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Bentley Magazine

Inside Job: Casino Ace

Inside Job: Casino Ace

Holly (Aydar) Gagnon ’85, P ’20 graduated in accounting, but fell in love with the gaming industry during an auditing job at Foxwoods Resort Casino.

She rose through the ranks at Harrah’s Entertainment, MGM Mirage and Seneca Niagara Resort, among others, and joined Spectrum Gaming Group in 2020 as senior strategic adviser. The alumna is a founding board member of Global Gaming Women, which aims to improve the odds for other female leaders in the industry. She spoke with writer Michael Blanding for Bentley Magazine.

Playing the Percentages

It’s great to be in a business that is so dynamic and has so many facets: restaurants, hotels, spas, big legal and IT departments. There’s a lot of complexity that is invisible to the customer. Successful operators are progressive with big data — looking at predictive modeling, the service profit chain, lifetime value of guests. I’m a numbers person by education, so I really enjoy those aspects.

Dealing in Loyalty

At Harrah’s they did robust surveying on the guest experience. We had what we called “key results areas” like the car attendant, who was the first person to greet you and the last person you saw before you left. With automation, the majority of your transactions might happen at a slot machine, so those human interactions are key to creating a bond of loyalty with customers.

Inside Game

The design of a space creates emotion: It can make you feel warm, cold, or even beautiful. At Seneca, we tried to create something welcoming and contemporary, but not overly designed, so people wouldn’t feel like they didn’t belong. We had a great representation of tribal symbols, but subtle, with shapes inspired by nature. People could go to digital kiosks and learn what the symbols meant.

Holly (Adar) Gagnon
If you watch any casino movie, you won’t see a female casino boss. The reality is there were very few women in the industry for a large part of my career.

Betting on a Boom

After COVID, I anticipate we’re going to have a rebound that will be a challenge for companies that aren’t ready. People are ready to get out, and are craving experiences. They’ve also become very good at digital interfaces, and I predict a rapid acceleration of digital experiences and transactions. Companies that are slow to adjust will be playing catch-up.

Beating the Odds

If you watch any casino movie, you won’t see a female casino boss. The reality is there were very few women in the industry for a large part of my career. Through Global Gaming Women, I’ve worked with some amazing women in senior roles. The relationships and camaraderie bolstered our ability to make an impact. Now there are three women running properties on the Las Vegas Strip and the majority of properties in Atlantic City are run by women. I subscribe to the theory that whenever you have barriers that exclude part of the population, you are limiting your ability to find the most talented people you can.

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