Today, Caesar’s Entertainment announced that it had reached an agreement on the terms of a recommended cash acquisition of British betting house William Hill for approximately $3.7 billion. If this transaction goes through, the company will be more diversified in terms of geographical exposure and the type of gaming it offers to its customers. Interestingly, only three months ago, Eldorado Resorts bought Caesar’s for about $17,3 billion, after billionaire investor Carl Icahn joined the board and supported the company’s sale.
Caesar’s Entertainment is perhaps the company where a strategy of using big data to grow customer equity has been better documented in the management literature. Hence, it is especially interesting to follow its recent moves, in a world where digital transformation impacts every business model.
“Diamonds in the data mine” was an influential article written by Gary Loveman in 2003. Loveman left Harvard Business School in 1998 to work at Harrah’s Entertainment as COO, a casino company for which he had consulted before. Harrah’s later bought Caesar’s and changed the company name. During the first few years of this century, the company achieved impressive growth. In 1999, Harrah’s Entertainment doubled its revenue and increased its net profit by 50%, with the same 22 casinos. Loveman and its customer and data-focused strategy played a significant role in that success story.
Even today, 20 years later, what Loveman and his team did with its Total Rewards loyalty program is of a level of sophistication few companies have reached. Loveman changed the marketing department completely, centralized most of its functions, and replaced traditional profiles with analytical ones. Enormous amounts of data on customer behavior were gathered and analyzed with sophisticated econometric models. Experiments, very rare at that time, were used to fine-tune the marketing actions and measure and improve ROI. Loveman had an obsession with making marketing a more scientific activity.
In 2005, Gary Loveman was appointed CEO, and that year the company bought Caesar’s Entertainment for $9.3 billion. In 2008 the company went private when purchased by a group of private equity funds. It was then heavily leveraged. The moment was not the best one: the crisis made the operating company of Caesar’s Entertainment file for Chapter 11 in 2015. At that time, the Total Rewards loyalty program was valued by creditors at $1.08 billion.
Mark Frissora was appointed CEO in July 2015 and left the company in 2019. Frissora turned around the company and realized the importance of the Total Rewards program in the new company strategy. He accelerated the implementation of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning, advancing on its big data strategy. A significant investment was made to modernize the IT infrastructure, move systems to the cloud, organize the different databases, and obtain faster analytical capabilities.
However, when discussing Caesar’s case with business school students, they often worry about its significant exposure to traditional gaming operations, where slotting machines seem to be the dominant games. Few people would probably believe that the “job-to-be-done” a slotting machine customer demands from a casino will, in the future, be fulfilled by a physical slotting machine.
If this assumption is correct, one could argue that Caesar’s has a big problem, as it needs to gradually adapt its business model to a changing customer. In this sense, William Hill might be a perfect complement for the company. Its know-how on using data to grow customer equity, and its existing customer database, might be used in sports betting and online gambling.
Still, it will be interesting to see how Caesar’s Entertainment evolves its now 60 brick-and-mortar casinos. The traditional casino business model is very different from the business model needed to succeed in the new types of gambling. Acquiring a company does not necessarily change your existing business model. It just adds a new one, where some synergies might exist among them. Also, the business model of a traditional bricks-and-mortar casino is probably challenging to adapt to existing digital trends.
The Caesar’s Entertainment story teaches us that no matter how sophisticated you are at digitalizing some of your core processes today, you still need to be continually creating plausible future scenarios and adapting to expected customer trends.
We will have to keep tuned at the company’s next moves.