What is in a name? To Caesar or not to Caesar? That is the question.

Gaius Julius Caesar
The other Caesar who lent us his name, not his ear

Some things just catch me totally off guard.  I was doing my normal routine reading the gaming news from around the world when I found a story from the Boston Herald; Caesars is close to a deal with a local racetrack for a partnership  in building and operating a $600 million casino.  Caesars? Now Caesars of 2011 is not the Caesars of the 1960s, 70s or 80s when it was the premier casino brand in the world.  It was, and is still, the most recognized casino brand name in the world.  At one time in about 1980 Caesars had 250 junket offices – not representatives, offices – around the world to collect the highest of the high-rollers from each country.  Mohamed Ali was one of its spokespersons – but you didn’t see him on television or the casino floor in Nevada; he toured Africa meeting all of the most important and richest people in every country and invited them to come see him in Las Vegas.  Changes the way you think of a personal host doesn’t it?  Mohamed Ali was not the only figure of that stature, Caesars had the best and the biggest names representing it.  Things change over time, the leadership, ownership and operating philosophies at Caesars have changed a few times since those days.

Today the brand is owned by Harrah’s, in fact recently Harrah’s changed its name to Caesars.  Those things don’t always make sense to me, name changes; but today that one did.  Just the name got my attention – Caesars makes half billion dollar deal!  Damn Caesars! and then I remembered it isn’t Caesars, it is Harrah’s wearing an invisibility cloak trying to hide from its leverage buy-out, debt ridden debacle of the last couple of years.  But it works; the newspaper got a quote from a local lawmaker that illustrates the power of the name:

“There are poker games and then there are high-stakes poker games,” said one lawmaker briefed on the impending deal. “This creates a perception that (Suffolk is) placing a large marker as their ante into the game.”

Now, the Harrah’s name was no slouch, but it was not know as a high-roller; Harrah’s is the ubiquitous company with a casino everywhere; Harrah’s is the marketing company with 30 million people in its data-base; Harrah’s is every man’s casino, not the man‘s casino.  Harrah’s is an okay company, a little tight on property reinvestment, a little risk averse (they don’t like real high-rollers at Harrah’s they want to grind away at a certain thing with risking a 30 million dollar loss to one player like the old Caesars did) and very conservative in everything.

The other Caesars was the high-roller in gaming in its day, it was a palace more than a casino; its very name evoked the rich and privileged; if you were one of them, you would be invited, if you were not you could stand and watch them pass by.  I heard a presentation by the then chairman of the board, Clifford Perlman,  in about 1982 that summed it all up.

“Just image it is New Years’ Eve.  You are looking over the casino floor of the world famous Caesars Palace.  Every slot machine is being played, every seat at the table games is taken, crap-shooters are three deep at every craps table, begging the dice to bring baby new shoes; the atmosphere is electric, the excitement almost choking.  In your head you are trying to do a quick calculation of the amount of money being wagered – millions upon millions – and wonder idly how much Caesars will make from this one day.” Perlman paused in his story and looked down at our eager faces, we held our breath waiting for him to give us some numbers that we knew would be beyond our wildest dreams.

And then Perlman resumed, “None of that matters, none, not the slot machines, the blackjack tables, roulette wheels or crap tables.  It does not matter, because over in the corner of the casino, in a luxurious but restricted hideaway, in the baccarat room is one player; one player betting millions of dollars on each hand. That is the place and the man that will determine whether Caesars wins or lose this night!” Perlman ended his presentation, leaving us wanting more, details, numbers and more excitement, instead we were left with the mystic of Caesars Palace.

I still get excited when I think about it and that is the Caesars that comes to mind when I read or hear the name, not the over- leveraged, ultra conservative slot player’s casino company that owns the name.


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