Closing the US Market track on day four of SBC’s Digital Summit, Caesars Entertainment Board Member Jan Jones Blackhurst hosted an exclusive discussion in which she delved into her vast experience of the US betting scene, touching on her successful tenure as Mayor of Las Vegas as well as her most recent work as part of the Caesars group.
Titled ‘Fireside Chat – In Conversation with Jan Jones Blackhurst’, the Caesars board member, who holds the honor of being the first female mayor of Las Vegas, opened up the track by discussing her time in the role.
“What is interesting about Las Vegas is that the mayor is the mayor of the city solely, but the mayor has always stood for something,” she said. “It’s a city that everyone knows about and is interested in. The title brings with it responsibility that when you speak many people are going to think you’re speaking for a broader whole.
“When I was the mayor, most of the gaming was on the strip. I helped the city grow revenues from $15m to $35 and in that time it was collaborative, everyone worked together to make it the number one resort/convention city but also a great city in general.”
Moving on to discuss life post-COVID, Blackhurst discussed the term ‘deep hospitality’, and explained to those viewing that it would be vital in the regeneration of Las Vegas following the eradication of the health crisis.
She stated: “Deep hospitality means being sensitive to your customer base. So the offerings you have meet the criteria of a broad customer need, so you speak their language, understand where they are coming from and realize what they need. Going forward that will be key to our revitalization.
“We need to find a way to build on our hospitality whilst breaching these COVID barriers. We need to make people feel that they want to come back and we will need to be very deliberate as to how we look at it as a city and individual operators.
“Las Vegas is going to have a long climb after COVID to get back to where we were two months ago.
“We have to find a way to ensure all the healthcare things we want in place don’t become barriers for people who want to come. Las Vegas is fun, it’s where people want to be and it’s somewhere to come and enjoy who you are. We have to keep it safe but find a way to sustain that energy, to let people know this is still the place you want to go to.
“Whether it’s providing thermal temperatures or other defenses against the illness, we need to be careful that these give you a sense of security and are not barriers. Las Vegas has been able to reinvent itself several times and this is a time where we will have to do that again and I have no doubt we will successfully.”
The former Las Vegas mayor also took some time to give her thoughts on the medium of online betting and the opportunities that come alongside it. She acknowledged the boom seen by online operators due to the closing of brick and mortar stores, and reiterated the need for it to be legalized across the US.
“I’ve been a strong advocate for online betting, sports and poker for a long period of time,” she added. “It’s not competitive, it’s collaborative. We were limited by people being nervous about online. Now people have nowhere to go so the limited online we offer is exploding. I hope the industry sees that we need to legalize online and see that it is part of the overall gaming experience.
“I think states will be interested but I think they need to understand it is different to brick and mortar. Online is important to our future and I hope the industry coalesces around this and states work together to make it happen. It’s a great opportunity to meet new users and eventually bring them back and entice them to your brick and mortar operations.
“People like to bet, most people bet for the sport of it. We’re concerned for those with disorders but that’s 1% of the overall usership. Legalizing gaming online is the way of the future. People like it, they want to bet on their phones easily, they enjoy it and they like the fun. Making it difficult to access does not prove any points. States like New Jersey, that legalized all aspects of it, found that it brought new customers which resulted in crossover play, it didn’t cannibalize the market.”
Aside from her successful career, Blackhurst is also seen as a trailblazer for women within the industry. On the topic of diversity within the betting sector she commented: “Diversity is not a feelgood initiative, it’s a strategy to get the best performance.
“When I talk about reimagining the city we need diversity to get different ideas and different inputs.
“The purpose today is a best business practice, if we want to come back as an industry we need diverse thinkers and diverse thinkers mean you need women, people of color, white men, everybody. Now more than ever, inclusivity and different mindsets will make the difference in having a huge success or failure.
“People have a tendency to look at diversity as an initiative. Diversity is a strategy, it has to start with your CEO and begin with unconscious bias training. It’s changing the processes of hiring and retaining people. Changing from top to bottom, changing the way you review, the way you interview, the wording of job openings etc.
“You need to start at the top of the organisation and mean it. The outcome will see you become a higher performing company. Now more than ever we need to use diversity to look for our hospitality solution because if we continue as we have for the last few years we will hit problems.”
Finally, the Caesars board member looked to the future of Las Vegas offering her thoughts on a return to glory for the gambling hub and what is required to get there.
She concluded: “We have to start thinking about how we can still keep the energy, hospitality, excitement and safety. Is there something we can build into the security that makes you feel safe? I don’t know. We don’t have all the answers but we need to think outside of the box, we need the greatest minds. It’s going to be different but we need to tap into that energy with an enhanced level of safety.
“What I think will come back first are local casinos. I think online gaming could be a robust piece of the industry comeback and I think Las Vegas absolutely comes back but it will be slower. I think the Tribes will come back quickly but I think Las Vegas follows that.
“We’ll have to be more thoughtful. We depend on airlines so we need air traffic to return to what it was before COVID-19. I think 20% of our visits are international so we need to work on giving those travelers not only the ability but also the comfortability to come back.
“My crystal ball says by the end of 2022 we’ll see Las Vegas back to normal.
“I think we’re one of the most creative industries in the world. Now more than ever we need to work together and believe in ourselves. We need to find ways to bring the industry back. It’s a time where being competitors isn’t in our best interests. We need to think about how to preserve this industry and how we make sure that five years from now we are proud of how far we have come.”
The SBC Digital Summit is a truly groundbreaking online event for the betting and gaming industry, offering up to 10,000 delegates a fully virtual and interactive conference, exhibition and networking experience. It takes place all this week, up to and including Friday May 1.
With global business communities in the grip of the COVID-19 crisis, the Summit was created as a platform for the industry to connect and share knowledge amid critical and unprecedented conditions.
The SBC Digital Summit runs from 27 April to 1 May 2020 and features seven conference tracks, a virtual exhibition and virtual networking lounges, attracting an estimated 10,000 delegates logging in from around the world.
There is still time to register for the event, with company discounts available: https://sbcevents.com/sbc-digital-summit/tickets/