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Rod Smith

Former Castaways, Horseshoe Staff : Once Gone, But Now Taken On

2 March 2004

Thanks to pent-up demand for workers in the gaming industry, major casino companies are snatching up former Binion's Horseshoe and Castaways workers, even as the proposed sales and reopening of the properties are progressing.

"Once again, the demand for workers illustrates the alchemy of Las Vegas' success for workers -- there are never enough. Anytime there's growth, there aren't enough workers," University of Nevada, Las Vegas professor Hal Rothman said Monday.

"It's good for workers because it drives wages up, even though it's not always such good news for investors trying to reconstitute and reopen properties," he said.

Nevada Partners Chief Executive Officer Steven Horsford said the interest major gaming companies have in hiring laid-off workers illustrates the need for experienced employees and the existing labor shortages.

"There is definitely strong demand for qualified workers. The cycle is strong compared with anytime in the last three years," Horsford said.

"Typically, there's a downturn in March and April after the Super Bowl and Chinese New Year, but with occupancy rates and the uptick in business, every employer we meet says they need more qualified workers," he said.

Eighteen area employers, mostly from the gaming industry but also from the hospitality, retail and business services sectors, showed up last week at a Nevada Partners job fair to meet and interview former Binion's and Castaways employees.

Representatives of the governor's rapid response team, JobConnect, the Culinary union and Nevada Partners helped workers apply for unemployment insurance, enroll in job retraining and support services programs and connect one-on-one with employers looking to hire qualified, skilled workers.

Horsford said all major hotel-casino operators, including MGM Mirage, Mandalay Resort Group, Caesars Entertainment and Harrah's Entertainment, sent teams to the job fair.

More than 200 former Binion's Horseshoe and Castaways workers attended the last week's job fair, which was tailored for workers from the two closed hotel-casinos.

More than 520 former Binion's Horseshoe workers, out of 940 employees when the landmark hotel-casino closed Jan. 9, and more than 260 former Castaways workers, out of 750 workers when it closed Jan. 29, had already taken advantage of Nevada Partners' job training and placement programs.

One former Horseshoe worker, Donna Espinoza, said she managed to apply for five jobs during the job fair, and was very hopeful that her job prospects were looking up.

Two other former Horseshoe workers who asked not to be named said they lined up job opportunities they previously had had no idea existed.

The number of workers who have landed new, permanent positions will not be reported until the end of the next quarter, but Culinary Local 226 spokesman Jim Bonaventure said both union and nonunion members will face tough choices when the hotel-casinos reopen.

"They'll have to make a decision when the Horseshoe (and Castaways) reopen about going back. I'd think they should because most of them had so much seniority," Bonaventure said.

"If I had 10 to 15 years (experience), I'd rather go back for the vacation time rather than going somewhere else (and starting all over again)," he said.

However, University of Nevada, Las Vegas professor and casino industry expert Bill Thompson said workers have been wise to look for job alternatives, given the layoffs that have taken place at off-Strip properties.

"Any worker at Horseshoe or Castaways who gives up an opportunity to get another job that is stable should not have our sympathy -- they should go for it," he said.

Randy Miller, who with Rich Gonzales and Rich Iannone, owners of the Longhorn casino on Boulder Highway and the Bighorn casino in North Las Vegas, has an exclusive option through March 15 to buy the Castaways, said he is pleased that former workers are finding jobs.

"That's great to hear. I hate to see anybody out of work," he said. "There's some work that needs to be done in (the Castaways) and it won't reopen overnight. We're probably talking six to eight months. So it makes me feel good to hear people are finding jobs."

Miller also said he and his partners are exploring the idea of retheming the Castaways as a Hispanic hotel-casino, a more challenging redevelopment that could add time to the reopening.

Chester, W.Va.-based MTR Gaming Group, which is buying the Horseshoe and owns the Speedway Casino at the Ramada Inn in North Las Vegas, could not be reached for comment.