Tom Gallagher ’69 doesn’t gamble, but he certainly knows gaming. The president and CEO of Las Vegas’ Park Place Entertainment, the world’s largest casino and resort company, has been at the helm for just one year, but he is in many ways a veteran. For five years, Gallagher was president and CEO of the Griffin Group, the investment and management company for Merv Griffin’s extensive hotel, gaming, entertainment, and media operations. At Park Place, whose prime attractions include Caesar’s Palace and Bally’s Las Vegas, he is responsible for an operation employing 57,000 people, with a total of 2 million square feet of gaming space and more than 28,000 hotel guest rooms.
The CEO spot caps a career, said Gallagher, that “has been one fire drill after another,” including 15 years as a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, and stints in Saudi Arabia and London. Most of his life, he said, “has been a surprise. I never knew what I wanted to do when I grew up and still don’t. People say I have a short attention span, but that meant that when anything came up out of the ordinary, I was the one who wanted to go do it. I never intended to practice law, so my heading up a large practice was one of the great ironies of my life.”
Gallagher’s progression to the top slot at Park Place was equally serendipitous. William F. Smith ’42, a former Reagan administration attorney general, was doing estate planning for Merv Griffin at the Gibson, Dunn offices, and heard Griffin needed help doing a “big deal” for Donald Trump. Smith recommended Gallagher, who was then doing M&A work at the firm. That was the beginning of a long business relationship, highlighted by an invitation for Gallagher to run Griffin’s extensive casino and gaming operation. “Merv put it to me this way,” he said. “It’s more fun hiring lawyers than being a lawyer.”
In many ways, Gallagher is a perfect match for the job in the changed world of casinos. A business once clouded by a gangster element now boasts many JDs and MBAs. “It’s true–there has been a generational change in gaming, with the consolidation that’s occurred in the industry. We’re a $5 billion company. It’s not a mom-and-pop organization.” Gallagher notes that 50 percent of Park Place’s revenues now come from non-gaming activities, such as restaurants, spas, sporting events, and shopping. Its latest venture is a 4,000-seat theater designed in the style of the Roman Colosseum, with chart-topper Celine Dion as the star attraction.
Gallagher doesn’t gamble himself (though his mother and mother-in-law do). Although Las Vegas thrives because of people who enjoy it, gambling doesn’t belong everywhere, he says. “We should be careful about pushing casinos into places where they are not wanted. I have concerns about Internet gaming for the same reasons. We spend millions trying to keep kids out of our casinos, so why would we want to bring [casinos] into our homes? Technology is evolving very rapidly, but as adults, as parents and grandparents, we all have the same concerns.”