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What Stays in Vegas: The World of Personal Data - Lifeblood of Big Business - and the End of Privacy as We Know It

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The greatest threat to privacy today is not the NSA, but good-old American companies. Internet giants, leading retailers, and other firms are voraciously gathering data with little oversight from anyone. In Las Vegas, no company knows the value of data better than Caesars Entertainment. Many thousands of enthusiastic clients pour through the ever-open doors of their casinos The greatest threat to privacy today is not the NSA, but good-old American companies. Internet giants, leading retailers, and other firms are voraciously gathering data with little oversight from anyone. In Las Vegas, no company knows the value of data better than Caesars Entertainment. Many thousands of enthusiastic clients pour through the ever-open doors of their casinos. The secret to the company’s success lies in their one unrivaled asset: they know their clients intimately by tracking the activities of the overwhelming majority of gamblers. They know exactly what games they like to play, what foods they enjoy for breakfast, when they prefer to visit, who their favorite hostess might be, and exactly how to keep them coming back for more. Caesars’ dogged data-gathering methods have been so successful that they have grown to become the world’s largest casino operator, and have inspired companies of all kinds to ramp up their own data mining in the hopes of boosting their targeted marketing efforts. Some do this themselves. Some rely on data brokers. Others clearly enter a moral gray zone that should make American consumers deeply uncomfortable. We live in an age when our personal information is harvested and aggregated whether we like it or not. And it is growing ever more difficult for those businesses that choose not to engage in more intrusive data gathering to compete with those that do. Tanner’s timely warning resounds: Yes, there are many benefits to the free flow of all this data, but there is a dark, unregulated, and destructive netherworld as well.


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The greatest threat to privacy today is not the NSA, but good-old American companies. Internet giants, leading retailers, and other firms are voraciously gathering data with little oversight from anyone. In Las Vegas, no company knows the value of data better than Caesars Entertainment. Many thousands of enthusiastic clients pour through the ever-open doors of their casinos The greatest threat to privacy today is not the NSA, but good-old American companies. Internet giants, leading retailers, and other firms are voraciously gathering data with little oversight from anyone. In Las Vegas, no company knows the value of data better than Caesars Entertainment. Many thousands of enthusiastic clients pour through the ever-open doors of their casinos. The secret to the company’s success lies in their one unrivaled asset: they know their clients intimately by tracking the activities of the overwhelming majority of gamblers. They know exactly what games they like to play, what foods they enjoy for breakfast, when they prefer to visit, who their favorite hostess might be, and exactly how to keep them coming back for more. Caesars’ dogged data-gathering methods have been so successful that they have grown to become the world’s largest casino operator, and have inspired companies of all kinds to ramp up their own data mining in the hopes of boosting their targeted marketing efforts. Some do this themselves. Some rely on data brokers. Others clearly enter a moral gray zone that should make American consumers deeply uncomfortable. We live in an age when our personal information is harvested and aggregated whether we like it or not. And it is growing ever more difficult for those businesses that choose not to engage in more intrusive data gathering to compete with those that do. Tanner’s timely warning resounds: Yes, there are many benefits to the free flow of all this data, but there is a dark, unregulated, and destructive netherworld as well.

30 review for What Stays in Vegas: The World of Personal Data - Lifeblood of Big Business - and the End of Privacy as We Know It

  1. 4 out of 5

    Erik Surewaard

    Must-read for people that have to do with database marketing or customer lifecycle managemeng. Some great examples on how Harrah's collects their data and uses it through their loyalty program. I mean... who wouldn't be delighted when opening your postal mail and receiving a thousand USD free gambling combined with a free hotel room? The ultimate customer delight. Dr. Loveman (CEO of Harrah's and ex MIT professor) is my hero:) Must-read for people that have to do with database marketing or customer lifecycle managemeng. Some great examples on how Harrah's collects their data and uses it through their loyalty program. I mean... who wouldn't be delighted when opening your postal mail and receiving a thousand USD free gambling combined with a free hotel room? The ultimate customer delight. Dr. Loveman (CEO of Harrah's and ex MIT professor) is my hero:)

  2. 5 out of 5

    Arnied

    This is pretty much a 101 course in the current state of data mining using Las Vegas casinos as the prime example. What is interesting is that Las Vegas casinos have the most integrity in this game. In that they don't want to use third-party data or data that they would consider private to their customers. For the most part they try to stay with the data they gather and use it to give the players offers to keep them coming back. This is in the course of changing as the competition gets stiffer. This is pretty much a 101 course in the current state of data mining using Las Vegas casinos as the prime example. What is interesting is that Las Vegas casinos have the most integrity in this game. In that they don't want to use third-party data or data that they would consider private to their customers. For the most part they try to stay with the data they gather and use it to give the players offers to keep them coming back. This is in the course of changing as the competition gets stiffer. The data they wish they had the most was what players are doing at competing properties. Sometimes players have free rooms at two hotels because they can't get the gaming offers if they plan on staying somewhere else. So they check into both and only use one. I guess that contributes to the 90% occupancy of Vegas. If you think about it...it's a great idea for an app that would rent you a player's room that he/she wasn't using. One last note. On page 243 there is a mention of my advertising agency R&R Partners...a program that I and my creatives fronted at the agency. Of course, neither I nor my creatives are mentioned. The head of our digital department is. Such is life in the new integrated world of advertising.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Chris Esposo

    Having read this once when it was first published, I am amazed on this second reading how relevant and timely the book still is in 2020, which is quite a feat for a modern non-fiction technology book that was published in 2013. As the title suggests, the main thread of “What Stays in Vegas” centers on how Caesar’s Casinos, later purchased by Harrahs, transformed itself into a data-driven company, that implemented several programs, including the “Customer Total Rewards” system, a first of its kin Having read this once when it was first published, I am amazed on this second reading how relevant and timely the book still is in 2020, which is quite a feat for a modern non-fiction technology book that was published in 2013. As the title suggests, the main thread of “What Stays in Vegas” centers on how Caesar’s Casinos, later purchased by Harrahs, transformed itself into a data-driven company, that implemented several programs, including the “Customer Total Rewards” system, a first of its kind in the early 2000s that tracked, predicted, and optimized customer spend. This transformation was led by Gary Loveman, a MIT trained economist, who also briefly taught at HBS, and was hired for his interests in applying novel data-driven approaches to business problems, in what was then revenue management. Loveman’s drive to leverage data works as a great springboard for the author to discuss the data-brooker economy as a whole. How is it that obscure companies gather so much data about people via internet traffic, and in some cases, legally exploiting local municipality “sun-shine” laws with respect to local records. Chiefly among these data brokers is Axciom, led by Scott Howe, a student of Loveman from HBS. Axciom under Howe’s leadership became “best in breed” by building an extensive “dossier” of virtually every person in the country by leveraging simple data mining of cookies, but at great scale. The veracity of this data was (and still is) in question, given the complexity of the critical problem of filling in the numerous missing pieces of a given dossier, and validating other non-missing pieces of the dossier which often is either incorrect or outdated. The book does an excellent job not only providing founder/company vignettes of these firms, many of which will never probably be profiled elsewhere, but also discussing the consumer protection, technical, and ethical details on the activity of data collation. All this circles back to Harrahs which although was in the red via GAAP accounting, was seeing year-over-year marginal increases in revenue during this time. Beside this, the implementation of the Total Rewards System, that sought to capture the kind of “white glove” customer intelligence, usually reserved for “big fish”/whales to the average (or slightly above average) casino denizen, was a tremendous success and is now a baseline feature for most casinos (and retailers). For those who are interested specifically in the Total Rewards System, there’s a more recent book written by David Norton, who was Harrah’s SVP, and was hired by Loveman, where he provides a more “business case”-y review of the system and it’s business results. As is, “What Stays in Vegas” is an excellent introduction to the data-business, and outlines the real transformation that took place in the 2000s where the data-analytic services for a certain type of business pivoted away from revenue management to what is now referred to as data science. This alone makes the book interesting as a piece of history. However, it’s fairly detailed outline of how Harrah’s transformed, what enabled this transformation (and existing centralized database system -that was underused), what the ingredients were, and how the management thought of the statistics as input into business decision making, makes this a hands-down classic. Highly recommended.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Evan

    I think this was an Audible recommendation, and it wasn't that great. ;) Some aspects were interesting, but most of the book focused on situations/applications that I wasn't interested in. I think he brings up many issues that should be open to public discourse, but not exciting reading! For example, should websites be able to post mugshots for people who are arrested but never charged or convicted? Should marriage licences and home purchases be available on line? Should cookies have unrestricted I think this was an Audible recommendation, and it wasn't that great. ;) Some aspects were interesting, but most of the book focused on situations/applications that I wasn't interested in. I think he brings up many issues that should be open to public discourse, but not exciting reading! For example, should websites be able to post mugshots for people who are arrested but never charged or convicted? Should marriage licences and home purchases be available on line? Should cookies have unrestricted access to your internet browsing? Other parts of the book are probably more controversial. For example, facebook can't predict sexual orientation based on characteristics of your Facebook friends. Mainly, I think this book serves as a wake up call about how your data is used. I might follow up about a company called Acxiom that collects personal data. I am assumed Acxion actually has data about the items we purchase when we use a credit card. Holy cow - nothing is private!

  5. 5 out of 5

    Rao Kasibhotla

    Occasionally meandering, very thoughtful and scary. A timely aggregation of privacy trends. Does need an update soon. The author did a great job explaining what's really going on behind consumer data gathering, so it's clearly feels like a must read for anyone interested in the topic. Not just from gaming industry perspective. Here is my biggest take away: unbeknowest to me, there is a race going on to collect as much information about me as possible without my knowledge. Until now it's been abo Occasionally meandering, very thoughtful and scary. A timely aggregation of privacy trends. Does need an update soon. The author did a great job explaining what's really going on behind consumer data gathering, so it's clearly feels like a must read for anyone interested in the topic. Not just from gaming industry perspective. Here is my biggest take away: unbeknowest to me, there is a race going on to collect as much information about me as possible without my knowledge. Until now it's been about privacy of my online information and behavior. next up: privacy of my intent. And then there is nothing left. Can we argue that it is finest of capitalism? Or just a gold rush?

  6. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    Interesting reading: made getting CPE credits enjoyable.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Alex Nagler

    I would very much like to see a few new chapters in this text post-Cambridge (and post Harrah's Chapter 11) I would very much like to see a few new chapters in this text post-Cambridge (and post Harrah's Chapter 11)

  8. 4 out of 5

    Susan Grodsky

    My library school professor, way back in the early 1980s, taught us the difference between data and information. Data is just the raw facts. Information is facts organized and analyzed into meaningful conclusions. This book has a lot of data and a lot of stories. But the author stays on the surface of the issue. Yes, individual companies collect personal information about us. Yes, those companies may sell our data or might buy additional data about us. But he gives few details about the exact dat My library school professor, way back in the early 1980s, taught us the difference between data and information. Data is just the raw facts. Information is facts organized and analyzed into meaningful conclusions. This book has a lot of data and a lot of stories. But the author stays on the surface of the issue. Yes, individual companies collect personal information about us. Yes, those companies may sell our data or might buy additional data about us. But he gives few details about the exact data being marketed, the conclusions companies reach because of that data, and, most important, the actual harm done to individuals because of the data marketing. The only case of "harm done" he describes is a woman whose husband posted revealing photos of her. This was done with her knowledge. She was a school secretary, students found the photos, and she ended up quitting because she was embarrassed. Okay. One extraordinary case of harm done, and the harm was, to some extent, self-inflicted. The only other cases he cites are people who are "creeped out" when, for example, a Caesar's casino offers them a freebie that indicates Caesar's has been analyzing the data collected via a loyalty card. I understand the feeling of being "creeped out". I also feel it when the popup ads on my browser show that someone has been monitoring my shopping. But "creeped out" is not actual harm. The author worked hard and interviewed many people. But he didn't form the data into information. Oh, and his explanations of technical topics demonstrate a paper-thin understanding. He would have been better off to not try.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Emilio Garcia

    In a world of free services, we are the product. Internet has extended the usage of our personal data as the currency to exchange for knowledge, communication and personalised services. In spite of what it is a extended thought, Internet has been only the accelerator and not the origin of the usage of personal data for commercial purposes. The book written by Adam Tanner is a detailed and entertaining review of the story of the commercial usage of personal data in the USA. Taking as a thread the In a world of free services, we are the product. Internet has extended the usage of our personal data as the currency to exchange for knowledge, communication and personalised services. In spite of what it is a extended thought, Internet has been only the accelerator and not the origin of the usage of personal data for commercial purposes. The book written by Adam Tanner is a detailed and entertaining review of the story of the commercial usage of personal data in the USA. Taking as a thread the evolution of personal data handling in a casino company, the author describes the main actors and practices the personal data industry and its evolution since the XIX century. For the average European reader, the main discover of the book is the US data brokers industry. A sector allowed by the weak US data protection laws, they claim their role as a pivotal partner in B2C trade. According with the data provided by the author, US firms spent more than $168.5 billion in direct marketing services mainly provided by data brokers. The existence of such a powerful industry explains why several trials to introduce more strict personal data regulations in the US has failed. Excellent book to think about personal data handling and its future. The need for more personal awareness of the value of our data, the debate on the legítimacy of personal data trade, the demand of a more transparent personal data handling and right of choice of the consumer about the usage of his data are issues that should be tackled in a global manner in our hyperconnected world.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Dave Mccormick

    A book that intersects multiple interests of mine - big data, data privacy, gambling, and Caesar's Entertainment corporation. Adam Tanner gives an excellent overview of data "privacy" - in quotes because privacy isn't a real thing these days online which includes many different companies. There are the consumers, like Caesars, the bulk providers, like Acxiom, lookup companies like Intelius and People Smart, he also spends time focusing on Busted Mug Shots, which gained notoriety and had to signi A book that intersects multiple interests of mine - big data, data privacy, gambling, and Caesar's Entertainment corporation. Adam Tanner gives an excellent overview of data "privacy" - in quotes because privacy isn't a real thing these days online which includes many different companies. There are the consumers, like Caesars, the bulk providers, like Acxiom, lookup companies like Intelius and People Smart, he also spends time focusing on Busted Mug Shots, which gained notoriety and had to significantly rethink it's operational model in the last year. Throughout the book Tanner really has ethics in mind, and how the various companies address it. What crosses the line? What is the line? Most companies refused to talk to him, perhaps it is natural that the ones that did come off looking pretty good. But then, perhaps that is fair because the ones who did talk to him were open about their practices and what they are trying to achieve. What is perhaps most disturbing is just how easy it is to "deanonymize" data - something Tanner shows repeatedly in the book. There are also some good links and thoughts about how to handle your online data, and how things may be opening up to allow us to take much more control over it.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Fred Forbes

    Thought I would find the use of personal data compiled by Caeser's Palace as a means to improve the client experience and retention interesting and did. Not quite the "insight" I was looking for in terms of gaming the system to increase the freebies (Not hard, bet more, lose more!). The book veered from the Vegas emphasis into the role of data brokers in today's economy and the issue of privacy and ethics as it relates to data disclosure and use. Interesting book, but a bit on the basic side; a Thought I would find the use of personal data compiled by Caeser's Palace as a means to improve the client experience and retention interesting and did. Not quite the "insight" I was looking for in terms of gaming the system to increase the freebies (Not hard, bet more, lose more!). The book veered from the Vegas emphasis into the role of data brokers in today's economy and the issue of privacy and ethics as it relates to data disclosure and use. Interesting book, but a bit on the basic side; a bit more specificity would have been helpful.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Phil Simon

    Tanner's book is no theoretical text or manifesto. It's a practical, balanced guide on the increasingly important issue of data privacy, something that I've touched on in my own work. Tanner dispels the myth that privacy is a binary and rightfully calls out companies that obfuscate, primarily through byzantine end-user agreements. Tanner's book is no theoretical text or manifesto. It's a practical, balanced guide on the increasingly important issue of data privacy, something that I've touched on in my own work. Tanner dispels the myth that privacy is a binary and rightfully calls out companies that obfuscate, primarily through byzantine end-user agreements.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Nicolas Bidon

    Started well and then lost its way towards second part of the book with less interesting stories / anecdotes. Good introduction to the topic of data, privacy, marketing and advertising but I was expecting more in depth analysis and debate.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Zack

    Had trouble finishing. Gets a bit boring in the latter half, I think. The suggestions for increased privacy were good, I suppose. Common sense isn't so common. Just remember, kids, there is no such thing as a free lunch. Had trouble finishing. Gets a bit boring in the latter half, I think. The suggestions for increased privacy were good, I suppose. Common sense isn't so common. Just remember, kids, there is no such thing as a free lunch.

  15. 5 out of 5

    William Sharpe

    Have a feeling if I were more of a "Vegas" person, this would have meant a lot more to me. About the time I finished this book, the Caesars CEO retired and the WSJ account of his farewell was interesting, having read this. Have a feeling if I were more of a "Vegas" person, this would have meant a lot more to me. About the time I finished this book, the Caesars CEO retired and the WSJ account of his farewell was interesting, having read this.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Sabs

    I found this book really compelling and fascinating, but not all that surprising. Everyone wants to sell you something and your data lets them do it better. Full disclosure the second half got a little boring, so when it was due back at the library I didn't bother to check it out again. I found this book really compelling and fascinating, but not all that surprising. Everyone wants to sell you something and your data lets them do it better. Full disclosure the second half got a little boring, so when it was due back at the library I didn't bother to check it out again.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Marykate

    Definitely interesting, but the way the author repeatedly took Caesar's at its word, rather than questioning it as he did the other companies involved, detracted from the book. Definitely interesting, but the way the author repeatedly took Caesar's at its word, rather than questioning it as he did the other companies involved, detracted from the book.

  18. 5 out of 5

    ThatJenn

    This was a re-read because I'm heading to Vegas next month. I found the topic interesting but not the author's tone. This was a re-read because I'm heading to Vegas next month. I found the topic interesting but not the author's tone.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Ben

    Much more about data privacy than Vegas, especially in the back half, with interesting information but case studies of data mining companies that get repetitive after a while.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Phil

    About data mining in Las Vegas - interesting analysis of how data is used to keep the players coming. The book wanders into other areas of data mining, though and loses its focus.

  21. 5 out of 5

    John Morn

    Interesting analysis of big data. With Ceasars Entertainment Corp. taking a central role.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth Walkup

    A nice wander through the recent history of personal data collection for marketing, including insight into the data end and the personal.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Timur

    Intriguing theme, but disappointing content. 10% of the book is about casinos, and 90% about general data mining and privacy issues ((

  24. 4 out of 5

    Polly Callahan

    Lots of valuable insights into how our data is being used commercially and a warning that this is just the tip of the iceberg

  25. 4 out of 5

    Douglas J. Sizelove

  26. 5 out of 5

    Paul Cebulak

  27. 5 out of 5

    Ben

  28. 4 out of 5

    Bjorn

  29. 5 out of 5

    D Walters

  30. 4 out of 5

    Matt Muller

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