New head for Harrah’s Tahoe, Reno properties |

New head for Harrah’s Tahoe, Reno properties

Susan Wood

Dan Thrift / Tahoe Daily Tribune / John Koster will lead the region's Harrah's.

Come Sept. 6, a changing of the guard will occur at Harrah’s when Laughlin casino executive John Koster takes over as the chief of Northern Nevada operations. He replaces Don Marrandino, who returns south to run Harrah’s and Flamingo properties, both in Las Vegas.

Koster has worked at Harrah’s Laughlin Hotel and Casino for three years, leaving there as the senior vice president and general manager. Beyond that, it’s the executive’s time spent in international markets such as Hong Kong, New Zealand and Thailand that has the Las Vegas-based casino giant considering the power of an emerging Asian market.

“Certainly, the Asian market is part of the equation. They have a rapidly affluent middle class that travels more,” he said, while on a pre-employment, fact-finding mission on the Stateline property. “I hope whatever we do is going to benefit the Lake Tahoe area.”

He’ll manage Harrah’s, Harveys Lake Tahoe, Bill’s Casino and Harrah’s Reno.

His plans even include cooperating with competing casinos at Stateline. When asked his take on Caesars Tahoe’s vision to appeal to a younger set, he said: “More power to them. It’s too small a community to have an ‘us versus them’ attitude.” Kentucky-based Columbia Sussex bought the South Tahoe Caesars property almost three months ago when Harrah’s took over the entire chain.

Koster, a runner, hiker and occasional skier in his leisure, has worked for Harrah’s Entertainment for over six years. Prior to joining Harrah’s, Koster served in management positions with Sheraton Hotels and affiliates for 17 years.

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“John is one of this company’s most admired executives,” said Tom Jenkin, president of Harrah’s Western Division. “His team at Harrah’s Laughlin consistently earned impressive customer service scores.”

Jenkin provided a take on Marrandino as well.

“Wherever he has worked, Don brought entertainment experiences that excite and engage guests. I can’t think of a better spot for that kind of leadership than the bull’s eye of the Las Vegas strip,” he added.

Koster plans to pick up where the former head left off.

“It’s not my intention to take something that works and change it for the sake of change,” Koster said.

Marrandino, who is known for playful antics including taking the stage with friend Sammy Hagar and jumping into Lake Tahoe off a paddlewheeler, will take his innovative style to a market he knows well through stints with Wynn and Station casino properties. But it’s Tahoe that has captured Marrandino’s heart over the last two years, which appears to be the average stint for a casino head. Marrandino replaced Joe Hasson, who ran the properties for about the same period of time.

Marrandino, who will stay on board for the next few weeks, said he’ll miss the lake.

“For two years, I split my time between my favorite vacation places in the world – Cabo (San Lucas) and Tahoe,” he said Wednesday before a boat party planned for him. “I leave here with a heavy heart. I’ve met a lot of great people, had a fun time. We’ve had a great summer in Tahoe.”