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The numbers, experiences behind Rivers Casino employees


The numbers, experiences behind Rivers Casino employees

70 workers have quit or been fired so far
The numbers, experiences behind Rivers Casino employees
Rivers Casino & Resort in Schenectady.
Photographer: MARC SCHULTZ

A few dozen employees already have come and gone in Rivers Casino & Resort’s opening months. Of roughly 900 employees donning the operation’s bronze or blue uniforms, about half are city residents.

A business built largely on the allure of boosting the area economy has provided job opportunities for close to 1,000 Capital Region residents. The casino has experienced some turnover, with about 70 employees quitting or getting fired since its Feb. 8 opening, and about 20 others having their applications denied by the state before being able to put on a uniform.

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Officials acknowledge there is a learning curve that comes with opening a new property, but said the turnover rate has been better than expected, and well below the industry standard.

Where employees come from

A main selling point for advocates of bringing the casino to Schenectady was that it would be an economic engine for the area. Neighborhood leaders suggested as opening day approached that, regardless of past skepticism, they were hopeful the facility could at least create jobs for locals and provide a new revenue source.

To get hired at the casino, an applicant has to first go through a panel interview with human resources representatives and a senior executive from Rivers. Interviewers are looking to see if the applicant has the credentials and personality to fit with the Rush Street Gaming culture and interact with customers, said Danny Brockdorf, vice president of marketing for Rivers Casino & Resort.

If they’re hired, they must then submit an application to the New York State Gaming Commission, which licenses all employees at casinos, race tracks and other gaming facilities statewide.

As of April 3, the gaming commission had received 1,211 applications from Rivers Casino. That includes people who were hired, fired, quit, had their applications denied or whose applications were still being processed.

Schenectady residents accounted for 425 of those applications, the most of any municipality by a significant margin, according to numbers provided by the Gaming Commission.

Other urban centers, like Albany, Amsterdam and Troy, had the next highest output, with 101, 46 and 42 applicants, respectively. After that, the nearby towns of Niskayuna and Glenville had a few dozen applicants each, according to the Gaming Commission.

The Gaming Commission received license applications from residents living in the outer reaches of the Capital Region as well. Potential employees from as far away as Bolton Landing, Fort Plain and Queensbury sought licenses to work at Rivers Casino.

But not everyone manages to stick around.

Turnover so far

The facility employs just north of 900 people, and has seen a turnover rate of about 7 percent or 8 percent, meaning roughly 60 to 75 employees have quit or been fired, Brockdorf said.

The industry standard for employee turnover, Brockdorf said, is typically 30 percent annually, and he’s encouraged that Rivers’ rate is so low in its opening weeks. Since it had to hire hundreds of staff members prior to opening, Brockdorf said prospective employees couldn’t get a “realistic preview” of what a typical shift might be like.

Now that the casino is up and running, executives are able to bring candidates onto the property to provide a better sense of what they’ll be dealing with on a given shift, Brockdorf said.

“There’s oftentimes a disconnect between what people hear, and what they see,” he said. “The job preview gives them an opportunity to see what it is versus what they’ve heard.”

For some employees, the reality of the job proved to be far different from their expectations. One former employee, who lives in Rotterdam but asked not to be named, worked as a dealer for a few weeks before quitting.

“I was thinking something on the other side of the table might be fun. Everybody thought this was going to be the perfect fit for me, and it didn’t pan out that way,” she said.

The woman said a lack of staffing when the casino first opened meant new dealers were being put on games they weren’t necessarily ready to deal. In addition, she said clients could be hostile and impatient, in some cases throwing cards or chips or insulting her personally.

“That’s a main reason why I left is because the clients could just be so horrible. After 5 or 6 at night, that place turns into a totally different world.

“You’re going to make mistakes. It’s human,” the former employee said, explaining that many customers didn’t seem to understand that the dealers across the table had in most cases just been trained weeks before.

Brockdorf said each department of the casino has its own specific training on how to de-escalate tense situations, like when a customer is angry or possibly intoxicated.

For example, security is trained in a technique called verbal judo, which involves using a certain tone of conversation to de-escalate conflict. In other situations, a team member can call a supervisor to handle it, Brockdorf said.

“We do train people, but there’s a point at which you have to kind of apply those tactics on the floor when interacting with customers,” he said.

Still ramping up

Initial complaints out of Rivers Casino generally focused on a perceived lack of staffing, which resulted in long waits at certain table games or dining areas.

The casino has already made adjustments in its first two months to try and remedy some of those issues, which management attributes more to the nature of opening a new business.

The facility is still in the process of ramping up employment, with another crop of employees going through a months-long dealer school and several applicants awaiting approval from the gaming commission. Another 50 people are expected to be hired when the adjacent hotel opens up this summer.

“I don’t think there’s been any service issues caused by turnover,” Brockdorf said. “We’re just opening up, so any service challenges come from us learning about the property and the operation. It’s more reaction to the business, and less challenges in the staffing world.”

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