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Best of Howard Stutz

Gaming Guru

Howard Stutz

Casinos' diversity efforts improving, panelists say

13 October 2006

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- If there was a diversity-related figure that jumped out at the audience attending Thursday morning's joint breakfast meeting for members of the Latin, Urban and Asian chambers of commerce, it came from the session's last-minute substitute speaker.

MGM Grand President Gamal Aziz, pinch-hitting for an absent MGM Mirage Chairman Terry Lanni, said the company's diversity program has expanded its influence in the past five years from just making sure that minority-owned businesses are given an opportunity to bid on construction and development projects to actual percentage gains.

Aziz, who oversees the 5,000-room Strip resort, site of the meeting, said the company's $7 billion Project CityCenter has become an example for diversity programs in the gaming industry. Of the construction contracts awarded for CityCenter, which will include a 4,000-room hotel-casino, two smaller hotels, retail and residential high-rise, between 17 percent and 20 percent of the bids went to minority-owned businesses.

He said the percentages of minority suppliers serving MGM Mirage casinos as a whole are now close to 33 percent.

"There is a definite commitment and there is not a single person or leader in this company that does not understand the importance of including minority involvement in our business," Aziz said.

The early morning program, jointly promoted by the three business chambers, was billed as offering the comments of four gaming industry chief executives on diversity in the casino business. Lanni, however, was forced to cancel about 45 minutes before the event, and Fitzgeralds Chairman Don Barden also was absent.

However, Harrah's Entertainment Chairman Gary Loveman and Boyd Gaming Corp. Chairman Bill Boyd joined Aziz in giving the audience their views on corporate diversity.

"I've spoken at these events before, saying that we (in the gaming industry) could do better," Loveman said. "We're now beginning to see substantial progress from our efforts."

Loveman said diversity initiatives go beyond Affirmative Action programs, which helped bring potential employees through the door. Today, corporate diversity opportunities allow employees to grow within a company and brings a range of business suppliers to the table, he said.

Boyd credited his father, Sam Boyd, as one of the city's first casino operators to break the color line, hiring blacks to work at the old Mint hotel in downtown, "something unheard of in the late 1950s and early 1960s."

Boyd said his father also was the first operator to hire women dealers at Union Plaza.

Today's diversity programs, he said, are more involved.

"Fostering and supporting diversity is more than just the right thing to do," Boyd said. "A diverse organization benefits our business in many ways, from employees' satisfaction all the way down to the bottom line. We believe it is good business sense that yields greater productivity and competitive advantages."

All three speakers said the massive construction boom along the Strip and throughout Las Vegas offer opportunities to minority-owned businesses.

Boyd said the company will offer financial incentives to help spur interest by minority owned contracting firms to bid on aspects of the company's planned $4 billion Echelon project, which will be built on the site of the Stardust.

He said Boyd Gaming Corp. would fund all worker's compensation and general liability insurance for all contractors, large and small, who work on Echelon.

"All too often, small and new business contracting firms, often including minority and women-owned contractor businesses, are forced into a disadvantaged bid situation because their insurance factor may be much higher than the larger, more established construction contractors," Boyd said. "There's no doubt that we greatly level the playing field for smaller contractors with this commitment."

Latin Chamber of Commerce Chairman Robert Gomez said he thought having representatives from the state's largest industry demonstrated to all businesses the importance of corporate diversity initiatives.

"Real diversity must be inclusive," Gomez said. "If you don't strengthen your minority community, you don't strengthen your entire community as a whole, and that's reality."