Gilbert & Loveman: A look at the men behind Cleveland's new Horseshoe Casino

CLEVELAND - The opening this spring of Cleveland's new Horseshoe Casino brings together two men significantly successful in their fields, but seemingly opposites in their approach to business, Caesars Entertainment CEO Gary Loveman and Rock Gaming's Dan Gilbert.

The two men do have some things in common: They are around the same age, Gilbert turned 50 this week, Loveman is 51. They also both share more than a love of basketball, Gilbert, of course, owns the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers, while Loveman is part owner of the Boston Celtics.

But while Gilbert is seen, fair or not, as an impulsive, trust-your-gut, speak-from-the-heart, consequences-be-damned kind of guy, Loveman's approach is more calculated than risk.

How else could you explain the rise of a Harvard Business School professor with a PhD in economics from MIT, a man with no casino experience, to the head of the world's largest gaming company?

By definition, to gamble is to bet on an uncertain outcome. Loveman has used his MIT experience, and knowledge of marketing and service management, to remove as much uncertainty as he can from casino operations. Not when it comes to the games, of course, but when it comes to his customers.

Loveman's expertise lies in knowing more about the people that visit his casinos than maybe they know about themselves: what games they like to play, how long they're likely to play them, what is most likely to entice them to come back, and using that knowledge to maximize their experience and the casino's profitability.

Caesars Entertainment includes such casino names as Caesars, Harrah's, Showboat, Horseshoe and Bally's; a total of 54 casinos on four continents. What they all share is a database of 40 million customers who hold a Caesars Total Rewards card, the industry's most successful rewards card program.

The card offers incentives as wide as the imagination tested and retested for their success in enticing customers to come, stay, play and leave happy.

If a customer leaves happy, they are more likely to return and it is the average, run-of-the-mill player that make up the vast majority of a casino's profits, not the so-called high rollers.

Loveman has been quoted as saying there are three ways to get fired from Caesars theft, sexual harassment and running an experiment without a control group. Instinct, though old school and romantic, is not an option when making a decision in the Caesars world, research and data are. If you think you're right, back it up.

So when it came to its purchase first of Thistledown Racetrack and then its later partnership with Rock Gaming to form Rock Ohio Caesars to run the new Cleveland casino under the Horseshoe brand, you can rest assured every aspect of the deal was analyzed over and over again before entering this market.

"It is a city that has not had casino gaming nearby ever and yet residents of Cleveland have shown a great interest in gaming," Loveman told me at last year's announcement. "So this is really almost dream come true for us."

That's what makes its estimate of five million visits a year to the Higbee Building-based casino not just a pie in the sky guess, but one based on fact, data and research. Reward card customers as well as the public at large were surveyed on their likelihood to visit.

What Loveman and Gilbert both realize is they're not marketing gambling, they're marketing an experience. 

This is something Gilbert demonstrated with his purchase of the Cavaliers, and his attention to detail related to the product on and off the court. The installation of the flame throwing, high definition score board and many other steps taken to ensure the fan experience was something that was as powerful as the game itself.

That is why the goal with Cleveland's casino was not to build a "slots box" filled with endless rows of one-armed bandits, but a place that will give you a reason to come back. That was also behind the decision to give the casino the Horseshoe name.

"The Horseshoe brand," said Loveman "is one of the defining brands of the gambling industry. It was built around the notion of doing right for the gambler, making the experience intimate, making it exhilarating, making it highly trusted, in a sense casual and perform at a very high level of luxury and accommodation," he said.

Northeast Ohio will see for itself this spring when the Horseshoe Casino Cleveland is scheduled to open.

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