Garrett Dodge, MBA '08, had never even been to a casino when he was chosen for a winter externship in Las Vegas at Harrah's Entertainment Inc., the largest owner of casinos in the world. Not a gambler himself, Garrett had little knowledge of the rules and customs of the games at a casino, let alone the inner workings of such a huge company. But then, he says, it was precisely that opportunity to learn something new, to tackle diverse and complicated challenges, that drew him to the job.
“It was really surprising to me how interesting it all was,” he says. “They are basically running the largest hotels in the world with 5,000 rooms and 15,000 employees. There are a dozen restaurants in the casino and half of those are run by world-class chefs like Bobby Flay, then you have the casino operations as well. So the scope of all the things that go on is amazing, and obviously it continues 24-7.”
Chosen to research the latest trends in Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), Garrett spent last January studying Harrah's competitors. The company was so impressed with his work that they invited him back over the summer to continue exploring ways for Harrah's to use technology to increase customer loyalty. Harrah's, he explains, is famous for its “loyalty card.” Eighty percent of the gamers who play at the casino sign up for the card, and then all of their spending at Harrah's is linked to their demographic information. So the interesting question, said Garrett, becomes how to best use that information to improve a customers' experience inside the casino. “You might learn that a lot of your customers have started to become vegetarians,” he explains “so that you need to have a vegetarian restaurant when you didn't have one before. Or you might find ways to better deliver the kinds of drinks certain customers want, or the kind of games they want to play.”
One of the most interesting aspects of the experience, Garrett says, was realizing the wide spectrum of reasons people have for visiting casinos. “Some people go to Vegas to go shopping and to go to the restaurants, and some people go to sit at the slot machines all day. And even then there are different types of slot machines. It's a lot more complex then a lot of people realize.”
It was also rewarding, says Garrett, to be involved in an industry that is changing so rapidly. “The neat thing,” he says, “is that it is a very large industry that is still fairly immature. When Gary Loveman (the owner of Harrah's and himself an MIT graduate) started seven years ago, it was totally fragmented and you didn't have companies owning more than a couple casinos; now they are moving more toward where the hotel industry is — with large chains and brand issues and scale and things like that.”
Though not certain what his next career move will be, Garrett says that his experience at Harrah's definitely solidified his desire to be involved with exploring new ways for companies to utilize technology. “I have a pretty diverse resume, and a lot of that is just because I am interested in new challenges. Going forward, I am looking at a lot of other different types of companies ... I am less concerned in finding a job in a specific industry than I am with finding a company that is really doing some interesting things with their technology.”