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Benjamin Spillman

Wynn tip rules draw another protest

2 January 2007

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- For 35 years, the name Steve Wynn has been synonymous with bold deals, luxury and Las Vegas.

On Friday it was the subject of protest signs, cheapskate allegations and obscenities shouted by passers-by.

About 30 people carried signs denouncing the casino developer on the sidewalk in front of Wynn Las Vegas. They called on Wynn to reverse changes to the way his company divides tips for casino dealers.

The protest was the second of its kind since Sept. 1, when Wynn Resorts Ltd. changed the tip-sharing formula to shift some of the tokes from dealers to supervisors who were earning less than their subordinates in some cases.

A judge on Dec. 6 threw out a lawsuit by two dealers seeking to reverse the change, and gaming regulators have declined to step into the matter.

Protesters said the demonstration Friday was an attempt to tell the public about their concern that the new policy could catch on with other businesses that employ tipped workers.

"We were going to go in there but we just turned around and came back out," said Gary McGeorge of Wasilla, Alaska.

McGeorge, a retired firefighter, and his wife, Sandy, a retired public assistance caseworker, were visiting Las Vegas on vacation. They decided to join the protest instead of entering the casino.

"Our little bit of money we spend isn't going to affect what happens here," Gary McGeorge said.

Sandy McGeorge added: "But walking here with this sign might."

There were no Wynn dealers at the protest. Dealers at the casino and protest organizers said Wynn workers were threatened with their jobs if they participate in demonstrations.

A Wynn spokeswoman said the threat allegation is untrue.

"Nobody has been threatened," said Denise Randazzo of Wynn Resorts.

She had nothing further to say on the protest.

Wynn executives have defended the change as a way to close the pay gap between tipped employees and their supervisors who earn less money. But that argument didn't wash with the demonstrators on Las Vegas Boulevard.

Al Maurice, a dealer at The Mirage, suggested that Wynn, the chairman of Wynn Resorts, close the pay gap with a portion of the salary of Wynn Las Vegas President Andrew Pascal.

"Why don't they take a little of his money and give it to the management that needs a raise?" Maurice said.

The protest started at 2 p.m. Friday on the sidewalk in front of Wynn Las Vegas. Protesters carried signs, many of them referencing Wynn by name, and handed out fliers.

Some drivers on Las Vegas Boulevard honked at the group and a few shouted epithets directed at Wynn, whose decision to build The Mirage in 1989 is credited with sparking a building boom that launched a decade of megaresort development. The $2.7 billion Wynn Las Vegas opened in 2005 and is considered by many to be the most luxurious property on the Strip.

"His casino is nice, but I wouldn't go in there and gamble a dime with this going on," said Kirk Grant of Dallas.

He and M.T. Hickman, also of Dallas, were in Las Vegas on vacation when they saw the protest.

"It is terrible," Hickman said.

Former dealers Jack Lipsman and Tony Badillo, who operate an organization called the International Union of Gaming Employees, organized the demonstration.

Despite the name, the organization doesn't operate as a union. It has no members or contracts. It does, however, provide information and support for dealers and others in Nevada's biggest industry.

They provided signs and name tags for the demonstrators, and Lipsman used a bullhorn to call out to people on the sidewalk.

Inside the casino, the Friday afternoon crowd was oblivious to the demonstration outside. But workers could be overheard talking about the protest during a shift change.

One dealer said the new tip-sharing policy is affecting workers, at least until they get to the casino floor.

"Upstairs it isn't, downstairs it is," she said, describing lower morale among workers when they leave the floor for the break room.