I came in with because I want to indulge myself and that’s what people do today when they visit a casino," she said. "They come to indulge themselves”¦ to eat and dance and gamble and laugh and have a good time.

"And what is wrong with that? This is the very heart of American leisure."