A Publication of WTVP

Loren Gill is vice president and general manager of the Par-A-Dice Hotel Casino in East Peoria. His bachelor’s degree in production and operations management from Eastern Illinois University and MBA from the J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University positioned him to manage casinos across the nation. After nearly 14 years in the casino industry, Gill returned to central Illinois and accepted the position at the Par-A-Dice. Passionate about higher education activities, Gill has served as a guest lecturer and advisor to several universities.  

Tell us briefly about your personal background, family, etc.
I was born in Litchfield, Illinois, and went to Mt. Olive High School. I grew up on a farm and learned at an early age what “hard work” was really about. I wanted to figure out how to use my brain versus my back, and my father always encouraged me to pursue higher educational opportunities, so that’s what I did. Upon graduating from high school, I moved to Charleston and attended Eastern Illinois University. I graduated in 1989—finishing in three years—majoring in production and operations management.

From there, I moved to Chicago and later attended the J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Business at Northwestern University, earning an MBA in marketing, strategic management and organizational behavior in 1995.

I’ve been married for nearly 13 years, and we have a young son. I met my wife in New Orleans, and oddly enough, she’s from a small town just north of Bloomington. It’s fun to be back in the Peoria area.

You’re originally from central Illinois. What led you to move back?
I missed the winter’s snow and ice! But really, it was a quality-of-life decision for me and my family. The company asked me to come back and lead the Par-A-Dice, and I quickly said “yes.” I truly enjoyed my last experience here and the people are great! We have many friends here in town and our families are relatively close, which makes the transition and living here very easy.

How has your education prepared you for your current role?
I am a strong advocate for advanced education. In my case, the two educational experiences were very different. In my undergraduate experience, the program really taught me the basic, fundamental skills of running and operating a business—the nuts-and-bolts stuff. More importantly, it taught me personal discipline and time management skills. I worked full-time during school and was active in athletics as well as academics, so it was the first chance at really trying to balance every aspect of life while growing up.

With respect to graduate school, it was a much different learning and personal development education. Not only was balancing work, school and my personal life a constant battle, but the academic side was much more time-consuming, and the learning and classroom experience was significantly more intense. The Kellogg School not only improved my business skills, but also taught me the importance of working with a team to accomplish goals, leading people through difficult and challenging processes and programs, and how to present ideas and business plans in a persuasive way. It also sharpened my financial and analytic skills, and most importantly, taught me how to put all the pieces of the business (financial, marketing, operations and people) together to be successful. Finally, the group study and project sessions were a great benefit, because it is through leading and working with people that success happens.

Describe your past experience in the casino industry prior to joining Boyd Gaming.
I have always worked in some aspect of the hospitality industry. From early years of working on the farm or in the town’s grocery store, to managing restaurants, hotels and casinos—it’s been very interesting!

As I completed my MBA at Northwestern, many companies recruited on campus. Because of my hospitality background, one that interested me was Harrah’s Entertainment’s President’s Associate program. The program recruits candidates from major MBA programs to enter a program designed to develop potential senior-level casino executives. Quickly after graduating, I moved to Memphis, Tennessee, and began work at the company’s corporate headquarters.

When I landed in Memphis, Harrah’s was going through a period of rapid growth. From 1995 to 1999, I worked with the development team to design, create and operate new hotels, restaurants and casinos. I really learned how to manage time, projects and people. I worked with designers and architects, construction crews, marketing, conceptual and creative folks, and with financial and business operating heads. Every day was different. Also during this time, I traveled across the country quite a bit—which led to some very interesting stories and good friendships. We opened or renovated six new casinos and more than 100 restaurants in the time I was with Harrah’s. It was a fun experience!

Since joining Boyd in 2002, you have worked in at least four locations. Describe your career path through the company that led you to your current position.
My experience has been great at Boyd Gaming. They have given me the ability to continue to grow and develop my career through a wide variety of new experiences. It is great working for a publicly traded company that is run like a family business.

I have always worked hard and love the business. When I joined the company in 2002, I was working with a great group of people that developed our fabulous property, Borgata, in Atlantic City, New Jersey. It is an amazing place with great people working there. I worked on that project for nearly a year, and the company asked if I would be interested in coming to Par-A-Dice as the assistant general manager—and I did. I spent about three years here the first time. In 2005, our company bought a hotel and casino property in Shreveport, Louisiana, and asked me to move and lead that property’s transition and operating efforts. I spent two years in Shreveport, then moved to Las Vegas and worked at the Suncoast Hotel and Casino—a great property that our company acquired in the purchase of Coast Casinos. I worked there from early 2007 until the end of 2008, when they asked me to return to Par-A-Dice and lead this business.

Tell a bit about the history of Boyd Gaming.
Boyd Gaming is one of the largest casino operators in the country, but at its heart, we have the culture of a family-run company. We were founded in the 1970s, when father and son, Sam and Bill Boyd, opened the California Hotel and Casino in downtown Las Vegas. Over the years the company grew steadily, expanding into the Midwest in the 1990s, and today we are one of the largest casino companies in the country, with 16 casinos in six states. But we’ve never lost the culture of a family-owned business. Bill Boyd and his family are still deeply involved in our operations, and we continue to emphasize the tradition of great customer service that is so important to the Boyd family. It’s a great place to work, and we have many employees who have been with us for decades.

How is one’s experience at Par-A-Dice different from that at other casinos?
I think it comes down to the Boyd Gaming culture. We have a great team of friendly people who are focused on serving our guests. Many of those on our team have been here for 10 years or longer—which says a lot about them and their loyalty and dedication to the company.

Also, we try to have fun! Recently, we had an employee dress-up competition to support one of our big promotions. Folks dressed up in ‘70s garb and had fun! We had food and games, and gave away cash to our team for supporting our cause.

Finally, we are very active in our community. Our employees dedicate countless hours of volunteer efforts to a wide variety of causes across the area. And our company gives hundreds of thousands of dollars to charities and community causes each year. An important piece of the Boyd philosophy is a dedication to supporting our communities. That’s a big part of what we do.

How does being a family-owned company impact the day-to-day operations of running the business?
We are a publicly traded company in a heavily regulated industry, so there are many things we must do the same as any other casino corporation. The difference lies in our company’s culture—how we treat our guests and our employees. We see exceptional customer service as a competitive advantage—if we can give our guests a really memorable experience, they’re going to keep coming back. It also impacts how we treat our employees—we want them to feel valued, almost as if they’re part of a family. That’s part of our culture, but it’s also good business—a happy employee is far more likely to provide the kind of customer service our guests have come to expect.

How many visitors does the Par-A-Dice bring to the region? From where do they come?
We have a great impact on local and regional tourism. We provide the cities of Peoria and East Peoria with significant tax revenues that help these cities run their governments and support projects across our community.

We host more than one million guests a year. They mostly come from Peoria, Bloomington, Springfield and Champaign, but we also have guests who come from Indiana, Iowa and Missouri.

How does Par-A-Dice impact economic development in the region?
We impact the local economy in numerous ways. As I noted earlier, we’re a significant taxpayer. We’re a big employer as well, providing jobs for more than 800 local residents. And we support numerous businesses throughout the region, spending millions of dollars each year with vendors for the supplies and services we need to run this operation. We’re proud to play an important role in supporting our local economy, especially in these difficult times.

Are hotel and casino operations run separately? What is the percentage of revenue derived from each?
Yes and no—it’s kind of complex. We have great people who lead the activities of each of our business units, so they’re separate in that regard. There is also an unusual geographic separation between our hotel and our casino, so it’s a bit more challenging than a typical hotel-casino combination. But the hotel is closely aligned with our casino, as most of our hotel guests are also casino customers. The casino is where the vast majority of the revenues come from. Our hotel and food and beverage amenities are complementary to the casino, designed to satisfy our gaming guests’ needs.

What are some of the newest additions to the hotel and the casino floor? What upgrades and renovations are in the works?
Technology is ever-evolving, and often advances are not apparent to the guest. Recently, we added several slot-ticket redemption machines to the floor that allowed us to free up valuable floor space in the casino. In that space we added new slot machines and a poker room that has been a smash hit. We continue to change out slot machines to ensure we’re offering our guests the latest and most exciting games on the market. We’re constantly working to improve the guest experience, so stay tuned for more new additions at Par-A-Dice.

What are some of the most popular games/activities at the casino?
Our guests love the fun promotions that we do, especially car giveaways and scratch cards for cash giveaways. The majority of our guests play slot machines, but we also have great table games players—including those who like to play blackjack, roulette or craps. Texas hold ‘em poker is a brand-new addition to our casino, and so far it’s been extremely popular.

How has the state smoking ban impacted business since its enactment in 2008?
That has been a difficult challenge—not only for us, but for all casinos across the state. Statewide, casino revenues were down about 20 percent versus the prior year. Thankfully, our impact has not been anything nearly that dramatic, but we’ve still felt some impact from this ban. We’ve done all we can to provide alternative accommodations for our smoking guests, including offering outdoor smoking shelters. That’s helped some, but the ban has still cut into our business to an extent.

It’s hard to determine how much of the decline in casino revenues is related to the smoking ban, and how much can be blamed on the current economic environment. Neither one is helping our industry grow.

What is the outlook for the rest of the year and 2010?
We report our numbers to the state each month. So far in 2009, we’ve reported a slight year-over-year decline—approximately three percent. As a publicly traded business, we’re restricted from providing specific projections on where business is going, but it would be difficult to guess anyway, given the current, unsettled nature of the economy. Rather than worrying about the economy, we focus on running a strong business that takes care of employees and guests. We’re here for the long haul.

What are some of the current trends shaping the gaming industry?
We’ve touched on the big ones: technology, consumer confidence, the economy and people. Unfortunately, there has been a slowdown in development and new projects across the country due to the challenging economic times. iBi