by Tom Speed
In January, he was given the keys to run his own property when he was named general manager of Ak-Chin Casino Resort outside of Phoenix, Ariz. There, he will manage a workforce of more than 1,500 and in meeting that challenge, said he will draw on inspirational techniques he learned from watching his beloved Rebels on the gridiron.
An Oxford native, Livingston is a season ticket holder and returns home for games regularly. While at Rincon, he said he adapted head football coach Houston Nutt’s “One Heartbeat” speech as a means of motivating his workforce.
“We had 1,700 employees at Rincon. It’s a small little town; you have to get people fired up,” he said. “When you’re a general manager of a team this size, you’re doing the same thing [as a football coach]. You’re trying to get fired up around a common goal. I used parts of his one heartbeat speech one year, and it actually worked.”
It was his older brother, Dennis Livingston (BAccy 83, MAccy 84), who advised him to major in Accounting. “He told me you’ll always have a job; you won’t have to worry about that,” said Livingston. Dennis started his career at Ernst & Young, and Robert was indeed following a similar path. After graduation, like his big brother, Robert joined one of the major accounting firms, KPMG (then Peat Marwick) in Memphis. He worked in the public accounting sector for five years before joining his current company, Caesars Entertainment. It was then called Promise Companies, a wide-reaching firm that owned many hotel brands and had recently changed their name from Holiday Company after divesting the Holiday Inn brand. They owned Hampton Inns, Embassy Suites, Homewood Suites and other hotel chains as well as a few Harrah’s casinos.
Then the landscape changed, and the proliferation of riverboat gaming caused the company to focus more heavily on the gaming aspect. Eventually, they sold off the remaining hotels to Hilton and rebranded themselves as Caesar’s Entertainment. Today they are the largest gaming company in the world, with more than 40 casinos in the United States and stretching from Uruguay to South Africa. Their brands include Harrah’s, Bally’s, Planet Hollywood, Imperial Palace, Horseshoe, Flamingo and many more.
Here in Mississippi, the company launched Harrah’s casinos early in the development of the gaming markets in Tunica and Vicksburg, and Livingston was instrumental in that process. That’s when he saw his focus move away from strictly accounting to a broader scope.
His new property, Ak-Chin, is one of Harrah’s four casinos that operate under a management agreement for Native American tribes. The facility is more than 40,000 sqare feet with more than 1,000 slot machines, 25 table games and four restaurants. It boasts about 150 hotel rooms. But, like at Rincon, Livingston will spearhead a major expansion. This one will double the number of hotel rooms.
Livingston said it’s a challenge but one that he readily embraces. While his duties have expanded, he still values his accounting background.
“I still look at everything through a financial lens first,” he said. “Then you have to balance things out. Sometimes you do things because it’s the right thing to do for your employees or it’s the right thing to do for your guests.”
And though he lives far from home, Livingston maintains close ties to Ole Miss and Oxford. His oldest daughter Kimberly is a senior speech pathology major at Ole Miss. His youngest daughter, Heather, is a high school junior who lists Ole Miss among the schools she is considering.
Robert Livingston is an active member of the Ole Miss Alumni Association.
Robert, Ole Miss thanks you.