Michael Massari Traces Unlikely Journey to Caesars

Michael Massari’s long journey to the top of Caesars Entertainment’s sales department began with a trip to the bathroom.

Michael Massari, Caesars Entertainment Corporation|Michael Massari Caesars Entertainment Corporation

Michael Massari’s long journey to the top of Caesars Entertainment’s sales department began with a trip to the bathroom. Then 15 years old, Massari dropped off a friend at September’s Place, a catering hall in Springfield, Pennsylvania. Massari only stepped in to relieve himself but couldn’t help but notice the goings-on inside.

“The manager was running around like a lunatic,” he recalls. Then something crazy happened. That manager, Bob Moody, offered Massari a job.

Despite growing up outside Atlantic City, New Jersey, or maybe because of it, Massari hadn’t given a moment’s thought to working on events. Besides, he had a job working at a metal packing plant.

Moody, whom Massari now counts as a lifelong friend, proved persuasive. The teenager found himself wearing a tuxedo, while staffing a funeral luncheon and two weddings on a hot day in summer 1985. Both the outfit and job fit.

“I haven’t done anything except work in events since,” says Massari.

You can argue Massari was destined to become senior vice president of national meetings and events at Caesars. And he is the first to admit serendipity played a role in his rise to the top of the hotel and casino empire.

But during an interview in Las Vegas—a destination Massari helped transform into a meetings magnate—it becomes clear fate and luck only went so far. This is the rest of the story.

Grunt Work

Caesars Palace on the Las Vegas Strip is as opulent as it is massive. Inside, famous guests eat at restaurants helmed by celebrity chefs. Elaborate events happen almost every night. Whether you’re walking the casino floor or tucked away in a boardroom, there’s always the chance of witnessing a major transaction.

It’s no wonder hundreds of companies and organizations—to say nothing of millions of leisure travelers—escape their daily routines to spend a few days there.

In many ways, it is the polar opposite of the environment where Massari cut his teeth in the business.

On any given night at September’s Place, Massari was a waiter, cook, banquet manager, etc. If it meant working long hours or sweating through his shirt, he did it.

“There’s a real satisfaction in that kind of work,” Massari says. “It’s not intellectually stimulating, but you get to start and finish a project.”

The gruntiest of his grunt work was a stint as a banquet cook, Massari recalls. “You start early prepping and go home late [after] cleaning… there are not enough hours in the day.”

Massari admits he’d get burned out as a line cook for 20 years. But when you are in your early 20s, what are a few dozen weeks working 100-plus hours? In his mind, that’s common.

“There are lots of people like me who got a job as a busboy or as a waiter and never left the business because they loved it,” he says.

That said, Massari wasn’t sure where his career path was headed as late as his senior year at Cabrini University, a small Catholic school outside Philadelphia.

Enter Moody one more time, offering the kid who once wandered into his catering business a managerial position at September’s Place. The offer—an annual salary of $25,200—was too good to refuse.

Forward Thinking

We may never know how long Massari could withstand the long hours associated with catering. His wife, upon graduating from St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia to become a teacher, eventually reached her limit with his long shifts. “She said it was time to get a real job with real hours,” he says. “My solution was to get into the hotel business.”

Looking back, the move to catering sales manager at Sheraton Valley Forge Hotel was more than crossing over to a different side of the hospitality industry. Massari changed his entire mindset.

Working at the hotel—still in his beloved Philly suburbs—Massari saw multiple doors open.

Behind door No. 1 was a chance to remain in F&B; behind door No. 2 was sales; behind door No. 3 was a path to management. For the first time, Massari stopped thinking in terms of a job and started concentrating on a career path.

“I started to ask: ‘What do I want to do, and how do I get there?’” he says. If September’s Place was point A in Massari’s career path, he felt point Z would be to become a general manager of a large business. So he transitioned into sales and landed at Wyndham Franklin Plaza Hotel in Philadelphia. He figured Marriott, Hilton or Hyatt—or maybe all three—were in his future.

“I wasn’t thinking about casinos,” Massari says. “If you were in the meetings business in 1995, particularly on the corporate side, Vegas just wasn’t a player.”

Massari Moves West

Mobster Bugsy Siegel came to Las Vegas with a dream to cash in on gambling. In many ways, he was the first visionary of today’s Strip. The Flamingo, Siegel’s lasting legacy, first opened Dec. 26, 1946. Siegel didn’t live long enough to see Las Vegas evolve into the gaming capital of the world.

When Massari first visited Las Vegas in June 1998, there were no such grand dreams—but there’s a happier ending. Wooed by the group that would open The Venetian, a dubious Massari planned to simply listen to their sales pitch and then have a decent time in a city he distrusted.

“I viewed it as a time-share presentation,” he recalls. “I had a preconceived notion of what Las Vegas was, and it was not positive.”

Overlooking the fabled Strip for the first time, Massari soaked in the impressive venues and hoards of travelers who’d already bought into the destination. He finally understood Siegel’s vision. But Massari saw something more for the city built on the desert—a need for corporate business meetings. Knowing he could add value to the already bustling Las Vegas, he signed on as director of sales at The Venetian.

In doing so, Massari became part of a new wave of hoteliers who would change the way Las Vegas did business. Gaming was never going away, but the idea was to take the city’s top strength—customer service—and turn it into a draw for meetings and events.

At the time, Vegas properties struggled outside the world of trade shows and expos. To expand business, hotels placed meeting attendees into the same category as a casino’s best customers. Amenities like world-class restaurants and top-level hotel suites got event planners’ attention while casinos worked furiously to create meeting space to match that level of opulence.

Massari’s fateful trip went “from being something to get a free weekend to becoming my life’s work,” he says.

Good or Lucky?

Caesars, MGM, Venetian and other Las Vegas hotels did their job well attracting meetings—perhaps a little too well. When the Great Recession struck in 2008, Vegas-based extravagant meetings felt the federal government’s wrath.

The meetings business Massari helped build crumbled. He estimates Caesars lost $100 million virtually overnight.

“It shook the foundation of everything we thought we were,” says Massari, who joined the Caesars team in 2000. “You questioned whether you were good or just lucky.”

Fast-forward nine years, and Vegas stands as tall as Massari’s 6-foot-5 frame. He and his counterparts adapted during the downtime, learning to streamline and cut costs—words not often associated with the excess the destination thrives on.

To this day, Massari says his focus remains on finding the most efficient ways to do business at a high level. Having long ago ushered in a new era to Vegas, he can only fine-tune the product. Indeed, many Vegas properties are undergoing expansions and renovations to ensure the meetings they lured to town in the early 2000s don’t think the grass is greener elsewhere, despite the advantage Las Vegas holds in amount of meeting space over other destinations.

Closer to his hometown, Massari is part of the effort to increase Atlantic City’s meetings presence. He played a key role in the development of Harrah’s Waterfront Conference Center, which opened in 2015 and has hosted several major industry events like MPI’s World Education Congress. His accomplishments for the destination are another reason Massari is considered one of the biggest proponents of face-to-face meetings in the industry.

Now in his mid-40s, Massari is hardly done in his career. But he isn’t looking ahead—at least for himself.

His daughters are now 13 and 15—the same age he started at September’s Place. And yes, dad hopes the kids follow in his footsteps. He figures the industry has at least 20 more years of growth ahead, making it a safe bet for another generation.

“The hospitality business is filled with people who love what they do and want to help others,” Massari says. “It’s got incredible experiences associated with it. I would recommend it to any person.”