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Former Caesars Entertainment CEO Tony Rodio, seen in 2018, takes over as chief executive officer of Great Canadian Gaming.Wayne Parry/The Associated Press

Great Canadian Gaming Corp. plans to add Las Vegas-style shows and celebrity chefs to the casino experience after hiring veteran U.S. gambling executive Tony Rodio as its new chief executive officer.

On Wednesday, U.S. private equity firm Apollo Global Management Inc. closed its $2.48-billion acquisition of Toronto-based Great Canadian and announced Mr. Rodio, formerly CEO of Caesars Entertainment Corp. and two other casino operators, will take the reins.

Great Canadian parted ways with then-CEO Rod Baker in January after he and his wife were caught jumping the line for COVID-19 vaccines by travelling to Yukon and pretending to be workers at a local motel. Terrance Doyle, who served as Great Canadian’s interim CEO following Mr. Baker’s departure, is now the company’s president of business development.

Great Canadian operates casinos in four provinces – Ontario, British Columbia, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia – including flagship locations near Toronto and Vancouver that feature concert venues and hotels, which have been renovated over the past year. All the properties shut down in March, 2020, because of the COVID-19 outbreak and many only reopened in July. Through the first six months of this year, Great Canadian lost $71.2-million.

Great Canadian’s growth strategy as pandemic restrictions are lifted includes enhancing the non-gambling experience at its properties by bringing in music acts and improving restaurants, Mr. Rodio said in an interview. The company also plans to ramp up online gambling platforms, while strengthening ties to customers by beefing up loyalty programs.

Great Canadian plans to use these programs to entice players at its smaller casinos into taking trips to the company’s larger properties, such as a new Pickering, Ont., resort with a 2,500-seat theatre, spa and 275-room hotel, or the Venetian Resort in Las Vegas, which Apollo is in the process of acquiring for US$2.25-billion, Mr. Rodio said.

“This in an exciting time in the gaming industry, and an incredibly exciting time at Great Canadian, as we welcome back guests to existing properties and new facilities,” he said.

He said for the foreseeable future, Great Canadian’s focus is on organic growth, then added: “Apollo is always open to growth through acquisition.”

Prior to running Caesars, Mr. Rodio was CEO at both Affinity Gaming, which runs casinos and a sports-betting service, and Tropicana Entertainment Inc. He has four decades of experience in the gambling industry and is in the process of moving to Toronto to take on his new role.

“Tony is one of the industry’s most accomplished executives, and we are confident that his experience leading businesses through transformative periods of innovation and growth will help to take Great Canadian to new heights,” Alex van Hoek, an Apollo partner and chair of Great Canadian, said in a press release. Apollo is one of the world’s largest private equity funds, with US$472-billion of assets under management.

Apollo acquired Great Canadian at a time when takeover activity in the gambling sector is running at a record pace, inspired by surging growth in online gambling and the legalization of sports betting in many jurisdictions. Globally, companies in the gambling space have made 220 acquisitions so far this year, up from 165 last year and 142 in 2019, according to data service Crunchbase.

Earlier this year, U.S. gambling giant Penn National Gaming Inc. announced a $2-billion takeover bid for Toronto-based sports-betting platform Score Media and Gaming Inc. Last year, Burnaby, B.C.-based Gateway Casinos and Entertainment Ltd. attempted to go public though a merger with a special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, but was unable to close the transaction. Gateway is controlled by private equity fund Catalyst Capital Group Inc., which acquired the business in 2010.

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