While Caesars Entertainment Chief Administrative and Accounting Officer Stephanie Lepori has established an exceptional career for herself in the gaming industry, her path began with a pretty safe bet.
Lepori grew up in Reno, Nevada, and headed for California to attend the University of Southern California. She considered majoring in marketing or advertising but decided upon accounting because it was the ’90s, when the job market was very tight.
A professor who served as a mentor to Lepori encouraged her passion for accounting, and she graduated with the goal of joining one of what were still known then as the Big Eight accounting firms. “Which tells you how old I am,” Lepori jokes. “They were heavily recruiting out of USC; it has one of the top schools in the nation. It was a great opportunity to start out in the field.”
She took a job with Arthur Andersen’s office in Los Angeles after graduation, but it was her experience growing up in Nevada, where gaming is a major contributor to the economy, that helped her find her area of expertise.
“At that time, gaming was blowing up across the country; that’s when it was first becoming legal outside of Nevada and New Jersey,” Lepori recalls. “So they were looking for people who were interested in gaming and had experience. The Vegas office was growing quickly. While I got hired in LA, I started spending time in the Vegas office. A lot of partners were moving there, and they asked me if I wanted to work in the Vegas office. It was a great experience and a lot of people I network with and work with today, I grew up with at Arthur Andersen.”
Accounting has turned out to be the ideal path and passion for Lepori, who notes that accounting has elements that a lot of people don’t realize when they embark in the profession.
“Accounting can be a bit of Groundhog Day, and people think of it as just crunching numbers,” she notes. “But it’s really about understanding the business and your internal customers and working together to add value to the operations.”
In 1995, Lepori joined Eldorado Resorts during the beginning of its joint venture with Circus Circus in building Silver Legacy Casino Resort in Reno. That gave her the opportunity to work on a project from the ground up, and she had experience with both companies as she had worked with both Eldorado and Circus Circus during her tenure at Arthur Andersen.
“At that point, I was appreciating the mountains and all that Reno has to offer, the ease of commute, housing, the lifestyle, great location to raise children,” she remembers. “So I moved back up to Reno and have been with the company ever since. It’s been an extraordinary growth story we’ve had for over the past seven years since going public in 2014.”
She has played a pivotal role in that growth, including during Eldorado’s acquisition of Caesars Entertainment Corporation, which was completed in 2020 during the pandemic and has led to her current role as chief administrative and accounting officer at Caesars Entertainment. When she started with Eldorado, the company had one and a half properties. That number now stands at fifty-five with the Caesars acquisition.
“Stephanie is an exceptional leader who we have had the pleasure of working with for over a decade,” says Ryan Cupersmith, global gaming industry leader and managing partner at the Ernst & Young Las Vegas office. “She is the consummate professional and an amazing asset to both Caesars Entertainment and the gaming industry.”
One project she has been involved with is the implementation of new human capital systems.
“What was interesting with the Caesars acquisition was that we thought we’d be walking into this amazing environment of technology and very mature, robust systems,” Lepori says. “While they’d been on a great journey with the Oracle platform, they hadn’t fully implemented their human capital systems. Today, we’re on a project plan to go live January 1, 2022, with one full integrated human capital management system all across the enterprise.”
That, she explains, provides better visibility into management of the workforce, better reporting and a much-improved team member experience.
Juergen Lindner, senior vice president and global marketing leader for ERP at Oracle, notes that Lepori is a stand-out chief accounting officer at Caesars. “Stephanie’s guidance continues to be essential to ensure a successful integration between Oracle Cloud ERP and cloud HCM solutions,” he says. “With her track record, my bet is on Stephanie.”
Lepori has a lot of experience in mergers and acquisitions, but 2020 presented an interesting challenge. “Obviously, it’s been a roller coaster for us,” she observes. “Every casino and business unit in our enterprise was shut down beginning in March .”
The COVID-19 pandemic was especially impactful on casinos, which are 24/7 businesses. “It was shocking and created a lot of stress for everyone involved and then you throw in the work related to a huge acquisition in the midst of that,” she adds.
Lepori says the company’s focus was on keeping customers and team members safe while navigating the different rules each state implemented regarding openings, masks, and social distancing. She adds that Caesars also learned things from the pandemic that will benefit the organization long-term.
“We’ve learned to become more efficient. We, along with our vendors and regulators, have become a little more nimble and creative. Everyone has been great partners in getting where we are,” Lepori says. “We think there’s pent-up demand from customers who have been stuck at home and want to get out, and gaming, combined with all of the amenities our properties have to offer, is a great option for entertainment and doing all those things people haven’t been able to do for quite some time.
“We’re excited about where we’re going, although there are still some challenges,” she continues. “But I think we’re on the back end of it with the vaccines coming out.”
One aspect of business that is becoming more common is moving toward a cashless environment, because the pandemic encouraged people to try to new technologies.
“To the point of innovation, some parties were a little hesitant before to adopt new technology,” she notes. “But now I think everyone, whether it’s the manufacturers or regulators or operators, everyone is excited about cashless opportunities. While it may have been accelerated due to the pandemic and efforts to avoid touching cash, it’s a more efficient way to operate and customer friendly.”
Lepori is dedicated to giving to others by sitting on the board of the Boys and Girls Club and to supporting organizations that encourage women in the accounting and other professions. “Those are the two areas that are near and dear to me,” she notes. “Children because they’re our future and then organizations that provide support and access for women that might not otherwise be there.”
And Lepori certainly has the experience and knowledge that can inspire other women to reach the heights of the accounting profession.
Thoughts from Guest Editor Susan Pikitch
“I can relate to Stephanie Lepori’s story and also see similarities in many of features in this issue. Acquiring an accounting and/or auditing background early in your career lays such a solid foundation for so many future roles, both in and outside of the pure finance track. If you want to be effective as a business leader, understanding the business fundamentals is essential. And the numbers tell the story. If you are intellectually curious, as Stephanie is, you get underneath the numbers to understand the key business drivers. Next, you put in systems, processes, and teams that are necessary to create efficiencies and enable analysis and workflow that are leveraged by the entire organization.”
Read features from the Issue 4 2021 Finance section, which include commentary from Guest Editor Susan Pikitch.