Now president of Renaissance Casino Solutions, Rowe participated in 16 casino openings for Harrah’s Entertainment in a career that has spanned more than 30 years and held senior roles, both at the property and corporate levels in technology and gaming. He has held high-level senior executive positions at GTECH and Bally Technologies and been an indispensable source of knowledge for anyone trying to understand the present, current and likely future state of the industry.
But, as Dennis Conrad, the president of Raving Consulting and co-producer of Casino Marketing Conference put it, Rowe is not being honored with the Casino Marketing Lifetime Achievement Award just for his many professional successes. “He is being recognized for his innovative spirit,” wrote Conrad. “For teaching us all the importance of family and friends in one’s success. For helping us understand the customer and employee perspective, and that systems or organizations should be squarely focused on serving them. And for showing an entire industry how to embrace technology to produce an incredible marketing result – happier casino guests.”
Rowe’s personal and professional journey began in Atlantic City, where he was born, grew up and graduated from Atlantic City High School, as did his parents. When gaming was legalized in New Jersey in 1978, he had a degree in theater and started working at Resorts and Caesars as a stagehand. That same week, he was offered a job at Playboy’s, Caesars and Harrah’s. “I did my research and, as far as entertainment went, Harrah’s was the leader in the industry,” said Rowe. “I was hired to open Harrah’s Atlantic City in the entertainment department and marketing. That was October of 1980.”
Rowe would go on to top jobs in IT and slots at Harrah’s, but the nine years he spent on the entertainment side were foundational. “I was always involved on the technical side of entertainment and the entertainment industry is always ahead of the rest of the world when it comes to experimenting with technology, so I was always able to have access to and learn about cutting-edge technology,” said Rowe. “But the single most important thing was project management; figuring out how to adapt and make things happen in spite of lots of curve balls being thrown your way, the ‘show must go on’ philosophy. When you’re changing out a headline entertainer for a year, it’s just constant project management; working on the one you’re doing and planning on the next two or three down the road. That discipline has served me extremely well.
“The other is dealing with an extremely diverse group of personalities and managing them to a conclusion. One of the things I learned as I was managing software engineers and people who created software product and technologists was they weren’t all that different from some of the people I managed in the entertainment industry. They were in most cases extremely talented but you had to get all of them to work together, much like an orchestra conductor. Everyone had to put aside their personal issues and focus on the goal. That was the same whether I was managing IT people or entertainment.”
The casino industry proved a great fit for someone who could make the transition from entertainment to IT and slots. As Rowe put it, he was fortunate enough to have five careers in the same company; Harrah’s and then Caesars. He lists three areas of accomplishment of which he is proudest: Opening 16 casinos; mentoring people and giving back to communities. “I remember at Harrah’s Atlantic City every Veteran’s Day we used to go to the Veteran’s home and we’d take a band, food, cocktail servers and we’d give back to the troops,” said Rowe. “I remember we’d go with our children every Christmas and Thanksgiving to a mission and serve the homeless before we’d have our holiday meals. To be involved in an industry that supported that kind of thing was a real gift.”
For those who know him, it’s fitting that two of three areas of achievement that Rowe lists have to do with personal interaction. For Rowe is an unforgettable person himself, with a speaking style that is direct, informative and illuminating; addressing the good, the bad and the potentially ugly aspects of business situations. It stands out from the canned communications that are so often dispensed in corporate world, which can lead one to ask how he managed to retain both a strong identity and top, executive-level jobs at the same company for long stretches all those years.
“I never worked in fear of losing my job,” responded Rowe. “I find that a lot of people in the industry and that I’ve met in the world for some reason have a fear of losing their jobs. I’ve been employed since I had a paper route when I was 11, and I know that there is good work that I can do somewhere in the world. From the day that I went into management I had a discussion with my wife and I said, ‘From this day forward, we prepare to be unemployed.’ I never had to worry about working for my next paycheck because we engineered our life to be able to have that freedom.
“The other thing is simply the values that I got from my parents, through church, Boy Scouts and to a large extent Rotary. Three generations of my family were in Rotary in Atlantic City, and they have a four-way test: Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build goodwill and better friendships? And will it be beneficial to all concerned? The reason I can cite this is I’ve had it on my desk ever since I’ve been in business. It’s on the top of my laptop so when I’m talking to someone on the phone or when I’m thinking about a deal, I’m trying to think about those four things.”