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Best of Star Brooks

Gaming Guru

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The End of an Era in Gaming

3 August 2001

Tuesday, July 31, marked the end of an era in gambling history... the merger between Harrah's and Harveys became complete. It was a bittersweet day for many "Tahoans", as locals are referred to, when over 50 years of history came to a close. The two properties, always known for their rivalry and competition, both belong to Harrah's now... with both the founders of gaming history long dead... the future that lies ahead is uncertain.

The move has met criticism, and praise.... though more locals are now falling into the critic's corner, as longtime friends and neighbors are eliminated from job positions on both properties. I attempted to get the figures on each property individually, as to the number of total employees, the percentages being cut now, and the percentages being cut in the future... and also to find out how many people actually live on the Nevada side of the state line, as opposed to the majority, who actually live in South Lake Tahoe, California. What I had thought should be accessible public information turned out to be proprietary, unless, according to a Nevada state official, I wanted to wait four to six months longer for the U.S. Census Bureau figures to arrive.

Being on the California side of the line myself, it is only appropriate that I should side with my own friends and neighbors on this one.... everyone is concerned about the impact of the merger. The FTC allowed a merger which gives Harrah's 70% of the Stateline gaming revenues and, from what I have read, over 52% of the market share. The Nevada Gaming Board and the Nevada Gaming Commission approved the merger last week, though there was discussion on how it would impact local residents... with a poor economy, low visitor counts, high fuel prices, and now this.... The opinions seemingly swayed by Harrah's statement that the merger, just in Lake Tahoe alone, would result in savings of $16 million... and the claim that contracts lost to local vendors wouldn't result in the loss of more than $400,000 .... if anyone pursued it beyond that, is unknown.

The layoffs began last week, with a reported 61 people, many with a long history with Harrah's, being laid off... followed by news through a pipeline source to me over the weekend that the number was more like 110.... followed by the elimination of department heads at Harveys this week... 23 according to the local newspaper accounts... and sources close to the gaming industry say that is only the tip of the iceberg.

Wednesday morning was the last of my daily wanderings through the casinos in Stateline... and it was a melancholy journey for me. I entered Harveys, hearing only people speaking Polish to each other.... the "global" employees... people here for five months at a time on special visas... somewhat resented by the local employment market. It was void of gamblers, except on a dime progressive poker bank that was exceptionally high, and a few slot and table players... Harrah's wasn't any busier, though the help on the floor appeared primarily Filipino, and my ears picked up bits and pieces of Tagalog being spoken around me... and the bustle of the usual coin collection by the hardcount team. It was a journey of the body, the mind going through past years, thinking of how it had been, and how it would never be again.

When I got back home, I set about the task of closing down the Tahoe Gaming Guide. I can only associate those emotions with mental trauma... after 544 days of devoting my life and everything I have ever held precious to me to my own community, only to have it crash down around me, hearing people at executive levels of the casinos saying that they now need guests from the East... (been saying that for 16 months) to the fact that the California Indians are responsible for the area's woes (been trying to get them to do something about that since October of 1999) to saying that they need to do more on the web (18 months) to sniveling like rats eating onions over pretty much every issue I raised their roofs on.... well... you have to know how frustrated and discouraged I am.

Noticeably different from the time when Del Webb sold the High Sierra to the Horizon in 1989, this merger doesn't seem as considerate to the work force. Del Webb made every attempt to make the transition process go smoothly for everyone. Employees were called into meetings, and there were representatives present from both Nevada and California Employment offices, there were translators, forms, counseling available for just about everything, and representatives from the other casinos' human resource departments were present with job offerings.... everyone made an attempt. I haven't heard about anything like this being available to the displaced employees... and have to wonder why it is so different now... but then again, I remember that Del Webb had everyone being laid off, and that the Horizon brought in people to selectively rehire according to their own needs... and if there is a mass firing and re-hiring, it hasn't happened yet.

The trend in casino layoffs for various reasons cited from coast to coast has me concerned... Caesars broke the union in Atlantic City when 190 slot workers went on strike... after reportedly being offered a dime per hour raise compared to non-union workers being offered 40 cent per hour raises.... and the 190 workers were subsequently replaced. Harrah's New Orleans just laid off 148 workers stating that table games were over-staffed... much to the chagrin of Louisiana politicians, and just when New Orleans was considering granting a $5 million annual lease reduction... stating that they did not have Harrah's there for their gambling... but rather for the employment and revenues. Looks like they might not grant that lease reduction in response to the layoffs.

Meanwhile, August 14 is the date that the proposed Sands Regency to be built in Minden, NV... roughly 20 miles from Stateline... top of the mountain vs. high desert at bottom of the mountain.... is slated to hit the planning commission hallways in Douglas County. A reader asked me on Monday, "If now that Harrah's has redefined the area to not just be 'Reno-Tahoe' but rather 'Reno-Tahoe-Carson Valley' which adds in Minden to the mix... is it possible that Harrah's has a vested interest in the Sands Regency project now... or in the future?" Stating that, "the Carson Valley... including Carson City, Minden, and Gardnerville, does not have any large, corporately controlled casinos at present, and while Tahoe dipped 4% in its second quarter earnings, and Reno dipped 3%... the Carson Valley is the only one that gained a small amount, only 1.6%... primarily due to the number of rural casinos that attract local residents... it would only be feasible that Harrah's would acquire or already holds interest in the project." The reader also stated, "I predict that in the future, maybe even ten years down the road, Harrah's will be a major player in the Carson Valley, the once proposed gondola up from Minden will connect with the new Heavenly gondolas that are based just one half block west of Harrah's, on the California side, and the whole thing eventually will connect to the new convention center that is planned across from Harveys... also on the California side."

It is one of those 'time will tell' type of things. Right now, it isn't looking too hot for the California side of the line. Decisions made by the FTC and the Nevada Gaming authorities didn't discuss the effects on the population for long, and while they look out for Nevada, they seldom mention California... unless it is to point fingers of blame in that direction. It's nice to know our government is looking out for us... to know that other states can control the politics and the economy on a bi-state basis... and make decisions that affect so many... and dismiss it as either progress or a $16 million savings. For whom does that bell toll?

I know that I am going to have so much to say about this, that if I can possibly struggle through the transition from four web sites to one... and cling on to my house, car, and whatever else I need to cling to so badly, that the United Gambler's Association is going to grow like a giant weed... fast and strong, and employees or ex-employees of the gaming industry from all over the U.S. are going to find an new section devoted to their personal needs, offering discussion and connection with others in the industry, appearing by August 10.... along with all the "beefing up" of the UnitedGamblersAssoc.com as a complete source of information for gamblers and those who work in the industry or have worked in the industry... a nice place to meet and discuss, and learn.

If you haven't already, please visit... you can subscribe to the "Collective Voice" newsletter, too.... gamblers are not "the epitome of apathy" as claimed.... maybe everyone that tried in the past to have a say, prior to the web, fell into that grouping... but the web is here, and I know from experience... we can make a difference. Want to help prove them wrong? Come visit, or write me at star@unitedgamblersassoc.com!