How North Coast California Casino Owners Are Raising the Bar in Search of New Workers

Buoi Nguyen rolled the dice when he left a casino job where he had worked for seven years to join the Graton Resort & Casino in Rohnert Park.

“A lot of times it’s not always greener on the other side of the pasture, but I wanted to try my luck to progress in slots, so I did it,” said Nguyen, who in 2013 quit. Cache Creek Casino in Sacramento to reach Graton. “It was probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my career and in my life.”

The married father-of-two, who was hired as a slots team manager and promoted in 2017 to director of slots operations, said he enjoys a good salary and benefits. benefits, including a 401(k) matched program, additional growth potential and a supportive culture at Graton.

Nguyen is happy with his job, but casino owners worry about their ability to find more people like him as the industry grows.

The American Gaming Association, in a survey released April 20, found that its member CEOs “rank labor shortages and competition for talent as a top concern for the industry’s continued growth,” Cait DeBaun, vice president, strategic communications and accountability, told The Business Journal. in an e-mail statement.

AGA members raise base salaries, provide on-site jobs, invest in training and provide bonuses and other benefits, she said, citing survey results.

Graton Resort and Casino

“We’re still looking for people,” said Graton Rancheria Federated Indian Tribe President Greg Sarris. “Currently, we are recruiting in all areas of catering, gaming, hospitality, facilities, security – all of those roles.”

Graton has offered 100% paid employee health insurance since it opened in November 2013, and last year Sarris announced a 10% minimum wage increase for salaried employees and hourly wage increases for tipped workers. and without tip – in some cases an extra $3 an hour, as the Business Journal reported at the time. Graton currently has 2,000 employees.

A new quarterly discretionary bonus program was also announced.

“Each quarter, as long as you have zero points against you and provide good customer service, you get a $1,000 bonus,” Sarris said. “So on top of what you get here, you get $4,000 a year on top of that.”

And, while not unique to Graton, the casino offers in-house training, including for croupiers and bartenders.

Rock River Casino

“We offer a school for dealers,” said Sue Ascanio, CEO and General Manager of River Rock Casino in Geyserville. “You don’t have to have experience (but) you have to have personality.”

Owned by the Dry Creek Rancheria Band of Pomo Indians, River Rock, with a staff of 277, is among the smallest casinos in North Bay, of which there are about 15. Although smaller businesses cannot compete for behemoth-level workers like Graton, they have their own selling points.

“I think our culture is what sets us apart from some of the bigger casinos,” Ascanio said. “I think it’s like ‘Cheers’, where everyone knows your name. That’s how we see it with our guests and with the team members. It’s that family vibe.

River Rock has focused on adding to its team, including offering up to $2,000 in signing bonuses, according to the post, an incentive Ascanio described as aggressive.

“Like everyone else, we have a lot of vacancies – food and drink, mainly; cage cashiers, security and housekeeping,” she said. “We have a dedicated talent specialist. That’s all she does is find creative ways to recruit to retain team members… but it’s not a one (person) team. We are all ambassadors.

River Rock has an employee referral program that pays when it results in a successful new hire; employees receive two free meals per shift; and the casino currently offers staff a $50 gas card each month to help offset rising fuel costs, Ascanio said.

Twin Pine Casino and Hotel

“I think we’re in the same boat as almost everyone else, not just in the casino industry, but in general, we’re understaffed and still hiring,” said Kyle Lewis, director of marketing and customer services. customers at Twin. Pine Casino and Hotel, located in Middletown.

Twin Pine offers customer service training, leadership development programs and training for dealers and stand managers, among other specialties, said Lewis, whose employer has nearly 220 employees.

“We want our employees to be able to see that there is upward mobility within the company,” he said.

Lewis noted that casinos like Twin Pine, which added a hotel to its ownership in 2009, can offer workers coming from the hospitality industry – which has suffered greatly due to the pandemic – a future with broader opportunities.

“We’re very hospitality-focused and we have a lot of people from different (parts of) the hospitality industry in the casino,” Lewis said. “Working for a casino opens the door to being a croupier, working in the hotel, in finance and accounting, in marketing. It opens so many doors for them and creates opportunities for them to move and grow within of the company.

Twin Pine has a number of employees who have worked for the property for more than a decade, Lewis said, which he attributes to the casino culture.

“Our president always says we’re a family business, and we try to live by that,” Lewis said, referring to Middletown Rancheria Tribe President Jose “Moke” Simon III. “I think it promotes longevity and people want to stay and work for us.”

Cheryl Sarfaty covers tourism, hospitality, healthcare and education. She previously worked for a Gannett daily in New Jersey and for NJBIZ, the state’s business newspaper. Cheryl has freelanced for business journals in Sacramento, Silicon Valley, San Francisco and Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from California State University, Northridge. Reach her at [email protected] or 707-521-4259.

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