Hundreds of college football players will have a life-changing experience this week when they hear their names called by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in the 2022 NFL draft, staged for the first time in Las Vegas Thursday through Saturday.
A former UNLV quarterback, Glenn Carano — now a retired Caesars Entertainment Inc. executive — enjoyed that experience in 1977 when he was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys, serving primarily as a backup to Roger Staubach and Danny White in his career.
When drafted by the Cowboys, Carano signed four years for $255,000. Today’s minimum NFL salary is $660,000 a year.
Carano, whose family’s Reno gaming company, formerly known as Eldorado Resorts Inc., acquired Caesars Entertainment in 2020 for $17.3 billion, was a senior vice president for the company until his retirement last year.
More than 40 years after his draft experience, Carano now sees the company he worked for in an important host role. He spoke with the Review-Journal about his draft experience, UNLV and Caesars. The interview has been edited for clarity and length:
Review-Journal: Getting drafted by the Dallas Cowboys must have been a great thrill for you. What’s your greatest memory of your NFL draft experience?
Glenn Carano: As far as draft day goes, the greatest experience and biggest anticipation is getting the phone call. It’s a TV event nowadays, but back then it wasn’t. So to sit around with all your family and friends waiting to get that phone call was a big anticipation. And there probably were a couple of prank phone calls in there, too. So sitting around waiting for that phone and finally getting a call from the Dallas Cowboys and them saying, “Welcome to the Dallas Cowboys,” that was big because the Dallas Cowboys were one of my dream teams growing up. After hearing that phone ring, the party was on. My family threw a great party, I got a big 10-gallon cowboy hat and a pair of cowboy boots in the deal.
Was that in Reno?
No, it was in Las Vegas. I had an apartment right across the street from UNLV and we couldn’t fit enough people in it so, because everybody was 21 at the time, we actually moved downtown and rented a bar out and had a big party.
Eldorado Resorts and the Carano name are among the most familiar in Northern Nevada. How was it that you went to school at UNLV and not the University of Nevada, Reno?
As a senior in high school, you want to get away from home. You want to go someplace. I was recruited by Notre Dame, USC, Arizona State, Washington and UNLV. Oddly enough, UNR offered me only a half scholarship because they knew I wanted to go out of the city. I was actually going to go to Arizona State, but at that time, UNLV had a new head coach, Ron Meyer, and Coach Chris Ault was an assistant coach in Las Vegas. They put the full-court press on me, and they even had the governor, Mike O’Callaghan, give me a call.
The full-court press worked. It kept me in the state of Nevada. The governor told me how important it was to stay in the state, so it all worked out for me really well. It got me drafted in the second round by the Dallas Cowboys in 1977. I was the No. 54 pick. It was tough as you might imagine, leaving Reno and going to Vegas.
What is your greatest memory playing football with the UNLV Rebels?
There are a lot of them. Probably the biggest memory that really encompasses everything was my sophomore year we went undefeated, 11-0, the only undefeated team in UNLV history with an 11-game record. That team was so incredible because we had such a great nucleus of Nevada players. We had players from Reno and Las Vegas on that team, and the Nevada nucleus is what made that team. We beat Boise State, which, as you know, is always tough to beat, and we beat Reno to go undefeated.
Once you became an executive with Caesars Entertainment, you were on the other end of the NFL draft as a host to what is expected to be one of Las Vegas’ biggest special events. What’s the significance to Caesars of being a draft host.
I was in Nashville a couple of years ago when they had the draft down there. I actually left right before that draft started because we knew the party was going to be so big. When you take Nashville and put it on steroids, you get Las Vegas. The Las Vegas draft is a great thing to hit the city. And the Caesars properties are right in the middle of everything, the 50-yard line of the entire event. The draft, as you know, is such a huge spectacle itself, it’s the big show, or as Ed Sullivan would have said, “It’s the really big shew.” The NFL Experience will be a great experience for Caesars with all our properties right there. Guests will have access to everything right there. The Linq, the Caesars Forum conference center … it’s going to be a fantastic event.
What are some of your expectations for the draft days — Thursday through Saturday — at the Las Vegas Caesars properties? Robust room rates? Higher gaming revenues? Greater retail sales with some of the company’s many attractions?
I heard someone today say 500,000 people are coming. This is a convention that’s come to town, but this convention of people are not spending eight hours in a meeting room. They’re going to be spending 24 hours a day participating in the draft and everything that goes along with it. These people are coming to town to have a great time, and naturally they’ll be spending a lot of time at the great restaurants that all of Las Vegas and Caesars properties have to offer. I had dinner at Bobby Flay’s restaurant last night. Amalfi is just a great restaurant right there at Caesars. People coming to the draft aren’t spending time in meetings; they’re spending time participating in our products. That’s going to drive revenue up in all different areas, including restaurants, bars, entertainment and room rates. Everything will go up.
How important was it for Caesars to be one of the early partners of the NFL in sports wagering and how has that relationship grown since it first began?
It’s been incredibly important for Caesars and also for the NFL. Caesars is the largest gaming company in the United States. We have somewhere around 52 casinos around the country. To be linked in with the NFL and the NFL to be linked in with us and our partnerships with other teams throughout the league was important for both Caesars and the league. It shows that the NFL has great leadership there, and Caesars’ leadership was smart enough to put it together and keep Caesars No. 1. Being represented throughout the country, we had a great success kicking off our sportsbooks in the state of New York. We’ve had great success with our NFL partnership.
The Caesars marketing campaign with actors J.B. Smoove, Halle Berry and the Manning family seems to have been a huge success. Will they continue to be a part of Caesars’ draft branding?
First of all, I loved J.B. Smoove when I first saw him on “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” There’s no better Caesar than J.B. Smoove. I hope I get the chance to meet him in person. I just want to shake his hand. And Halle Berry as Cleopatra. She was Miss Teen All-American and Miss Ohio USA and first runner-up for Miss USA. She deserves to be Miss America, but she’s been a beautiful Cleopatra.
I saw Peyton Manning speak in Las Vegas a few years ago. When I was a football player, I really wasn’t that fond of Peyton until I saw him in a “Saturday Night Live” skit. When I saw that skit, that sold me on Peyton.
And I’m probably one of the few guys you know that played flag football against Archie Manning. I played with him in a fund-raiser in Dallas and I was covering Archie and he was covering me because both teams had a number of different quarterbacks so he played receiver. He told me, “You know, I’ve got this kid going to Tennessee (Peyton), but my youngest kid could be the best one of all,” and he was talking about Eli. So I don’t know how many people you know that have played against Archie Manning in flag football. A lot of people played against him in the NFL because he played many years for the New Orleans Saints. Poor guy didn’t have a great team around him there. I sure hope we have the Mannings as partners because they’re great ambassadors for football and our responsible gaming messages.
Caesars really hit a home run when they did those commercials with all of them.
Is Caesars already gearing up for Super Bowl LVIII in Las Vegas in February 2024? Do you expect Caesars to have a prominent role in that event?
Everybody is so enthused about the NFL draft here in Las Vegas, everybody is looking so much forward to that, I don’t see how you can think about the Super Bowl yet. This is going to be a big, big week. The draft is Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and some things will actually get started Tuesday. I think the focus for the Caesars team has been making this event a huge success. Once the draft comes and goes, the Raiders, with Devante Adams and Derek Carr reuniting their college relationship, will perhaps bring the Raiders to the Super Bowl right here in Las Vegas. Now that would be exciting.
Do you expect any UNLV athletes — or perhaps University of Nevada quarterback Carson Strong — to be drafted this year?
Most definitely, Carson Strong will be drafted. He’s listed as one of the top six quarterbacks. The draft is a funny thing. When you start taking players in the draft and someone takes a quarterback, the others start to fall in line faster. They’re talking about Malik Willis from Liberty going as soon as No. 6 or No. 8. If he goes soon, then the other quarterbacks from Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, if they go soon, Carson Strong could be the fourth quarterback gone. I think he’ll be drafted in the top four rounds. I think he was hoping to be in the top two rounds.
Nevada-Reno has two receivers, Romeo Dubbs, a wide receiver, and Cole Turner, a tight end-slot receiver. They’re both very, very good receivers. I believe they’ll be drafted in the top five rounds.
In Las Vegas, the best prospect is running back Charles Williams. He’s got a good chance, but it may be later because this doesn’t look like a big running back draft. Oddly enough, when you look at positions, teams are looking at quarterbacks naturally and wide receivers and offensive linemen and defensive edge rushers, cornerbacks and safeties. Teams may not spend high draft picks on running backs because you have to amortize it over a longer period of time, and running backs don’t tend to last that long.
In my draft in 1977, the top two picks were running backs, Ricky Bell went to Tampa Bay and Tony Dorsett went to Dallas with me. It’s a different draft right now. Running backs aren’t really thought off as high picks. But good luck to Charles Williams. I’d love to see someone from UNLV drafted.
Seeing Nevada players drafted in an event in Nevada would be good.
The draft is a life-changer for these players. They go from making no money in college to making millions of dollars.