The opening of Revel in Atlantic City, one of our features this month, will be a game-changer for Atlantic City. Like its predecessor, the Borgata, nine years ago, Revel will raise the bar for Atlantic City casinos. But unlike Borgata, which opened during a more prosperous time, Revel is debuting during a period when Atlantic City is down and almost out. I believe the property will return attention to the city and, combined with the good work being done by all the stakeholders in Atlantic City, will create a new awareness and a realization that the city has much to offer those who want to be entertained or enjoy shopping and fine dining (and by the way, great gambling).
But then again, people have long accused me of being a cheerleader for Atlantic City, to which I plead guilty. I lived there for 25 years, during the bad times and good, so I definitely have a soft spot in my heart for the Jersey shore town, and I welcome the changes that Revel and the other developments will bring.
One of the changes Revel brings really transcends Atlantic City, however. It has to do with the employment policy the resort announced for front-line workers like dealers, bartenders, waiters and waitresses and the like. Like many at the executive levels of the casino industry, these workers will be offered contracts of four to six years duration. At the end of those contracts, their performance will be evaluated and the contract renewed—or not.
I had never heard of this in the gaming industry, and a quick review of some of my contacts in the hospitality business revealed it’s a new concept there as well. This sparked a very lively debate on our Global Gaming Business Group on LinkedIn (Come join the conversation!). Many believed it to be a crass, transparent bid to cull the older and unattractive from the ranks as their contracts come to an end. Others thought it was a brilliant strategy to ensure that employees would deliver a high level of customer service throughout their careers. It also was seen as a reason to aspire to be promoted into more secure management positions.
Now, as much as I love Atlantic City, I have to admit that many employees there are “service-challenged.” In fact, when Pennsylvania opened casinos several years ago, some executives told me that they avoided hiring anyone with Atlantic City experience because they didn’t want their new employees infected with the attitudes that permeate the city’s casinos.
So it’s only natural that Revel should take some steps to ensure that its employees deliver a superior level of service. As we all know, you can build the greatest resort in the world, but if you don’t deliver on the promise of that experience, you might as well walk away. Revel understands that.
But is this the right way to go about it? It’s still a legendary act in Atlantic City when Steve Wynn awarded all his employees new cars at the first holiday season the Golden Nugget was open. The loyalty that act engendered lasted until he departed the city in 1986. Of course, those were the boom times in Atlantic City, and it’s doubtful any Atlantic City casino could afford such a gesture today. Borgata went above and beyond by providing its employees with a lounge, cafeteria and back of the house that was equal to anything in the front of the house (not to mention generous pay and benefits). The “rescued” Atlantic City casinos like the “new” Golden Nugget, Resorts and the Atlantic Club (formerly the Hilton) are trying to inspire employees by emphasizing that good customer service means more customers and more business that will translate into higher pay and tips.
So, you see the problem faced by Revel. Employee appreciation is great but sometimes empty praise. Monetary rewards are crucial but transitory. How do you maintain enthusiasm over the long term?
In the macro view, how will this impact the casino industry? This is a strategy that you really can’t implement in an existing casino unless you “grandfather” in existing employees and start with new hires. This has to be a policy that is clear before the hiring process begins. But will it become the answer to the CEO’s prayer for better customer service?
This solution may not be the answer, but it’s something no one has ever tried before. So why not give it a shot? Come to LinkedIn and give us your opinion.