Corporate Cultures


by Ray Knight and Rob Sanders

In most casinos, table games dealers and floor supervisors rule. They are the elite, the chosen. They are the stars of the show -- ask them; they'll tell you so. Management usually agrees with them. Yet they represent the single most obvious manifestation of cultural dysfunction in the gaming world. 

In a recent issue of Casino Executive, Editor Adam Platt noted, "The sad truth is that no matter how appealing a table game is, in most North American casinos, players will shun them because they do not want to come into contact with the dealer/floor supervisor." He went on to describe the intimidating influence of the floor supervisors -- "lines of hulking, middle-aged men in shiny double-breasted suits and slicked-back hair, arms folded, sporting menacing scowls." 

This unfortunate imagery, with slight variations, is replicated in casinos across the country.  Particularly apparent in Las Vegas and Atlantic City, it is also present to some degree even in emerging gaming jurisdictions (where the "attitude" is usually imported from the established markets). 

There are a number of rationalizations about why dealers and supervisors act that way.  Some industry pundits say it is a holdover from the days of the mob, when such bully posturing was considered cool, even necessary for survival. Some say it is a result of gaming regulations that are meant to keep the players and the casino staff from getting too chummy and working together for ill-gotten gains. There are those who will say it is a legacy of the time when table games were the main reason for visiting a casino and "protection of the game" took precedence over all else. 

Any one or all of the reasons cited may be valid. The question that casino management must ponder is not why it is, but why should it be allowed to continue? 

Time was when the table games were, in truth, the centerpiece of the action. That time has passed, but the industry hasn't caught on yet, in spite of the fact that, on average, about 70% of a casino's revenues now come from slots, not table games. Game designers are creating more and more exciting and interactive slot games that roar with thunder and wind and create the energy and excitement that customers once sought from the table games. The gaming customer base continually widens to include more and more people who are not experienced in table game rules and rituals; they seek games that are easy to participate in. They want games which will not make them feel like fools when they make a mistake. In an age where humans grow more solitary, more comfortable sitting in front of a computer terminal than engaging in face-to-face conversations, the slots are the games of the times. 

Today's megaresorts offer other entertainment choices for the customer in addition to gaming. There are the shows, of course, restaurants, shopping galleries, theme parks, golf courses, and other diversions that compete for the entertainment dollar. That leaves a smaller piece of pie for table games. 

The snobbishness of dealers and floor supervisors not only turns off customers, it seriously erodes the corporate culture. It undermines morale in the casino organization, contributing to high turnover costs, absenteeism, personnel complaints, and lower productivity. One example of the conflicts that are generated is the dealer who told a housekeeper, "If it wasn't for me, people wouldn't be coming through the front door." The housekeeper retorted, "If it wasn't for me, they couldn't get through the front door for all the trash!" 

It is not uncommon to hear of dealers and supervisors who claim employee break rooms as their own exclusive territory and tell other employees they aren't allowed to use them -- even though the rooms were intended for general access. Frequently this is not official, but becomes the de facto rule because management does nothing to countermand it. Other employees see this, secretly seethe, and lose respect for management. 

In their defense, dealers and floor supervisors are not entirely to blame. They are the product of the culture that surrounds them. They act in the way they believe they are expected to act, the way they see everyone else acting. There are probably some who are attracted by the idea of looking and behaving like a hoodlum, but even those who aren't feel they must play the role to fit in. It has become entrenched in the gaming culture as a rite of passage. Though it was the accepted norm when mobsters ran things, it is out of place in the modern customer service culture which most casinos espouse (at least in theory). 

With the shortage of qualified and experienced management talent that was created in the overheated expansion of gaming, many middle managers (and upper management executives, too) have had little or no preparation to make them truly effective managers. Dealers are often promoted because they are the best dealer or have been there longest, not because they have any executive talent or skill. The need is often urgent, so it happens fast; there is no training, no counseling, no preparation. One day a dealer, next day a supervisor with shiny hair, wearing a shiny suit and scowling. It doesn't take a psychologist to figure out that they are trying to project power and authority through bluff and bluster instead of knowledge and skill. 

In most casinos, upper management, line level employees, and supervisors themselves agree that middle management needs a helping hand. It is not an admission of fault or weakness, but of rationally understanding that they can't be expected to know how to manage until they have been taught how to do it. 

The wonder is that top management so often fails to realize how much more money the casino could make if table games were satisfying the customer's desires and needs more effectively. The wonder is that senior executives fail to recognize and act on rehabilitating the negative forces that poison the corporate culture of their organizations (often incredibly aiding and abetting the problem rather than solving it!). The wonder is that the dealers and supervisors haven't figured out that they could make a lot more money if their attitude made customers like them better and want to share newly-won wealth with them. 

The wonder is that casino executives still tolerate this behavior (it is neither inevitable nor incurable) in an industry that has migrated from a supply-driven economy -- where the dealer and floor supervisor reigned with supreme authority -- to a customer-focused marketplace where the customer rules and decides who will prosper and who will not.

(This article appeared in the June 1996 issue.)