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Atlantic City Round Up

4 June 2002

by Joe Weinert

ATLANTIC CITY -- Although casino-hotel room attendants, waiters and bartenders in Atlantic City are comfortably in the middle of a five-year employment contract, they are keeping a close eye on the labor negotiations in Las Vegas.

"Our members see what happens in Las Vegas as a precursor to what will happen in our negotiations. If the Las Vegas operators take a hard line with health and welfare (benefits) there, we would expect that here in 2004," said Bob McDevitt, head of Atlantic City's largest labor union.

McDevitt is president of Local 54, which like the Culinary Union in Las Vegas are units of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union. Local 54 members struck 10 casinos for three days in 1999 after failing to reach a labor contract.

One Local 54 officer, Secretary-Treasurer Jabiel Santiago, got a first-hand look at the ongoing situation in Las Vegas. While there on other union visit, he attended a meeting between officials with the Culinary and Mandalay Resort Group.

"I figured while I was there I might as well pick up some pointers from the big man himself," Santiago said, referring to John Wilhelm, president of the national union.

Santiago said he was surprised to see more than 150 people in attendance, which included representatives from all of Mandalay's Strip casinos.

"It was kind of funny. They (Mandalay management) had these two huge-screen projectors and had this big presentation. I thought they were going to sell us some type of telephone long distance, the way they costed out the past five years with the health and welfare fund," Santiago said.

*****

New Jersey's governor, senior senator and most influential U.S. representative are working together to delay the introduction of Indian casinos in neighboring New York. Sen. Robert Torricelli and Rep. Frank LoBiondo, whose district includes Atlantic City, in April wrote Interior Secretary Gale Norton, asking her to investigate alleged favoritism at the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Late last month, Gov. James McGreevey asked U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft for a moratorium on all BIA gaming-related approvals until the investigation is complete.

The three politicians were reacting to reports that a former colleague of Wayne Smith, the No. 2 official at BIA, was selling his influence to California tribes seeking federal recognition. Smith was fired two weeks ago.

"Frankly, at the end day we donĂ­t want New Jersey being in a less competitive position," McGreevey spokesman Paul Aronsohn said.

Joseph Kelly, a Buffalo State College law professor and co-editor of the Gaming Law Review, scoffed at McGreevey's request to Ashcroft.

"I'm very, very puzzled because New Jersey does not have any federally recognized tribes," he said.

*****

Executives with Park Place Entertainment said they were pleased with attendance at Friday's Evander Holyfield- Hasim Rahman fight, which marked the return of big-time boxing to Atlantic City.

More than 9,800 spectators took seats in the renovated Boardwalk Hall, which was out of commission for two years. Even before that, major boxing promoters had fled the city or were prevented from doing business with casinos pending regulatory concerns.

Park Place sponsored the bout, enabling it to give about 2,000 prime seats to its best customers, mostly from the Bally's, Caesars, Claridge and Hilton casino hotels in Atlantic City.

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