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Harrah's Wants Innovation On Schedule And At Scale

CEO Loveman wants Harrah's to grow by improving its analysis of customers' spending patterns so it can make more informed offers in real time.

Loveman (left) and Stanley seek growth without the multibillion-dollar loan

Photo by Erica Berger
The casino and pharmaceutical industries don't have a lot in common. But Harrah's Entertainment CIO Tim Stanley sees a connection: His company's success hinges on getting a steady stream of breakthrough tech-enabled gaming and hospitality innovations, just as surely as a pharma company must have the next blockbuster drug in its R&D pipeline.

It's an unusual viewpoint--just one of many on display when Stanley joined his boss, CEO Gary Loveman, on stage during the InformationWeek 500 Conference last week in Monarch Beach, Calif.

Loveman would like to break Harrah's out of the growth model that requires casino companies to erect ever-more astonishing and expensive gambling and hotel palaces. Part of that focus involves improving the company's analysis of customers' spending patterns so that it can make more informed offers in real time. The goal is to keep customers on Harrah's properties--a tall order in Las Vegas, where the competition is just a stroll down the street. But the spontaneity of Vegas also is an advantage. If, for instance, a guest who has eaten at one of Harrah's four-star restaurants and attended its shows checks in, the Harrah's real-time analytics system would offer a table it sees is open at its top restaurant, and offer to reserve tickets at a show afterward. That might be $2,000 worth of entertainment, made on the spur of the moment. "In Vegas, we're very fortunate that people don't plan ahead very often," Loveman said. "The person who is sober and has money directs."

Even in the casino world, where customers are used to the house knowing what they spent and being treated accordingly, some of the experiments with tracking customers misfire. Stanley personally took part in a test in which he greeted customers by name while they played. Customers found it a bit creepy, and Harrah's adjusted its approach.

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Stanley, as senior VP of gaming, also oversees the company's 50 casinos, and as senior VP of innovation leads a tiger team of people with backgrounds in IT, consumer products, and marketing. The innovation team's accountable not just for coming up with new products, but also for the means to implement and scale them at the 50 properties. Stanley gave three examples of technologies under development in its innovation labs: table games that let players interact with others; games that employ "persistence," letting players achieve various levels of accomplishment during multiple visits; and systems that provide a digital representation of a live casino game, such as roulette.

For Loveman, one thread must connect these technology-based innovations: "You've got to charge for it." He's not thrilled--so far--with efforts to let people use mobile devices on premises for services such as sports betting, because they aren't driving much revenue. "If we're going to give you this kind of digital portability," he says, "we need to make sure the cash register is ringing constantly."

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