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Chris Jones

Horseshoe Workers Meet with Harrah's Officials

26 March 2004

LAS VEGAS -- Following an orientation session and makeshift parade down Fremont Street, hundreds of former Horseshoe workers both literally and figuratively moved closer to their old jobs Thursday after they met with officials from Harrah's Entertainment Corp.

The Las Vegas-based gaming operator has agreed to manage the now-shuttered Horseshoe for at least one year on behalf of the hotel-casino's new owner, MTR Gaming Group of Chester, W.Va.

Harrah's management plans to reopen the downtown landmark Thursday. In preparation for that new beginning, company officials and other local leaders met with approximately 850 workers who will soon be drawing paychecks again at the Horseshoe.

Following a morning training session at the hotel-casino, workers were grouped in a made-for-media throng and marched past curious onlookers to a luncheon at the former Race Rock restaurant site near Neonopolis. Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman and city Councilman Lawrence Weekly headed the procession from failed downtown business to failed downtown business, while many following behind said they were thrilled to know they'd soon be back at work.

Helen Gandini, who described her looming labors as "a very new job" despite spending the past 35 1/2 years as a cocktail waitress at the Horseshoe, said she's very grateful the property will get new life thanks to Harrah's and MTR. She said Thursday's events felt like a homecoming for many longtime workers.

"The Horseshoe is our home," Gandini said. "We wanted to walk out on our own terms" rather than as the result of a forced shutdown.

She added: "We're going to get the people down here who used to come down here all the time because we took care of them. ... Our customers are like our family."

Glenda James, who has spent 26 years at the Horseshoe, said she, too, is looking forward to returning to her old housekeeping duties at the hotel-casino.

"With new ownership, it's going to be a little different, but I hope it will be better," James said.

Wade Faul, a Harrah's executive who will serve as vice president of operations at the Horseshoe, is confident James' wish will come true. He said Thursday's events were designed to familiarize ex-Binion's employees with both Harrah's bosses and its corporate culture.

"We have a way of doing business and a philosophy of taking care of customers, and that's what we're letting our employees know," Faul said. "They'll play a big part in bringing (the Horseshoe) back."

When former owner Becky Binion Behnen's myriad financial troubles forced U.S. marshals to close the Horseshoe on Jan. 9, the property had approximately 950 full- and part-time workers. Faul said Thursday a same-size staff will be on hand to reopen the hotel-casino, about 90 percent of which recently worked under Behnen.

Faul said it "felt great" to see so many former workers return downtown. He said Harrah's began rehiring a few workers in early February, primarily engineers and others tasked with improving the 52-year-old hotel-casino. About 100 to 125 are now on the payroll, though that number will quickly spike in time for next Thursday's planned opening.

Roger Szepelak, an MTR executive, said his company and Harrah's have combined to spend about $1 million on renovations at the Horseshoe so far. That figure is not nearly as important, he said, as putting so many locals back to work.

"The physical facility is going to be brought up to a more-competitive level because we believe in downtown," Szepelak said. "But I think 60 percent of these workers had been with Binion's for more than 15 years so they still remember what the Binion's Horseshoe used to mean and what a great place it was to work. With those memories, they understand where we want to go (toward) recreating that."