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LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- For more than three decades, Steve Wynn has had a reputation as an inspiring casino boss who publicly praises his employees and assures them that a single job well done can "change the course of the whole enterprise."
He is known for paying his employees well and negotiating amicably with unions. And he creates luxurious resorts where workers aspire to find employment.
And yet as he prepares to staff his new Encore, Wynn's reputation, at least among casino dealers, is still suffering nearly two years after he instituted a policy at Wynn Las Vegas that requires dealers share their tips with supervisors.
That controversial policy — which is being challenged in court and is the subject of a pending complaint with the state labor commissioner — touched off a union organizing campaign along the Strip among dealers who feared the spread of similar policies. Dealers at Wynn Las Vegas and Caesars Palace voted for the union, but dealers at the Rio voted down the Transport Workers Union last month.
Some dealers said the dispute has tarnished Wynn's image among tipped workers, many of whom will be reluctant to give up stable jobs to apply at Encore, a $2.3 billion resort that is to open next to Wynn Las Vegas by the end of the year.
Wynn said Encore will have a tip-sharing policy similar to its sister property and that workers will be satisfied knowing that upfront.
But dealers said the policy will keep away some potential Encore employees.
"I can't see any experienced dealer working in a decent casino giving up what they have to go over to Encore," said Al Maurice, a dealer at Mirage who assisted the union campaign at Wynn Las Vegas. "I believe he will have to settle for a lot of inexperienced help straight out of dealers school or from minor casinos."
"His reputation is mud right now," added a Rio dealer who requested anonymity. "But if you're only making $80 a day at a downtown property and you can make at least $150 a day at Encore, you're going to take that job."
Wynn dismissed such criticism, saying dealers have "calmed down" since the union vote.
"We've never had a better culture," he said. "The attitude of our staff is absolutely delicious."
Wynn also said dealers behaved like "angels" by not letting the tip dispute affect their job performance.
"It caused a problem and I apologize. But we've told them we're going to stick to our program."
Wynn said the policy has improved customer service by giving supervisors more incentive to engage with customers and has increased the job pool for supervisory positions.
Critics say the policy has unlawfully enriched supervisors, saving the company on salaries by giving managers some of the money traditionally earned by dealers.
About 32 percent of Encore's workforce will be transfers from Wynn Las Vegas who will help train newcomers in the company's culture and business practices. Recruiters with clipboards roam employee areas at Wynn Las Vegas, encouraging workers to ask about jobs at Encore. Posters rally workers to seek their "dream" job next door.
Wynn dealers, however, are barred from taking jobs at Encore. The company says offering jobs for Wynn dealers next door while the union is negotiating a contract for dealers could be considered an inducement to leave the property and therefore a violation of federal labor law. The union disagrees.
Despite all this, and, as expected in this depressed job market, Wynn Resorts has been deluged with job applications.
Encore had received 24,000 by the third day of hiring, which began last month on the Web site wynnjobs.com. Nearly 60 percent of those applications, Wynn said, came during the first 30 hours. Encore will have about 5,300 employees.
Wynn said many of the applicants will likely be out-of-towners or unemployed because people with jobs are afraid to risk accepting a new job with a probationary period.
His critics say that's a departure from the opening of Wynn Las Vegas, for which dealer supervisors left top jobs at other properties with the expectation they would be the highest-paid dealers on the Strip.
To lure applicants to Encore, Wynn Resorts has run local radio ads in which Wynn refers to his employees as company "treasures" and hired skywriters to publicize the company's employment Web site over Southern California.
During a conference call with investors last month, Wynn said his primary concern isn't the economic downturn that has so many other casino executives sweating, but rather the important task of finding the best applicants for Encore.
"This period we're in is really key. ... This is one of the great creative moments," he said, referring to the hiring process. "If we can get happy souls that really like each other ... we will prevail in the future in any economic environment."
Copyright © Las Vegas Sun. Inc. Republished with permission.