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Rod Smith
 

Nevadan At Work: Exec Living Out Fantasy at Caesars Palace

27 June 2006

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- A business expert once said Las Vegas and The Walt Disney Co. are in the same business: the business of fantasy.

Jimmy Wike, the vice president of table game operations at Caesars Palace, is at once like fantasy characters out of the Wild West and a James Bond movie.

Picture the bright lights on the baccarat table in the high-roller room. James Bond, dressed to the nines, has a fortune riding on the game and the tension is thick enough to cut with a knife.

That scene is played night after night at Caesars Palace, where the man in charge is Jimmy Wike.

As luck would have it for the second James, he's living out the dream of his lifetime: running the table games at Caesars Palace, one of the most famous casinos in the world.

This, he says, is a role he was raised in Las Vegas to play.

But there's another side to Wike, reminiscent of Ronald Reagan, both on screen and in real life.

Like Reagan, Wike owns a ranch and has for almost 30 years. He says that is his ultimate escape from a job that is 24/7.

Wike says he's called at all hours of the day and night and has to go into the casino except when he's at his ranch, Juanita Springs, a 160-acre spread near Mesquite.

Wike grew up in a Las Vegas that's all but disappeared. He'd spend weekends and summers hitchhiking with a buddy out to Lake Mead to go fishing.

But he and his family can still find that kind of escape from what for most people is the ultimate fantasyland chopping brush, planting trees and fishing in a couple of fresh water ponds on his spread on the road to Gold View.

Question: What does a vice president of table games do?

Answer: Insure the smooth operation of the games, provide service to our customers and ensure the integrity of the games.

Question: What do you like most?

Answer: I love the action. Most of my life, if I hadn't been working in a casino, I'd have been hanging out in one. I'm a lucky guy. Here, I love casinos and I get to run the most famous casino in the world.

Question: What's most challenging?

Answer: The biggest challenge is actually making sure that all of our guests are treated extra specially. Just making sure all of our customers are made to feel they are welcome, we appreciate their business and we want them to come back. That's what we all strive for.

While other operators would like their staffs to do this, we insist our staff does this. Harrah's has implemented some great service standards that will truly differentiate us from the market.

Question: Such as?

Answer: Spotlight behaviors -- certain behaviors everyone is required to perform. Every time you walk up to a game, five things must happen: eye contact and smile, offer a greeting, positive attitude, check for satisfaction and provide a warm farewell.

Question: How did the Harrah's Entertainment-Caesars Entertainment affect you?

Answer: My life got better. I was able to do some things on the floor with the game mix that were not necessarily acceptable with prior management.

We've put out a venue of retail games that are attractive to a different demographic than the traditional Caesars customer while still maintaining the main casino in its traditional mode.

If you look at other great casinos from past eras -- the Dunes, Sands, D.I, -- they maintained an environment that was exclusive to a narrow demographic. And as their customer base went to other properties, passed away and moved on, these casinos became no longer viable.

Our goal here is to maintain the classic Caesars experience and still reach out to different groups that will ultimately matriculate into the Caesars customers (of tomorrow).

Question: What different demographics?

Answer: Age. Done that. By adding Pure, a hip, trendy nightclub; restaurants such as Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill, the new poker room; and entertainment, Caesars is the most successful property of that era (the 1960s and 70s). It's still viable, growing and reinvigorating itself. And it's still the standard by which all Las Vegas casinos are judged. If you think about it, we're celebrating out 40th anniversary. The D.I., Dunes and Sands all lasted 40 years and they blew them up. ...

We don't want to displace anyone, but I'd like to see (baby boomers) playing in our new Caesars casino while his or her sons and daughters are out by the pool.

Then, in 10 years, the children will have matriculated to the (baby boomers') place.

Question: How has the merger changed the casino?

Answer: It's actually increased customer volume. We've actually expanded our table game product. We've reduced slots by 400. We've grown from 108 to 116 table games.

And I have plans to expand that by another nine to 12 games. Caesars has always been a table game place and that table game business is growing.

Question: As a place to work?

Answer: For me personally, things have been better. I've had the opportunity to be more creative on the casino floor. And that has resulted in improved financial performance.

Question: What would you change?

Answer: Nothing.

Question: How'd you get into gaming?

Answer: Most of us who grew up here got into the service business, whether it was dealing, valet parking, or what, because the jobs were lucrative, exciting and fun. This was a great place to be young and have a pocketful of money.

Question: What have you liked most?

Answer: Meeting some very, very interesting people from all over the country and all over the world.

Question: What have you liked least?

Answer: I don't know.

Question: What'll you do next?

Answer: Retire. Actually, at some point, I'll retire in Mesquite.

As far as my profession goes, for a casino all my life, I'm running Caesars Palace. I've been phenomenally lucky. Las Vegas is Broadway and the rest of the country is summer stock. This is the most famous casino in the world and I get to run it.

Question: Where do you see Caesars going from here?

Answer: I see Caesars expanding. I see the brand being promoted internationally. And I see a property that several years ago was in danger of becoming another Las Vegas icon instead developing into the premier property in Las Vegas.