Casino recruiters eye a stark transition phase.
Operators shaking pandemic fears slowly break the financial shackles stunting business over the last two years.
Some consider revamping their lineups by obtaining top executives for varied positions, including general manager or chief operations officer.
Operators in the post-pandemic age may have to sweeten the compensation pot for them. It won’t be easy to lure potential leaders from a Covid-induced comfort zone. Especially leaders who must embrace a new work environment.
An Emerging Change
Gaming leaders are entering unchartered territory. Casinos are a microcosm of big-picture unrest jolting labor-management markets.
The simmering kindling of stagnant wages, excessive stimulus checks and worker malaise has erupted. They have produced supply-chain disruptions, labor shortages, striking workers and companies planning to replace them.
Employees have left jobs in record numbers since 2020. The fact that only 4.16 million people quit in October, versus 4.36 million one month earlier according to U.S. Labor Department data, is considered a ray of sunshine.
The pandemic was so crippling that it produced an unfortunate new terminology dubbed the “Great Resignation.”
Technology was a major contributor, literally “Zoom-ing” in on the world of meetings. The comfort of conducting them from home made workers re-think the aggravation of fighting bumper-to-bumper traffic to reach an office.
It’s hard to be late for a meeting if one merely needs to visit the next room.
And though some executives may prefer live, face-to-face contact, others feel more productive either from home, at a coffee shop or wherever remote access begins.
The Importance of Headhunters
Operators and executives look to a valued liaison, the headhunters, to digest this new world and find people to thrive in it.
The role of recruiters benefits both the operator, known as the “client,” and the job-seeker, called the “candidate.” The headhunter option enables an operator to discreetly fill positions, preventing rumors that could disrupt company chemistry.
Conversely, recruiters can help an executive on the East Coast discover a lucrative job opening on the West Coast, or even another country, if compensation justifies it. That can also be done discreetly, a water-testing process that won’t be known to his/her employers.
Headhunters also remove the posturing of negotiations by handling them all. This lets both sides avoid the cat-and-mouse role of deal-making.
Over time, headhunters have seen some markets benefit the client and others the candidate, just as real-estate trends benefit buyers and then sellers at different periods.
There’s widespread agreement on the current gaming market: advantage, candidates.
“The market shift is an ever-swinging pendulum as far as we can see,” says Ben Farber, president of Bristol Associates in Manhattan Beach, California. “It is better to be in the candidate-driven market, ultimately.
“Back in 2008, things slowed down so much that business was not doing well and the opportunities were not there,” he adds. “For many months we had to tell candidates, ‘I am sorry, we just don’t have anything for you.’ And then it moved back the other way. Clients are coming to us. They are very hungry and asking, ‘Where are the candidates?’”
Need to Think Outside the Box
Bill Werksman, managing partner of Resource Partners in Las Vegas, notes the different compensation possibilities broached by the new market. That might include stock options, education reimbursement, added vacation time and flexibility regarding how to implement team-building functions.
In turn, the leaders may want to consider novel ways to incorporate the Zoom world into the real one. Some workplace conditions that have never been tried will be now in order to spur loyalty and productivity.
“It is a very tight candidate market right now that benefits job seekers most of the time,” Werksman asserts. “The searches we are conducting take time and effort from both sides.
“There are ebbs and flows that generally follow the traditional job market conditions for mid-level searches, but for the most part, candidates with specific talents and experiences have strong market value in good times and bad times.”
Marc Weiswasser, head of CasinoRecruiter.com in Carlsbad, California, believes candidates willing to travel have additional clout. For many employees and executives who have adjusted during the pandemic there is, literally, no place like home.
“Now more than ever, the candidates (executives) are being more particular about the location where they want to go,” he says. “A lot of that is due to Covid; that’s kind of the mindset of the nation with the work-life balance.
“There might be a nice job opening, but it’s not where the candidate wants to go. It is tricky to get candidates to relocate.”
Werksman says the biggest challenge for candidates is overcoming perceptions gleaned from what they’ve heard about particular companies.
Successful candidates should be open to initial discussions that may sometimes prove fruitful and other times may not, he adds. They must keep an open mind to new opportunities, he indicates.
The new opportunities may involve flexibility about how to conduct meetings, especially with team members.
“Covid has impacted our searches to the extent that many people simply do not want to go back into the office,” Werksman says. “That is a challenge for clients when you talk about team building and chemistry. It’s hard to establish the same level of chemistry with someone over Zoom as you do in person.”
Farber sees a subtle shift on the horizon. Gaming, like other industries, will ultimately find a midpoint between remote and on-site employment. Some layers of nuance impact this equation. Some employees work effectively from home, some don’t. Some employee skills will diminish without on-site interaction. Many industries field complaints about home workers becoming complacent.
Once the pandemic eases far enough, companies may want to emphasize their physical location for team building.
“I see a slow, gradual climb back to normal,” Farber indicates. “With the vaccines out and mandates loosening, we believe people will start opening their doors.”
It will be interesting to see what conditions develop. Candidates used to the comfort of Zoom meetings may wish to conduct a larger share of business away from the office. Whether companies grant that may depend upon the department.
“In some areas, like finance, compliance and HR, you don’t necessarily have to be on the property all the time to get your job done,” Farber says. “The exchange of information can be just as effective on a remote call. Someone can offer to go in a couple of times a week or even a month to show face.”
It’s also tricky to get people to work, period. Whether the issue was job dissatisfaction, child-care or health issues, record numbers have adapted the Johnny Paycheck option to “Take This Job and Shove It.”
“Some of that could be that people just don’t want to get the vaccine shot, but much of it also is the sentiment that ‘I am just going to quit. I don’t like my job; I am going to retire,’” Weiswasser says. “That’s why base salaries are going up. Somebody emailed me about McDonald’s advertising for help, saying they would pay employees $19 an hour.”
Resource Partners has an extensive file of job openings and candidates, which both sides can view on its website before approaching one another. And then the negotiation dance begins.
“It starts with the client company (casino operator/manufacturer) reaching out to us directly,” Werksman says. “Once we have an initial discussion about the specific parameters of the role (job description, compensation package details, location, etc.) we will then begin the search with an internal review to discuss the profile and any ‘qualified suspects’ we may be able to attract for initial discussion of the role.”
Negotiations progress from there, and a certain number reach the finish line. Werksman actually stumbled upon involvement in this role.
“I’ve been doing this for 31 years,” he says. “I fell into it by walking into a recruiter’s office many years ago. We hit it off personally and he asked me to try it for two weeks. I did and fell in love with the interaction I had with both clients and candidates and making that successful match.
“The most value we have is connecting people that never knew of each other,” he indicates. “It’s a lot like setting people up on a blind date after each side says they need help finding that special ‘someone.’ It is a very rewarding profession if you do it precisely, quietly and without fanfare.”
The profile of an ideal candidate hasn’t changed, even in a candidate-driven market, Farber says. Stability and gradual mobility reign supreme.
“Some recruiters may fall into the trap thinking that it is so tough to find people that perhaps the client will bend and loosen the standards, but that’s not so,” he says.
Farber’s company has been licensed or approved as vendors to conduct business with corporate casinos, tribal organizations, suppliers and online gaming companies throughout the United States, Mexico, South America, Africa and Asia.
Farber enjoys the facilitating role the company plays with candidates and clients.
“For us, this is about longstanding relationships,” he says. “We treat the process with care. If you are in it for the right reasons, it comes back to you in the long run. There is no need to make (one transaction) seem like a bank robbery.
“We keep coming back to the idea that we are vital in the process of telling somebody about an opportunity that can change their life for the better. It can be a better path, a more desirable location, a chance to get back to family. We are the little bridge to doing that.”
Weiswasser advises candidates to understand the big picture. Salaries were substantial when executives first had to relocate to Macau, for instance, given the change of lifestyle and the high demand for quality executives.
But if those candidates return to the United States, the compensation package may not match up.
Regardless of the twists and turns, Weiswasser reflects an industry-wide headhunters’ intent of bringing people together. It matches the satisfaction a real-estate agent has in finding someone the perfect home.
“What gets me the most excited is when I can set a company up with a candidate and then see that person advance through, get to the second interview and then past that,” Weiswasser says. “The satisfaction for me is knowing that I supplied a good candidate for that company. I don’t know if you call it being a talent scout or a Jerry McGuire,” he added in reference to the Tom Cruise character in a movie about sports agents, “but it makes me proud of what we do.”