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Best of Liz Benston

Gaming Guru

Liz Benston

Looking In On: Gaming

2 October 2006

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- The dealers over at Wynn Las Vegas who are none too happy about supervisors taking a share of their tips also are ticked that they can't count their own tip money.

At most casinos, dealers appointed by a toke committee count the tips each day. That money is reported to the payroll department, which splits the money among dealers. When Wynn started giving floor supervisors, reclassified as "team leaders," a 40 percent share of the daily tips, he removed the counting duties from dealers and gave it to casino employees who typically count the house's money. Casino security, rather than the dealers themselves, collect the tips and take them to a count room.

In addition to counting tips, toke committees make decisions about such things as tips that go to pay dealers who are out sick or on vacation.

Dealers who have sued their employers over forced tip pooling agreements in years past have asserted that toke committees should have authority over how tips are distributed. Nevada courts have said that toke committees, which aren't labor organizations, are allowed at management's discretion and that their decisions aren't binding.

Wynn executives say they eliminated the toke committee, whose members are paid by dealers for their services, to save the dealers some money. Dealers say that decision was foisted upon them without their approval.

The Gaming Control Board doesn't get involved in tip pooling decisions or other agreements believed to be private contracts between employers and workers, nor do regulators monitor toke committees or require casinos to have them.

Dealers are sensitive to past incidents at other casinos where unscrupulous coworkers have skimmed tips in the count room, and they say they are now bothered, too, that tokes are being counted without dealers in the room to watch over the process.

• • •

The Flamingo, one of the grande dames of the Strip, can now boast indisputably that it has the largest image in town of a woman plastered on its side. A 45,000 square foot ad for headliner Toni Braxton - and the logo of soft drink maker Pepsi - is hanging on the front of the tower facing Las Vegas Boulevard.

Braxton's image isn't blinding hotel guests because the ad is made of synthetic material similar to those used to wrap buses - opaque on the outside, sheer from the inside.

"It's the world's largest billboard," Flamingo President Don Marrandino said, and maybe it is.

Taking the entertainment marketing theme even further, guests staying at the Flamingo receive a music CD along with their hotel room card that includes a collection of songs from rockers such as Jack Blades, Tommy Shaw and Nils Lofgren.

Securing the rights to include Braxton on the CD would have been too expensive.

The three artists, friends of Marrandino, donated the songs, though the Flamingo hopes to attract new artists who want to promote their songs to hotel customers

• • •

Three things are certain in life: death, taxes and shareholder lawsuits.

Four days after Aztar Corp. announced a deal for Pinnacle Entertainment to purchase the company and its prized Tropicana hotel for about $2.1 billion, shareholders began filing lawsuits against Aztar, alleging that the purchase price was too low and that the company failed to initiate an auction yielding a higher value.

Before all five suits had been filed, a bidding war between Pinnacle and three other companies was afoot, resulting in the victorious offer from Columbia Sussex of $2.8 billion - a price believed too rich by industry standards - in May. Two Delaware suits, two Arizona suits and one Nevada claim were consolidated this month into a single class-action suit in Arizona. To make it go away, Aztar has agreed to pay $500,000 in attorneys' fees.

The settlement can't come soon enough for both Aztar and Columbia Sussex, which faces an incremental increase in its purchase price for Aztar if the deal doesn't close by Nov. 19, two days before an Arizona judge is scheduled to approve the settlement.

Executives hardly blink an eye at lawsuits filed in the aftermath of big deals, which are tough to win even with more favorable evidence. Even so, the too-quick response to the first Pinnacle offer, which led to the most heated bidding in casino history, is unusual enough to raise criticism over the spread of law firms that have made a business of readying boiler-plate lawsuits in the hope of rounding up disgruntled stockholders.