ANALYSIS: Profile - Casino places wager on the politics of PR Former Las Vegas Mayor Jan Jones has spent much of her career fighting negative perceptions - now she's challenging views on casinos. John Edwards Reports.

Jan Jones isn't your typical blue-suit corporate PR person. But then again, Las Vegas isn't your typical town.

Jan Jones isn't your typical blue-suit corporate PR person. But then again, Las Vegas isn't your typical town.

Jan Jones isn't your typical blue-suit corporate PR person. But then again, Las Vegas isn't your typical town.

Jones, 51, first made a name for herself in a series of car commercials, became known as the mayor in the mini-skirt and now is using her political skills to forge a PR strategy for Harrah's Entertainment.

As senior vice president of public relations at Harrah's, which is in the business of running casinos, Jones oversees internal communications, human resources, government relations and external media. She took the job about a year ago when the company moved its headquarters from Tennessee to Las Vegas.

When Harrah's made the move, 'Jan saw an opportunity for the company to become a leading advocate for the gaming industry in the world of politics,' says Gary Thompson, Harrah's director of external communications.

'Because it was headquartered in Memphis, it was really out of the focus of the Las Vegas media,' he adds. 'The Las Vegas media really leads the herd in coverage of the gaming industry.'

Rolling the dice

Indeed, the firm faces a number of legislative issues, including the proposed federal ban on legal betting in Nevada, which the company believes could lead people to make illegal wagers with organized crime or use offshore Internet gambling sites.

Harrah's isn't lobbying for the legalization of Internet gambling, but it does intend to enter the business if this happens. In October, the company introduced a 'play for fun' casino on its web site, only allowing adult members of Harrah's Total Rewards program to play.

In an attempt to rebut criticism and demonstrate a sense of responsibility, Jones put together a new code of conduct in October. Under the marketing and advertising rules, the firm does not place ads in media where more than 30% of the audience are below the legal age to gamble.

'We are doing things that are somewhat similar to what the liquor industry did a decade ago,' Thompson says. Employees are trained to recognize and help chronic gamblers. The company also offers counseling to employees who become addicted to gambling.

Harrah's is the world's third-largest gaming company behind MGM Mirage and Park Place Entertainment, according to Hoover's company profiles. Jones oversees a 16-member PR team at its headquarters which is responsible for communications at the firm's 21 hotel and casinos, including the Showboat in Atlantic City and the Rio in Las Vegas.

She works closely with Sloane & Company in New York as its corporate agency of record as well as Baltimore-based TBC Advertising, which works on promotions and special events at individual casinos as well as national ad campaigns.

Jones grew up in Santa Monica, CA., granddaughter of the founder of Thriftimart supermarkets and Smart and Final stores. A 1971 graduate of Stanford University, Jones started her career in business management and believes she's learned marketing skills from politics and political skills from marketing.

When she ran for Mayor of Las Vegas in 1991, however, most voters knew her as the woman who appeared on TV with Fletcher Jones Sr., a car dealer and also her father-in-law. 'People didn't trust him,' she recalls. 'Price and payments were going to sell the car,' so the commercials proclaimed that 'Nobody's cheaper than Fletcher Jones.'

The idea was to help make Fletcher Jones Sr. likeable; in the process, she became a friendly public personage herself. She even appeared in one ad with Kenny Kerr, a transvestite comedian who portrayed her 'evil twin.'

High-stakes marketing

Jones, who decided to run for mayor as the result of a dare, saw political campaigning as just another kind of marketing. 'I had the name recognition and I had the 'likeability' factor,' she says. 'What I needed to do was communicate the substance.'

Carl Scarbrough, a former city hall reporter for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, says: 'She was the first populist mayor of Las Vegas.' Now an analyst in the county aviation department, Scarbrough says: 'She was the first Mayor who didn't just cast votes and cut ribbons.'

Las Vegas councilman Gary Reese says: 'We had our differences. She got mad at me, but as soon as the vote was taken - win, lose or draw - we were still friends. It was on to the next issue.'

In 1994, she ran for governor against an incumbent Democrat, lawyer Bob Miller, and lost. Jones joined the race late and found herself going through painful cancer treatments when she needed to be raising money. 'I don't think a governor should be hand-picked and anointed by a small group of people.'

Jones says her appearance was too often a talking point. 'They were concentrating on what shoes I wore,' Jones says. 'When do you ever discuss what a male candidate is wearing?'

National newscasters asked if she used to be a showgirl. The answer was no, but Jones still refuses to put on an act. 'I believe in truth in advertising. I was who I was.'

She chose not to seek a third term as Mayor, instead joining Harrah's where she works particularly hard to build ties with key politicians. 'You need the relationship so that you can communicate your issues in a manner where all the public officials see where it is in the best public interest to partner with you,' she says.

Jones gives reports to government officials on how Harrah's supports the local economy and gives them details of customer and employee numbers in their individual districts. She totals the payroll, benefits paid, purchases from vendors and the company's charitable contribution in the district.

'My feeling is people don't have to love the industry, but they do need to understand that this industry is about people,' she says. 'If they put us out of business, that translates into thousands of lost jobs and millions in lost sales.

'It becomes important in the gaming industry because there's a lot of misperceptions,' she adds. 'The majority of Americans gamble responsibly. We don't cause bankruptcies, and we don't cause crime.'

Jones says she is 'very happy' at Harrah's, but won't rule out another run for office. 'You never say never in politics.'

JAN JONES - Senior vice president, Harrah's

1971: Stanford University, Bachelor's degree with a major in English

1976-86: Thriftimart Corp., vice president of research and development

1986-91: Fletcher Jones Management Group, president for 11 auto dealerships

1991-1999: Mayor of Las Vegas.

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