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How to recruit and retain casino talent in a tight labor market

Mar 13, 2022
By: Grant Eve

A record number of U.S. workers quit their jobs in 2021, according to the Department of Labor. There were 10.9 million open jobs on the last business day of December 2021 — with only 6.3 million jobseekers, based on the unemployment rate. That’s roughly 1.5 open jobs for every available worker.

Lower-wage sectors felt the brunt of the so-called Great Resignation, including tribal casinos. More than one-third of tribal casinos have experienced staff reductions during 2021, Wipfli’s 2021 Indian Gaming Cost of Doing Business Report found.

And yet, those casinos are getting by. Some are even thriving. Despite being severely understaffed compared to pre-pandemic levels, many gaming operators are preparing to post record-setting years.

How is that possible?

The pandemic forced tribal gaming organizations to rethink how they use their staff and to redesign job roles, processes and technology. Now, they need to find staffing practices that are both optimal and sustainable.

In an ultra-competitive labor market, staffing strategies need to be responsive and dynamic. Tribal casino operators need tools to recruit and retain high-performing employees and to respond to external economic factors. 

These staffing tools can help:

Competitive wages  

Competitive wages are just the starting point, a basic requirement in this job environment. If executed well, compensation strategy can boost recruitment and retention efforts.

Starting pay has to be competitive for the region and not just apples-to-apples to other hospitality or low-wage jobs. Wipfli research shows tribal casinos in the Northwest spend the highest percentage of their operating costs on wages compared to other regions (25%); while the Oklahoma region spends the least (18%).

Remember, every employer in the region is competing for jobs. Because casino workers need to be on-site more often than other occupations, casino staff may demand higher salaries.

Compensation strategies also have to address wage compression. When you bring new people into the organization at higher rates, the pay gap between new and tenured employees shrinks. That can upset long-standing and valuable employees, who can find new work elsewhere more easily than ever. Make sure pay rates are adjusted across the entire organization so staff who have shown allegiance are rewarded for staying.

Retention bonuses can also keep workers in their jobs longer. Use incentives to reward employees for months or years served, or to guarantee staffing levels during busy cycles or other crucial periods.

Flexible staffing models

Casinos have been short-staffed since the pandemic began. Shortfalls continue to be an issue, sometimes suddenly, due to illness or quarantine precautions. To fill the gaps, employees are wearing multiple hats at work. For example, an employee may clock in as a shift manager for table games but end their day as a cage manager.  

To execute flexible staffing, employees need to be cross-trained in multiple roles. Casinos can’t deliver positive guest experiences without positive employees, so teams need to be both strong and flexible.

Casino managers also need tools to ensure flexible staffing is fair, particularly around compensation. Different roles come with different pay rates and tip pools, and workers need to be paid appropriately.

Managing flexibility can become cumbersome, if not impossible, to do manually. Workforce management tools can help casinos move, manage and track their staff (and pay) accurately and efficiently.

Technology

Technology is critical to managing workflows with fewer employees. More casinos are investing in digital replacements for human labor, despite the upfront investment and implementation and learning curves. Think of digital check-ins, cage kiosks and automated jackpot kiosks.

Off the floor, technology can also eliminate slow, manual processes that keep the operation running. For example, accounting processes can be automated or moved to the cloud, giving tribal leaders more accurate, consistent and timely data with fewer man hours.

Casinos using technology to address their immediate labor needs are also positioning themselves for future growth. As the organization grows, digital processes are simpler and cheaper to scale than adding staff. And staff can be deployed to areas where they can make the greatest impact. 

Diversification

The pandemic wiped out traditional planning timelines. Long-term might mean 12 months now, or even shorter. But that doesn’t mean strategic plans have to be nearsighted.

Expansions and diversification can help casinos grow and support labor goals. Casinos with more diverse employment opportunities attract larger candidate pools, and the value proposition for potential employees is stronger because there’s more room for professional growth.

Diversification also applies to employee development and training. Well-rounded employees become more capable leaders. Create training programs that give tribal leaders diverse experiences on their path to executive leadership.

How do you know when staffing levels are right?

Because casinos have been doing more with less for so long, it might be hard to tell when the ship is right-sized. What’s the right number of staff on a given day or shift? Customers and employees will let you know.

The majority of gambling revenue comes from a limited number of guests. If top patrons are given the best-possible service, that’s a sign you’re on the right staffing track.

Employee turnover is another key metric. Watch turnover numbers closely, and dissect them by department, shift, manager — or other factors that may point toward issues. If you can, get feedback from employees before they exit. Bring in an independent consultant, if that will produce more honest results.

How Wipfli can help

Wipfli produces the only industry report that quantifies the financial performance of Indian gaming facilities. Tribal gaming operators can use this data to benchmark performance measures, like wages, against peers.

Wipfli can also help align HR functions with the casino’s strategic goals, supporting succession management, recruitment and selection processes so tribal casinos can fill key staffing gaps. To learn more, visit our web page for tribal casino services.

Author(s)

Grant Eve, CPA, CFE
Partner
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