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Arnold M. Knightly

Culinary official chides Nevada regulators

10 August 2007

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- An apparent lack of concern by Nevada gaming regulators regarding staff cuts at the Tropicana has the Culinary union seeing red.

However, gaming officials say they are monitoring the property with a watchful eye.

"I'm not sure our gaming officials have been extremely concerned about anything," Culinary Secretary-Treasurer D. Taylor said. "They seem to be either asleep at the wheel or afraid to speak out on conditions at a casino that clearly has raised concerns of New Jersey gaming officials and Indiana gaming officials. I think their silence and lack of concern is very telling."

The comments come as Culinary Workers Local 226 and Bartenders Local 165 prepare to negotiate a new contract for the 700 Tropicana workers represented by the union. Talks are to start Aug. 29.

A few months ago the number would have been closer to 1,000.

Fort Mitchell, Ky.-based Columbia Sussex Corp. acquired the Tropicana in January as part of the $2.1 billion buyout of Aztar Corp.

Taylor said union members aren't the only ones losing their jobs. The total number of people outside the union that have lost their jobs since January is unknown but substantial, he said.

Anna Sotelo, a waitress for 20 years, said customer service and cleanliness at the property has slipped because there are fewer people doing more tasks.

The Tropicana had close to 2,300 employees when Columbia Sussex bought the property.

Dennis Neilander, chairman of the state Gaming Control Board, disputed Taylor's comments, questioning how union officials would even know what gaming officials are doing.

He said the gaming regulators are "monitoring" the Tropicana situation closely, but would not elaborate on any specifics.

Asked if the Tropicana was being "monitored" more closely than other properties, Neilander responded "Yes."

Other properties in the Aztar deal, the Tropicana in Atlantic City and Casino Aztar in Evansville, Ind., have also experienced job cuts.

With Atlantic City Tropicana's operating license scheduled to expire Nov. 30, a local union is contemplating a challenge because of the 700 jobs that have been lost.

The New Jersey Casino Control Commission has to vote on a new license. Columbia Sussex is now operating with temporary approvals.

In Indiana, the state Gaming Commission is investigating the company's plans to lay off 70 workers.

The company originally cut 20 employees whose jobs duplicated that of other corporate employees. Additional jobs were cut in June.

Indiana officials' concerns have gone beyond just job cuts.

Casino Aztar agreed to pay a $125,100 fine in June for 14 violations of state gaming regulations.

The violations include leaving the counting room door unlocked, sloppy money-counting practices and employees taking keys to secure areas home.

Taylor said Nevada officials don't seemed concerned about worsening customer service, public safety and cleanliness issues that have arisen in the past few months at the 50-year-old property.

"It is a privileged license but our gaming officials have not viewed it as such," Taylor said.

But Neilander said Nevada doesn't have a law that prevents gaming properties from cutting staff. Concerns would arise only after the cuts affect procedures controlled by regulators.

Columbia Sussex spokesman Hud Englehart said the company would not publicly comment on union negotiations.

"We will not negotiate in the press," Englehart said