Labor unions aren't very popular these days but sometimes even the mere threat of one is enough to effect improvements. Such seems to be the case at Luxor, where the International Union of Security, Police & Fire Professionals of America (uff da!) seeks to expand its MGM Mirage presence beyond MGM Grand Detroit. After Luxor comes Mandalay Bay.
Prior to the union showing up at the pyramid, "officers say, hiring and overtime freezes left properties understaffed and on-duty guards vulnerable," reports the Las Vegas Sun. "Cuts were so deep, they say, that a lone guard was sometimes posted on the Luxor casino floor." What is this, the Tropicana?!?
If true, that's the kind of false economy we expect from bottom-feeders like Columbia Sussex, not top-echelon operators like MGM Mirage. For the love of all that's holy, next to fire safety, the last area where one should scrimp is security. I mean, that's not Monopoly money out there on the casino floor.
"MGM Mirage has reinstated overtime and boosted staffing levels, and is now offering officer-training classes," according to a union rep, as well as replacing "battered patrol vehicles." It shouldn't have to take a union-organizing drive to effect that kind of positive change, but in this case it's good it did. I sincerely hope this is the last we'll hear about security getting short-sheeted on the Strip.
When unions attack (each other). Well, I never thought I'd live to see the day when one union pickets another. But that's what's happening in the ongoing scrumdown between the Culinary Union and a Vegas newbie, the Transport Workers Union. The latter is representing casino dealers at Wynn Las Vegas and Caesars Palace.
At issue is an initiative petition through which the TWU seeks to outlaw the sort of tip-confiscation practices currently in place at Wynn (and creeping into other businesses in the Vegas and Laughlin markets, I'm told). But, responds the Culinary, the initiative is "half-baked," simplistic and would void existing contracts.
The Culinary's opening salvo in this escalating war practically oozes faux solicitude for casino dealers. But if getting what's fair for dealers were a Culinary concern, it wouldn't have been MIA during the Wynn dustup or the uprising at Caesars. It's the biggest open secret in Las Vegas that detente between the casino giants and the Culinary is maintained largely by dint of the Culinary taking a hands-off attitude toward dealers.
Still bloodied from its botched endorsement of Sen. Barack Obama, the Culinary is also having to tiptoe carefully in sending the message out that money from Sheldon Adelson is bad, bad, baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaad!
Drawing to a weak hand? Elections won by dealers' unions in Atlantic City and Las Vegas: Six. Contracts negotiated: Zero to date. Even if we subtract Caesars Palace, given the recency of the vote there, and the Atlantic City Tropicana, which is in trusteeship and in no position to negotiate with anybody, that still leaves an 0-4 record. Besides, with both markets experiencing revenue declines -- and the potential for job cuts -- casino management can probably afford to run out the clock.
This week in Columbia Sussex. The pep-talk tour by Tropicana Entertainment President Scott Butera played Cincinnati this week. "Clearly, the company is undergoing a full recapitalization," he understated. The story's reference to the LV Trop as the company's "crown jewel" will draw an ironic laugh from anyone who has witnessed the place's wilted condition of late.
Meanwhile, the company hasn't backed off its plan to erect a ginormous eyesore in place of the existing Trop: "a gambling facility twice the size of the Pentagon." Columbia Sussex CEO William J. Yung III "acknowledged the project may cost more than $1 billion." (More than a billion? Really? Ya think? A shrew customer, this Yung.) But, having arguably overpaid for Aztar Corp. (now reduced to one casino each in Las Vegas and Laughlin), the Wal-Mart approach seems inevitable. "It has to be done to maximize the value" of the site, according to Butera. Sadly, he's probably right.
Nor is it surprising that Yung is being blamed/scapegoated for the collapse of Gov. Steve Beshear's pro-casino push in the Kentucky Legislature. Yung's galumphing attempts to cash in on Beshear's candidacy were certain to raise a ruckus -- and, boy, did they ever.
Also, buying a would-be casino facility in Covington, before any enabling legislation had been passed, any popular vote had been taken, any applications made, any jurisdictions established or any licenses awarded is the sort of thing that looks at best presumptuous and, at worst, like the fix is in. And, following the catastrophic tenure of Beshear's predecessor, Kentuckians seem doubly shy of anything that smacks -- however remotely -- of cronyism.
Whitewash? There's a difference between not speaking ill of the dead and telling a very incomplete version of the truth. Such is the case with the sentimental obituary of a casino executive whose conduct at the helm of the Las Vegas Hilton was considered sufficiently deplorable that the Nevada Gaming Control Board voted unanimously to deny him a gaming license at the old Sands, in 1989. Sheldon Adelson was able to have that recommendation overturned by the Gaming Commission -- an instance of "juice" (as demonstrated here) so significant that it gets an entire chapter in the history of Nevada casino regulation (pp. 128-55).
(An interesting saga involving Max Schmelling also didn't make it into the obit even though it's a now-famous incident.)
Full disclosure: I was delegated to edit Henri Lewin's copy during the period he had his Casino Journal column. To put it in positive terms, it was an experience that was indescribably unique and unforgettable.