The necessity of building and maintaining a strong network is a familiar construct among numerous industries, and is certainly one that is not lost in the gaming community.

However, among the multitude of strategies and expert tutorials on how best to achieve such a goal, is the question of: how much do you know about your network? With this in mind, CasinoBeats is aiming to take a look under the hood, if you will, and has tasked the 100 Club to help out.

The latest to take the CB100 Pathways hotseat was Gavin Whiteley, CMO at Great Canadian Entertainment, who spoke on his journey from the circus to Caesars and the pride he felt as Canada’s newest and largest casino resort with the company’s name on it – Great Canadian Casino Resort Toronto – opened its doors. 

CasinoBeats: First off, what were your hopes and aspirations when you were younger? What did you believe were your possible career paths? 

Gavin Whiteley: I finished my Bachelor’s and Master’s degree at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, where I grew up, where I was born and raised. That was in the late nineties and I was doing a music programme at a time when MP3s and Napster were just starting to break into the market and the recording industry was starting to see some threats. 

I understood early on that as early as humans were gathered around a fire and banging two stones together, there was always a market for live entertainment. People want to be in the same place, having a shared experience. 

After my education, the first thing I did was go into live entertainment because I quickly saw that, whether or not the recording industry would decline, which it did, that the sustainable growth part of the entertainment industry was going to be in live performance.I realised that people would always want to get together in a shared space regardless of how they consumed their recorded music. 

That led me eventually to Cirque du Soleil, a Montreal-based live entertainment organisation. I started with them on tour and then landed in Las Vegas where Cirque du Soleil was about to embark on a major growth spurt. 

When I got there, they were just about to launch their third show. By the time I moved on from Cirque du Soleil, they had launched their eighth show in the Las Vegas market alone.

After that sustained period of growth, I then moved over to Caesars Entertainment, headquartered in Las Vegas, which was about to embark on a similar period of growth, primarily in live entertainment residencies. 

This was after Celine Dion had really created that market. I joined Caesars Entertainment at a time when Britney Spears was launching hers, and fast forward to now where Adele, Lady Gaga and other artists of that calibre have continued that trend.

That experience at Caesars Entertainment brought me back home to Great Canadian Entertainment, where I am today in Toronto, where I still have lots of roots. I know the market and obviously the culture and the country very well, working for a company that is still entertainment focused. 

Great Canadian Entertainment began as a purely casino company, but the rebranding last year has seen the expansion into new hospitality non-gaming amenities, including an exclusive partnership with Gordon Ramsey coming to two of our Vancouver destinations. 

Here in Toronto, we are soon to open a new 5,000 person live entertainment venue in addition to a 2,500 seat venue that we are programming in collaboration with Live Nation Canada. We are essentially expanding to broader entertainment beyond strictly gaming, which was this company’s origin.

CasinoBeats: That shift from Cirque du Soleil across to Caesars, how did that come about? Was it a big shift for yourself or were you going from something similar at one role to another? 

GW: Caesars Entertainment did and still does a number of areas, including live entertainment, casino gaming, hospitality, hotels, and it was headquartered in Las Vegas. 

In that market, Las Vegas is essentially a big city [in] a small town. There’s a small number of people that sort of gravitate around certain things. It was essentially a pivot career-wise.

It was a bit of a shift, but Caesars Entertainment was, again, a company named after entertainment. It wasn’t Caesars Gaming or Caesars Casino, there’s a lot of things that feed a customer’s entertainment experience. 

My starting off point was part of the experience that involved buying a ticket, walking to the showroom and seeing a fantastic performance. It would just move from a circus themed performance where acts are anonymous, to an experience where you’re buying tickets to see an artist that you know and love. 

It was an interesting migration, an interesting point in time when what became known as the Las Vegas Concert Residency was still a novel concept that Celine Dion really launched and pioneered, but it quickly became its own category and so continues to be to this day.

CasinoBeats:  With such a deep history in the entertainment field, what would you say were the major changes you witnessed over the course of your career to make the booming Vegas entertainment industry what it is today? 

GW: In terms of shifts in Las Vegas during the time I was there, and this is similar to what we are doing here in Canada, was the expansion beyond pure gaming into hospitality and non-gaming entertainment.

That universe of ticketed live entertainment, premium hotel product, premium celebrity chef driven F&B offerings. If you go back in time to Las Vegas and many other US gaming markets, the casino was the casino and the buffet was sort of like an afterthought that started at the casino. Las Vegas really at scale brought food and beverage, hotel and live entertainment into its own.

The revenues in Las Vegas that used to be majority gaming is now majority non-gaming, majority hospitality. I think we look at other markets, including Canada, and that trajectory is beginning, although a long way from that. But, it does show the potential of what can grow into a fully fledged entertainment experience that addresses multiple markets and multiple types of customers. 

There will be folks that want to come for the ticket entertainment experience and the food and the hotel and maybe the casino too. We want to be able to have all available for the customer to have the choice and be able to go from one to the other without having to leave the building. In Las Vegas, that is certainly the case today. 

CasinoBeats: With the phased opening of Great Canadian Casino Resort having begun, talk us through the process that led to the phased opening of the casino, what are your feelings like now that you’re in that process and what are the company’s ambitions moving forward? 

GW: We are very excited here. I’m sitting here today at what is now Canada’s newest and largest casino resort, Great Canadian Casino Resort Toronto. It’s the first gaming property that has the name of our parent company. It’s a billion dollar investment and it’s taken a long time to build and to get open. 

We had our opening day on June 20. It was fantastic to see lines of people waiting to get in and the gaming floor was full within an hour. It’s a fantastic new build, housed within the grounds of Woodbine, a well-known racetrack and horse racing area in Toronto. 

We are proud to be a new gaming destination firmly in Toronto in Canada’s largest population centre, just minutes away from the airport, with very easy access, a fantastic selection of slots and live table games, live poker, a hotel that is open and a live entertainment venue that’s just around the corner, with more to come. 

With a complex of this size, there are more things to phase in that you can see on the outside of the building coming to life over time, but we still have an incredible amount of traffic. It really goes to show the opportunity and the demand in the Toronto market for an in-person gaming experience. 

Even while igaming has been live in Ontario for some time, different customers want different things. There is no substitute for people wanting to get together and have a shared experience. 

Whether that is a thrill of a live baccarat session, whether its sharing a live experience, or sharing a meal, or all the above, we are here for that and we are here for the customers and that’s why we are excited to see the initial launch of our destination and what it’s doing for Toronto. We’re excited for a lot more to come.