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Gaming Guru

Howard Stutz

Pair of execs exit at Harrah's

3 January 2007

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Two Harrah's Entertainment executives, including the division president who was overseeing the company's Gulf Coast casinos, have left the Las Vegas-based gaming operator.

But a company spokesman said last month's announced $27.8 billion buyout of Harrah's by two private equity groups had nothing to do with the management changes.

"People will read into a lot of things," Harrah's spokesman David Strow said.

He confirmed that Harrah's Central Division President Anthony Sanfilippo, who has spent 24 years with the company, including 10 as a division president, retired Monday. In addition to the Gulf Coast casinos, the central division includes Harrah's New Orleans, the largest casino in Louisiana.

Sanfilippo will be replaced by John Payne, who has been president of Harrah's Atlantic City Division since November 2005.

Sanfilippo said Tuesday the timing was right for him leave the company. His management agreement expired on the first day of the new year and he wanted to devote more time away from business activities.

"This was announced internally in November and I spent the past month visiting all the properties to prepare for my departure," said Sanfilippo, who worked out of Harrah's offices in Memphis, Tenn. "It seemed like a good time to make this transition."

Two weeks ago, Harrah's agreed to be purchased by private equity giants Texas Pacific Group and Apollo Management for $90 a share and the assumption of almost $11 billion in debt. The deal will take the company private but may take almost a year to complete.

Sanfilippo said the buyout didn't factor into his decision to retire.

"People might speculate that to be the case, but it wasn't," Sanfilippo said. "I'll continue to be plugged into Harrah's for much of January."

In addition to Sanfilippo, sources confirmed that Tony Santo, Harrah's senior vice president of operations, also left the company Monday. Santo joined Harrah's in June 2005 when the company bought Caesars Entertainment, his previous employer, for $9 billion.

Sanfilippo's departure comes as Harrah's continues to master-plan 90 acres the company owns in Biloxi, Miss. He was leading the redevelopment of a casino site heavily damaged by Hurricane Katrina in August 2005.

In August, Harrah's reopened a portion of the storm-ravaged Grand Casino in Biloxi. Meanwhile, the company bought the closed Casino Magic Biloxi, giving Harrah's more than 90 acres to develop in the Gulf Coast community. He said the increasing cost of construction nationwide affected the overall planning for the Biloxi site.

Payne, who was in charge of Harrah's Gulf Coast casinos when Hurricane Katrina struck the area, had served as the vice president and general manager of Harrah's New Orleans. He will move the company's central division offices from Memphis to New Orleans.

Pair of execs exit at Harrah's is republished from