International edition
March 04, 2021

Interview with John Celona, Caesars' VP Business Innovation and Technology Strategy

"Black Fire Innovation allows us to test out experiential technologies for entertainment and gaming"

"With more than 80 years of operating experience, it’s this expertise that allows us to create the replica resort that will consist of living labs, where concepts and products will be tested in a resort environment," John Celona explains.
United States | 06/03/2019

The specialist tells Yogonet that Caesars' inspiration for this project, in partnership with UNLV, came from Georgia Tech’s ATDC and CODA in Tech Square. The hub will leverage 5G for customer engagement, optimizing automation and robotics for the hotel environment, Celona says. The firm aims to "catapult our industry forward" without disrupting the guest experience, and seeks to bring best-in-class partners to collaborate in the space both from gaming and technology global industries.

T

he University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) last month announced a partnership with Caesars Entertainment Corp. called Black Fire Innovation, that will bring the university and local businesses together to test, develop and commercialize hospitality products and ideas.

Located at UNLV’s Harry Reid Research and Technology Park in the southwest valley, near West Sunset and South Durango roads, the facility will include a 43,000-square-foot lab, work space and a replica resort and casino, within a four-story, 111,000-square-foot innovation building. Students and researchers will be able to use the two-story facility to showcase their work for industry partners. The business incubator is expected to open in late summer or early fall.

The park is a partnership among UNLV, the UNLV Research Foundation and Gardner Company, and Caesars will work with UNLV staff, students, startups and partners to help drive development in the hospitality industry, and it will also help fill the labs with slot machines and table games.

John Celona, VP Business Innovation and Technology Strategy at Caesars, tells Yogonet that the Black Fire Innovation concept came to life two years ago when Caesars’ EVP & CIO Les Ottolenghi met with Robert Rippee, the Director of the Hospitality Lab and Director of the eSports Lab at the International Gaming Institute of UNLV. “They quickly realized that they shared a vision for passion and transformation in the hospitality-gaming industry. It was apparent that there was a natural partnership between Caesars Entertainment, one of the world’s largest casino-entertainment providers and UNLV, which is now a Carnegie R-1 research institution,” he says.

Also, Celona remarks the Gardner Company has a wealth of expertise in creating leading technology buildings, and Caesars was familiar with the work they had done with the Adobe Campus in Lehi, Utah: “They were the right partner to help us build the kind of engaging and forward-looking space we would need for such an endeavor.”

“We have watched other industries catapult into the future with cloud-based technology and the use of artificial intelligence. Les has guided Caesars Entertainment to be at the forefront of technology for the hospitality-gaming industry, embracing these concepts and others to enhance our customer experience and streamline our business processes,” he adds.

When asked about Caesars’ inspiration for this project, Celona explains it has come from Georgia Tech’s ATDC and CODA in Tech Square: “These leading technology companies have the same vision as we do – to catapult our industry forward, and we want to do it without disrupting the guest experience. Black Fire Innovation allows us to test out experiential technologies for entertainment and gaming, leveraging 5G for customer engagement, creating new gaming opportunities, optimizing automation and robotics for the hotel environment.”

As for Caesars' specific contributions for the hub, Celona underlines that the company brings its “rich history of being a leader of innovation in the gaming-hospitality space,” with more than 80 years of operating experience. “It’s this expertise that allows us to create the replica resort that will consist of living labs – where concepts and products will be tested in a resort environment. Caesars lends its operational expertise and a very real pipeline for commercialization of new concepts coming through the partnership. Our extensive reach will also allow us to bring best-in-class partners to collaborate in the space, both from the gaming industry as well as the most innovative technology firms from around the world.”

“Potential partners and sponsors from the technology, hospitality, and gaming industries should look at Black Fire to extend and accelerate their own innovation initiatives. This space will provide a unique showcase for collaboration and development across domains,” Celona concludes.

While the space will be focused on hospitality innovations, various industries fall into that category. Along with analyzing food and music in casinos, the hub’s research will focus on emerging technologies such as blockchain, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity and virtual reality.

By: Juan Ignacio Grille - [email protected]
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