Jan Jones Blackhurst will miss a lot about working as an executive for Caesars Entertainment Corp., but standing in line at foreign airports waiting to get her passport stamped isn’t one of them.
But what she will miss in all that international travel to four continents she did on behalf of Caesars over the past 20 years will be the hundreds of relationships she cultivated to move the company into a good position to win a concession for building an integrated resort in Japan.
That won’t matter anymore because the company that is acquiring Caesars for $17.3 billion, Reno-based Eldorado Resorts Inc., is passing on Japan and other foreign investments Blackhurst had been working on as executive vice president of public policy and corporate responsibility.
Until Oct. 1, she will be making contact with many of the friends she has made over the years to explain Eldorado management’s decision to focus on domestic casino growth.
“It was a very difficult decision, but one I would say is 100 percent vested in making sure that this new company is best in class in the industry and that they wanted all their focus on making sure that not only were they looking to de-lever the company to a point they think is in the best interests of both the company and the market, but they want all free cash flow to be focused on immediate opportunities,” Blackhurst said in an interview.
“I can see them making that a priority,” she said. “Japan’s a long way away. I think we were well-positioned, but they’re looking at what’s in front of them today, so I can see making a decision that allows their 100 percent focus to be on building the biggest domestic gaming company in the United States. If there are other foreign possibilities, maybe they look at that through acquisition, which is something (Eldorado CEO) Tom Reeg has spoken about before.”
Eldorado is well on its way to becoming the largest regional casino operator in America. The company probably will rid itself of some properties, including one or maybe two in Las Vegas, but when the deal is done, the new Caesars could have as many as 60 properties with 51,000 hotel rooms.
Blackhurst said she will miss the relationships she made in Japan the most because she has been working on that rapport for nearly 12 years. But she also has developed friendships in Greece, Australia and Brazil.
“I’m trying to level their expectations to understand that our focus is going to be a domestic focus,” she said. “You never want to leave a bad taste with a relationship, so I’m trying to preserve them for future opportunities down the line, and I think we can do that because things change and you never know what they could be. But I do agree with what I know of the Eldorado focus that this decision for their vision is the right decision at this time.”
She’s not shedding any tears about the end of her career as a Caesars executive because she landed well, taking a position on the company’s board of directors. Earlier this month, Caesars announced that she will replace Richard Schifter who resigned as a director effective Sept. 5. So instead of implementing board policies, she becomes part of the team establishing them.
“I’ve been with this company a long time and have a lot invested in its future, and I’m pleased that I’ll have a role to play helping Caesars be the biggest and best brand in the gaming industry again,” she said.
“I’ll still get to watch the policy and help keep the vision but just from a different perspective. And I think that’s good. I’m looking forward to that opportunity, and I’m looking forward to the opportunity to work with the Caranos (the family that controls Eldorado) and with Tom Reeg and some of the other members of the board. They’re very human leaders.”
While some will be jolted when they see Caesars as a Northern Nevada company when the transaction closes early next year, others note that it’s a homecoming for what once was Harrah’s Entertainment, and Blackhurst thinks the Caranos will pull off the transition with class.
“One of the things that impressed me the most when I first met (Chairman) Gary Carano, he’d come to a meeting in our corporate offices at Caesars, but after the meeting, there are areas where the executives are and you walk down the hall and there is cubicle after cubicle of employees, He went down on his own and introduced himself to every employee, which I just thought was a tremendous show of class,” she said.
“I think it’s very telling about the future of this company.”