|By Rod Smith, Las Vegas Review-Journal|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Oct. 24, 2004 - Lorenzo Creighton, president of the Flamingo Las Vegas, is the king of the hill at the joint Bugsy Siegel started half a century ago, a casino he wouldn't even have been allowed to enter back when the mob was still in charge.
Creighton points out that Lena Horne sang in the Flamingo's show room but couldn't stay in the hotel as a guest. Blacks weren't allowed.
There have been a lot of changes in the past half century. Among the most recent is the renovation of 2,400 rooms, all of which were demolished to the structural concrete and rebuilt with new wood and all new furnishings. That's on top of 1,000 rooms renovated in 2000 and 2001.
The next step in the renovation will involve the corridors in the hotel, followed by the casino next year.
The Flamingo has also added several new restaurants and expanded the property's pool area, which is a major draw, especially this time of year.
Creighton said the pool, which has consistently been rated one of the five best in Las Vegas since it was renovated in 1999, generates added room revenues for the property.
"It's been a well-kept secret until recent years. It really drives a lot of business for us in the summer.
In the old days, the executive offices at the Flamingo overlooked the Strip. But today, Creighton's office is tucked away on the back side of the second floor with no view whatsoever.
Even there, in the modest windowless office, Creighton exudes an appreciation for the property he is trying to preserve as well as redevelop as he sits in front of a giant photograph of Siegel's joint in its opening year.
Creighton said locally, people still think of the Flamingo as an old, dated hotel, but it's an image at odds with reality.
"We've turned the corner with the hotel. It's in a great location and we do very well here," he said.
However, Creighton also said it is important for the Flamingo not to stray too far from its past. To preserve the memories of what used to be, he has created a historic photo gallery at the back entrance with pictures of guests and entertainers from the Flamingo's colorful past.
"The Flamingo is one of the most recognized names in gaming," he said. "We don't want to get away from that, but we want everyone to also know it's a quality hotel here at the heart of the Strip."
QUESTION: What does the president of the Flamingo do?
ANSWER: On a day-to-day basis, we have 4,400 employees. I manage the daily operations here: hotels, restaurants, all of the labor activities.
Q: How did you manage the transition from corrections officer at the beginning of your career to top guy here?
A: I changed careers late in life. I got intrigued by the law, changed careers and went into the regulatory side of the business. I actually wrote most of the regulations for riverboat gaming in Iowa. We were able to travel to all the jurisdictions with gaming before we wrote the regulations and that's what intrigued me about gaming -- being in on the ground floor in Iowa.
That led to interest from Mississippi. I'd never worked in the South. I ended up going to Mississippi to set up the gaming commission and help start the majority of casinos. And then I got recruited to come to this side of the industry and I chose to do that.
Q: What do you like about gaming?
Answer: I've had a lot of careers and gaming is never the same. I love the competition of gaming and the marketing end of it. You have to come up with creative ideas to keep the operations going and growing.
All the jobs I've done over the years prepared me to do this. I taught for a time, I worked in corrections and banking and I worked on the regulatory side.
Q: What do you like about the Flamingo?
A: I love the history of it. The first time I came to Las Vegas was 1980 and this is where I stayed. The first time I put a dime in a slot was here. So the pinnacle of my career was to come back to the Flamingo -- 22 years later. Las Vegas was a different town then than now. But its history has always intrigued me and it has a great location in the center of the Strip.
I wouldn't even have been let in this place 50 years ago when Bugsy started it. When I was a kid, I went to the South. I'm old enough to remember the colored water fountains and the black racism, even being a kid growing up in Waterloo, Iowa. It makes an impression.
When I came to Las Vegas, I talked with a lot of black leaders who were amazed a black was heading the Flamingo. They told me stories about how it was in the '50s and '60s when I wouldn't have been allowed in the front door. Maybe I could have worked in the kitchen. Lena Horne sang here in the '50s, but she couldn't stay here. What that does is it tells you we've come a long way.
Q: What do you like about Caesars Entertainment?
A: It's a great company under the leadership of Wally Barr. He's a solid individual. I've worked for him since 1995. He recruited me and he's made it a good company to work for.
Q: What will the monorail do for the Flamingo, which has a station?
A: It'll improve the ease of movement around the Strip. It'll help us with our customers. If I'm deciding where to stay, I may pick a place with a Strip stop because I'll be able to move around easier. And it'll bring more traffic, even though we don't know what that means revenue wise. We haven't had enough history. We've seen it adding 6,000 people a day, but we don't know what that means in revenues because we don't have enough history.
Q: What do you like least about Caesars Entertainment?
A: I wish I could do more quickly. It's like turning a big ship in the ocean. You can't just whip it around like a sports car. You have to plan, make sure you can operate and have a profit into the future. But in retrospect, it's moving faster than other properties the same size. I'd still like to get it done faster.
Q: What do you like least about gaming?
A: It can be broken into parts. In some jurisdictions, it's tougher because of the regulations. In Las Vegas, the regulation is very sensible. They regulate the right things. Having been a regulator, I think I can critique it. Some jurisdictions are new and they make it rough on operators. But that may change in time.
Q: What changes would you like to make?
A: I'd be able to move quicker on the renovation programs. I'd have had as much capital as I needed the first year I was here to transform the Flamingo.
Q: Where do you want to go from here?
A: All indications are the Flamingo will be an integral part of the new company (emerging from Caesars Entertainment's sale to Harrah's Entertainment for $9.4 billion) because of its location, its amenities and its room inventory.
The employees were somewhat surprised (by the announcement), but they got right back to business as usual. The majority of the executive employees have been through this at least a few times and everybody got right back to business.
For me, I enjoy working here and I enjoy operating a casino. I enjoy being an operator.
Name: Lorenzo Creighton.
Position: President, Flamingo Las Vegas.
Family: Wife, Lisa; five children.
Education: Bachelor of Arts, Luther College, Decorah, Iowa, 1975; Juris doctor, Drake University, Des Moines, Iowa, 1988.
Work history: Corrections supervisor, Waterloo, Iowa, 1977-78; community affairs and marketing director, National Bank of Waterloo, 1978-85; management specialist, Illinois department of personnel, 1987-89; deputy director, Illinois Racing Gaming Commission, 1989-92; executive director, Mississippi Gaming Commission, 1992-93; general manager, President Casinos, St. Louis 1993-95; vice president of operations, Bally's in New Orleans, 1995-2001; vice president of government and community affairs for Park Place Entertainment in Las Vegas, 2001-2002; and president, Flamingo, Las Vegas, 2002-present.
Favorite book: "The Invisible Man," by Ralph Ellison.
Favorite movies: "Blade Runner" (1982).
Hometown: Waterloo, Iowa.
In Las Vegas since: 2001.
The Flamingo is located at 3555 South Las Vegas Blvd. and can be reached at 733-3111.
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