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Gaming Guru

Rod Smith

Park Place Losing in Diet Competition

7 November 2003

LAS VEGAS --America is getting fatter and fatter, but 7,000 Park Place Entertainment Corp. executives and employees have been bucking the trend with some corporate trimming: 43,000 pounds lost in a dieting competition.

That's 20 tons, the same, in a sense, as shedding 20 automobiles, 6,000 personal computers -- or 200 executives.

For Lyndia Brown, a front desk clerk at the Las Vegas Hilton, the contest was all about appearances.

"I looked bad. I was overweight, sluggish and I didn't have any energy," she said.

Then she helped set up a five-woman team, the Call J Girls, and lost 21 pounds. Her team lost 3 percent of its weight collectively, not enough to win the contest, but enough to feel good about themselves.

"Our team was not one of the winners, but I still won," Brown said. "I lost weight and got a lot of self-esteem. I love myself and I look in the mirror now."

For Park Place, however, the companywide competition was also about ballooning insurance and health care costs, employee motivation and morale, and productivity as well as how employees feel about themselves, said Benefits Vice President Gary Earl.

Just in terms of health care costs, one employee's breathing condition cost $100,000 a year and the company was spending $13,500 a year on medications for each diabetic.

Since the nationwide competition ended in September, the worker with breathing distress and 12 diabetic employees have all gone off their medication.

Paul Henderson, president of Caesars Atlantic who originated the contest idea, said employee response has been remarkable.

"I've been doing this (casino management) for 33 years, and the only time I got any notoriety was for being fat," he said.

The competition started on a trial basis in Atlantic City with Henderson's staff forming 140 teams that collectively lost about 7,000 pounds.

"The other thing it did was raise camaraderie among employees and management. It brought everybody together because we all had a common denominator," he said.

Park Place took the program nationwide last summer with employees forming teams for a 90-day dieting-for-dollars competition with the crew losing the largest percentage of the team's weight being named the winners.

The teams, including Brown's, invented their own names: The Flab-U-Less 5, The Fat and the Furious, X-Weighted, No Guts and Trim Reapers.

Ultimately, more than 1,400 teams of five people each joined the 90-day contest. The big losers, or big winners depending on how you look at it, were the Dice Hogs from Bally's Atlantic City who won the $2,500 first prize. They lost a collective 249 pounds, finishing 22 percent lighter than when they began.

It may sound like silly management, but the "Get Fit Challenge" has paid big dividends on morale, motivation and productivity, Earl said.

"We also expect to see a positive impact financially overall in the long run," he said, adding that it was difficult to measure the impact so far.

Park Place found the program such a winner it has just launched a new miniprogram, Health for the Holidays, and plans a second season for the main event starting next spring.

Of the other gaming companies surveyed by the Review-Journal, only MGM Mirage has a similar program.

"We have a tremendously successful wellness program under way at Golden Nugget Laughlin, where 350 of the resort's employees have lost more than a ton of weight -- a total 4,200 pounds -- through an incentive program sponsored by the resort," company spokeswoman Yvette Monet said.

The program was launched two years ago. MGM Mirage pays the full price of on-site Weight Watchers meetings for employees, and subsidizes memberships to Bullhead Health Club in Bullhead City, Ariz.

Now under way is a second challenge, "King and Queen of the Hill," a 12-week competition ending Nov. 23.