Gaming school opens in Vicksburg

Published 10:36 am Thursday, May 1, 2008

VICKSBURG (AP) — Employee turnover and short staffs are problems already facing Vicksburg casinos, and the demand for skilled workers is about to get higher as a fifth casino begins hiring and another nears completion of a gaming room expansion.

Meanwhile, the city’s first casino college has opened with goals of easing local shortages.

“This isn’t something that’s a new phenomenon, it’s always been an issue in this industry,” said Kim Tullos, general manager for DiamondJacks Casino. “There’s an inherent amount of turnover that is always prevalent in casinos.”

Email newsletter signup

Table dealer and housekeeping and food and beverage positions are the hardest positions to keep filled in area casinos. Not coincidentally, these are typically the lowest paying positions and require the least amount of experience.

And though the gaming houses provide solid benefits packages to full-time employees and incremental incentives for long-term employees, there is almost never a time when casinos are not hiring for these positions.

Retention bonuses are standard at nearly all casinos, as are several employee appreciation days throughout the year.

Ameristar Casino, Vicksburg’s largest, also provides a new car for its team member of the year and prizes of up to $5,000 and all-expense-paid trips anywhere in the world to other valued employees.

However, Tullos said long-term employees at casinos need daily incentives to stick with one casino.

“I don’t think employees stay for the bonuses, that’s not what drives them to longevity,” she said. “You have to provide an environment each day that shows them they’re appreciated and allows them the opportunity to advance their careers.”

The city’s four casinos employ roughly 2,100 people. A fifth, Riverwalk Casino, is scheduled to open in November. Hundreds of employees will be needed to staff the new casino, but administrators did not return calls to discuss specifics on employment.

Meanwhile, Ameristar is close to completing a $100 million expansion and is hiring to fill positions that will become available when the project is finished

Ameristar General Manager Adrian Caldwell said multiple recruiting events will be held locally in the coming months, including a job fair.

Statewide, 29 casinos employ about 27,000 people. Comparatively, 13 casinos in Atlantic City have roughly 40,800 employees, and 160 casinos in Las Vegas employ 163,000.

The Casino College of Mississippi is first in Vicksburg and third in the state. About 25 students have signed on.

Instructor Clint Malvezzi said the city is a natural fit for the college.

“I’m really surprised there isn’t one open here already. Gaming is such a big part of the economy. We hope to help all the casinos fill some staffing gaps.

“We are working with Riverwalk — they need 100 dealers and we’re confident we can train that many for them,” he said.

The Vicksburg college is the largest in the state, with other campuses in Tunica and Greenville. It teaches all table games, including black jack, all variances of poker, roulette and others.

Currently, most casinos provide inhouse training at no cost for employees who want to work the tables. The casino college charges tuition, but Malvezzi said it does a better job of training than the casinos can do.

The campus in Greenville recently recruited 100 table dealers for Harlow’s Casino, and Malvezzi said it took just 4 months.

A casino dealer for nearly a decade before joining the casino college, Malvezzi said much of casino turnover is due to skilled dealers having no trouble moving from casino to casino.

“Tampa has legalized table games, and they need 3,600 dealers,” he said. “If someone wanted to move there from Mississippi they’d have their feet in the sand real quick.”

Tullos said only a very small portion of employees who leave DiamondJacks do so for opportunities outside Vicksburg.

“That might have been a factor the first couple years the industry existed in Vicksburg, but I really don’t see that at all. There’s maybe a little movement between here and Biloxi, but not enough for either areas to really rely upon for filling many positions,” she said.

A larger problem for Vicksburg casinos, said Rainbow Casino Director of Human Resources Molly Procell, is the movement of employees from one casino to the next within the city.

“We have four, soon to be five, casinos competing for a limited labor pool. We have fairly high turnover rates because employees can move from one casino to the next for a little more money or better perceived benefits,” she said.

Vicksburg’s first casino opened in August 1993, and all were operating a year later.

Tullos said she hopes the new college will produce more trained employees to fill vacancies in the city’s casinos, but said it is nonetheless limited in filing all of the local industry’s needs.

“We’ve never had a qualified college that we could rely on, so we’ve had to do everything inhouse. This definitely provides us a bigger pool of qualified candidates without us having to provide the training,” she said. “That being said, the college still can’t help us in filling our vacancies in housekeeping and food and beverage.”