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Caesars Entertainment: The importance of equitability

By - 10 March 2022

Jan Jones Blackhurst, Board Member at Caesars, is highly regarded as a forward-thinking pioneer in the gaming industry on issues such as diversity, inclusivity, and social responsibility.

In an enlightening interview with G3, the former mayor of Las Vegas explains why chasing the bottom line alone doesn’t pay. Companies who focus not just on being profitable, but on being equitable, are the ones that will see shareholders get the highest possible return on their investment.

Jan begins by explaining what has driven her passion for change.

It stems from the fact I inadvertently took a segway into politics. I happened to be the mayor of Las Vegas at a time when we were the fastest growing city in the United States. We went from 15 million to 35 million visitors, added 60,000 hotel rooms, and built a new school every month just to accommodate the growth.

However, I realised (and maybe this was because I was new to politics) I didn’t answer to bosses on the Strip or people in government, but to the people of Las Vegas. If you understand who you answer to, you make more thoughtful decisions. Yes, I wanted the developers to come, but I wanted them to add parks, walking spaces, libraries, and schools so the people who moved there had a quality, sustainable life.

Understanding politics doesn’t have to be controversial and difficult if you are doing the right things for the right reasons. I was then Head of Government Relations and Communications in Corporate Social Responsibility at Caesars, so I now had constituents, stakeholders, regulators, and legislators to answer to.

Telling a story about why potential partners should want to do business with your company more than any other is incredibly important, particularly in our industry.

We have seen the downside of when you don’t tell that story. Look at what happened in the UK when they imposed limitations on machines to ‘stop problem gambling’. Everyone with any knowledge of gaming knows such action has nothing to do with stopping problem gambling. A natural extension of understanding who your stakeholders are is to talk to them, not yourself, in a way that developers and nurtures a beneficial relationship.

What is the difference between ‘deep’ hospitality and ‘bread and butter’ hospitality?

Bread and butter hospitality is how people have presented hospitality for years – friendly, customer facing service in an environment that provides consumers an experience whereby want to come back. Essentially, nice and responsive.

Deep hospitality is when you really take the time to know who your customers is, their differences, and understand that not all customers are motivated by the same experience, offering, or environment. Deep hospitality is where you have the flexibility and consciousness to adapt, creating an environment where the workforce feels appreciated and recognised enough to take the extra step to make sure the hospitality experience is extraordinary.

How does Caesars practice and enact deep hospitality?

Caesars facilitates deep hospitality in multiple ways; through basic customer service training, programmes about creating inclusive cultures, and business resource groups where colleagues can collaborate – whether it is veterans, women, black, latino or just groups wanting to spend time understanding each other’s issues.

Ultimately, it’s about having policies that reinforce the fact you as an employer have a high opinion of the quality of life you want your workforce to experience so that they feel a part of something bigger. They should feel they aren’t just hired to do a job but to be part of a team.

That’s a very different feeling when it comes to motivating people to bring their best selves to work and that’s what Caesars is always looking to do. How we touch our employees in a way that makes their service feel valued and what they bring every day to our properties is hugely important.

What is your advice to operators looking to make that transition?

You have to listen. Anyone can put in place programmes, policies, and procedures, but if you’re just telling people what you want them to do and how you think they feel, you are never going to get the same response. You’re not having a conversation or developing a relationship.

Caesars recently conducted a town hall meeting on human trafficking designed to improve our workforces understand of the issue which 750 colleagues attended. We are putting in place a programme with our security guards that empowers them to see these girls not as purveyors of sin, but as victims.

A lot of companies see their employees as simply there to do a job, and they will do that job, but they aren’t going to bring a real sense of esteem and commitment they would if they felt a part of something bigger.

In 1999, Caesars put in place a code of commitment for our employees to build an inclusive workforce, offer equal pay and promotion opportunities. For our customers, we pledged to be responsible and offer an enjoyable environment. To our communities, we said we’d give back.

I was one of the original architects of the code of commitment and nobody was doing that in those days. They were thinking the job of the business is take money. The opposite is true. If you undertake deep hospitality and have a relationship with your workforce, you will make a lot more money.

You helped establish one of the gaming industry’s first environmental, social, and governance (ESG) programmes back in 2005. Why has it taken 17 years for the rest of the industry to catch on, both in terms of creating these programmes and becoming wise to their benefits?

In the UK, you will find many more organisations have standing ESG committees but in the U.S., Caesars is one of only 10 per cent of Fortune 500 companies with standing ESG committees, which I chair. Companies used to think their role of the senior team and the Board was just to return on investment to shareholders and I always strongly disagreed with that assertion.

There is a much broader social prerogative and responsibility of companies to the communities in which they operate and taking on this responsibility impacts how they respond in a crisis such as Covid. Do you continue to take care of your employees? Do you look at your pricing to save money or keep it stable so customers will keep coming back?

It’s an ethos and this ethos is a real characterisation of who you are as an organisation and how you do business. It took a long time for businesses in the U.S. to realise it is not all about the money you make. This is not to say running a good business isn’t a top priority, but it’s not the only priority. In fact, taking responsibility in such a way grows your value to shareholders.

How has and is Caesars changing the way it is implementing ESG into its company policy, and how it is executed?

Caesars has long been and remains at the forefront of making measurable commitments, whether this is pledging a reduction in energy, zero carbon footprint offset, or achieving true representation across culture, diversity, and inclusion.

We set measurable goals, manage to these goals, and share plans on how we are going to get there. We are very authentic in saying where we are making progress or need to adjust strategy. A lot of companies publish pretty pictures and flashy reports, but it’s the authenticity behind the data and commitments that makes the difference.

Vague and meaningless PR spiel such as ‘becoming energy efficient’ and ‘offsetting carbon footprint’ has slowly paved way to meaningful discussions about when and by how much. How does Caesars and the wider gaming industry ensure accountability to these pledges?

A lot of rating agencies and even the SEC are now putting specific goals and targets into reports, so you must be making a fair and accurate representation. One thing Caesars does that I think would benefit any organisation is we hire outside experts in ESG, climate, and purpose driven workforce development on retainer for the Board. Rather than trying to understand what is happening in real-time, we have experts who can share the science with us.

I recently saw a report that the number one concern of most business risk assessments is climate. Caesars had at least two properties in the last two years that had been taken out of commission by natural disasters. There is also a serious water issue in southern Nevada because of the rapidly diminishing in Lake Mead. You can’t just make casual conversation around these issues – you have to understand the science and put in place policies that can be executed.

Traditional U.S. corporates are made up of Ivy League-educated, middle-class, white males. It is common knowledge that the highest-performing companies have the most diverse senior-management teams. Why is it taking so long for corporations, particularly those in the gaming industry, to diversify?

Companies used to state that they want to be ‘inclusive and diverse’ and would then hire people to talk about diversity initiatives. Diversity is a change management strategy. You have got to change the way you do business, the way you hire, and the way you promote and view things. It must start at the top.

It’s not a talent initiative, but a corporate CEO initiative that needs to be embraced by the entire C-suite and the Board. If you leave it at the Human Resources department you will never be successful. That is in no way intended to put negative connotations on HR – there are some extremely talented people in Human Resources and talent acquisition is key to an innovative future – but change has to come from the very top.

In 2018, Caesars signed up as a founding member of the All-in Diversity Project, pledging to achieve gender equality among its leadership by 2025. What progress has been made in the past four years, and how close is Caesars to achieving this stated goal?

In 2018, we publicly made the statement that by 2025 we would have 50/50 representation of women at all levels of the organisation both horizontally and vertically. We were well along that pathway when we merged with new Caesars who, to their real credit and benefit, adopted those same goals. They modified them somewhat because we are a much larger workforce, but we are still on that same journey.

A lot of companies are afraid to make stated goals and, if they are afraid to do so, don’t trust anything they have to say. We are making great progress and have moved the dial 10 per cent over the last two years. We extended the pledge timeline out to 2030 because we expanded the goal to include women, women of colour and people of colour.

We have making changes to our job application process by making job postings more gender neutral. In some cases, we are looking at blind hiring. We have incorporated all our leaders across the enterprise in executing on standards, policies, and procedures to work together as a unit and understand this is who the company wants to be. Every year we review how much we moved, what gains we made, and where we need work.

Caesars has long led public policy and advocacy around relationship recognition and anti-discrimination on a state and federal level, including advocating in favour of LGBTQ+ rights. We were one of the first companies to put in domestic partner benefits and file an amicus brief on the right to same sex marriage. We have also taken a very assertive stand on immigration.

These issues matter to our employees, so we take a very public discourse on the importance of diverse, inclusive workplaces and representation. We were one of the first to do pay equity analysis which, at the time, really gave the lawyers fits. At the end, it showed that at Caesars Corporate there was 99 per cent no pay differential and in the properties there was 98 per cent. What everybody was afraid of turned out to be a great story for the company.

What issues and policy directives should be top of mind for forward thinking gaming companies in 2022?

Of course, to be a good and profitable company, but more than that how to be an equitable company. How will you make sure employees are invested in their job and the purpose of the organisation? How are you going to communicate with community leaders and give back?

How are you going to evaluate ESG-related issues and what role do they want to play in resolving these issues? How are you going to reflect the values of the organisation, both outward and inward facing? Ultimately, it is by focusing on these issues that shareholders will get the highest possible return on their investment.

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