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Best of Liz Benston
Liz Benston

Looking in on: Gaming

21 February 2007

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- You've just won a slot jackpot worth millions. Do you go for your 15 minutes of fame or anonymously slink off with your winnings? Is that even possible?

Two gamblers recently managed to do it, raising the question as to whether players are getting savvier to the drawbacks of being in the limelight.

Some players like the celebrity, others don't, and there's no trend one way or the other, said Ed Rogich, vice president of marketing at slot maker International Game Technology. The Reno company, which makes the majority of so-called progressive jackpot machines on the market, uses a soft-sell approach.

"We make an effort not to pressure these people to disclose their identity," Rogich said.

IGT won't use shy players' names or likenesses. And yet, verifying jackpots can take hours and involve reviewing surveillance tapes and verifying player identities - plenty of time for bystanders to flip out camera phones and ask questions.

"The chances of you staying anonymous are very unlikely," Rogich said. "By the time (winners) get home, they've gotten 20 phone calls. You might as well enjoy it."

A furniture show attendee who won a jackpot last year opted for a press conference and a handshake from Steve Wynn. Others have ended up on national television.

Most take the middle road, telling a tantalizing story without revealing their names. Thus, a "former interior designer" hit a $12 million Megabucks jackpot this month on her way to see a magic act at the Orleans.

No word on whether her retirement came before or after winning the jackpot.

• • •

When Station Casinos recently received its third consecutive recognition from Fortune magazine as one of the top 100 companies to work for nationwide, some competitors may have dismissed it as fluff for HR publications and employee newsletters. But after three years as the only casino company and the only Las Vegas company to ever make the list, Station is seeing an unexpected upside to several programs intended to benefit existing employees.

Many job candidates - from management down to hourly employees - have been inspired to apply based on the company's No. 18 Fortune ranking, which noted benefits including a citizenship program for foreign-born workers and a payroll-deduction program that has allowed more than 1,000 employees to buy home computers, said Valerie Murzl, Station Casinos vice president of human resources. As part of the review process, employees are surveyed about workplace culture, including such amorphous qualities as camaraderie, respect and fairness.

"It's the No. 1 response from applicants when we ask them why they want to work here," she said. "They want to try it out and see if it's for real."

Murzl has become a hot commodity on the convention circuit and trades e-mails with technology, banking and even manufacturing companies looking for ideas. The company also is sharing success stories with Fortune honorees in other industries.

"I've been invited to speak at a national conference in April but I've had to rethink my speech. There probably won't be any casino companies there," Murzl said.

• • •

Nevada tourism officials have griped for years about the length of time it can take for foreigners to obtain travel visas. That's especially a concern in China, where the U.S. government has only one embassy and four consulate offices for more than a billion people, and where overworked visa officers often conduct 100 interviews for visas each day.

That process has actually improved significantly in the last two years, with the State Department increasing its visa processing staff by 25 percent, allowing Chinese to renew visas by mail and bundling visa applications for tour groups and conventions. A process that used to take months now takes less than three weeks.

But that may not even be the biggest hurdle for Chinese travelers. There's a long-standing misconception that the U.S. government - concerned about national security and illegal immigration - restricts Chinese from taking pleasure trips. In fact, because of language and cultural barriers, many Chinese travel with tour groups and have little trouble getting visas.

The Travel Industry Association, which lobbies on behalf of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority and travel-related businesses nationwide, says that's false but notes that the U.S. could do more to speed up the visa process and give travelers a warmer welcome when they arrive. The association is pressing for mobile visa centers, interviews by teleconference and - taking a cue from resort receptionists - a more efficient and friendly customs staff for arrivals.