Making the News

Philadelphia Inquirer

Originally Published:Tuesday, May 18, 2010
http://www.philly.com/inquirer/front_page/20100518_table_games_already_paying_at_pa__casinos.html#axzz0op2qrrz4

Table games already paying at Pa. casinos

By Suzette Parmley
Philadelphia Inquirer

It's almost 3 a.m. midweek at Parx Casino in Bensalem, and electrician Ed Cole is hoisted on a one-man lift 16 feet above the gaming floor, tugging on wires that look like giant strands of spaghetti.

Time-consuming stuff, but necessary as Parx - and every other casino in Pennsylvania - gets ready for table games. There are electrical systems to retrofit, new lighting and surveillance cameras to install, slot machines to move out of the way.

With blackjack, poker, and other games due to launch this summer, crews like Cole's with specialized skills are working overtime to make the transition happen.

This five-man crew, from International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98 in Philadelphia and employed by contractor Hatzel & Buehler Inc., is working through the wee hours, when the casino is the least busy and the crew can move around freely on its equipment.

"Business falls off when we stop serving drinks, which is 2 a.m.," said Dave Ziegler, Parx's director of facilities and construction. "Especially on weekday nights."

In the film Ocean's Eleven, casino honcho Andy Garcia studies a bank of video monitors to determine exactly who is beating his Las Vegas palace bad - and from where.

The low-voltage wiring being installed at Parx will allow the same kind of 24/7 surveillance, plus lighting that prevents table chips from casting a shadow.

"We want to see what's happening on a table," Ziegler said. "We need to see the chips, and all the players' activities, to make sure nobody is stealing from the other guests or the house."

Because of the third-shift hours, this work doesn't come cheap. Figure roughly $150 an hour per man times five, he said - or $750 an hour.

This particular morning, Tom Lehnau, 45, of South Philadelphia, is feeding wires that stretch up to 300 feet from behind the cashier's cage.

Up on lifts and pulling the wires from Lehnau through the ceiling are Cole, who lives in Bensalem, and Jim Pearo of Woodstown, N.J.

On the casino floor below, foreman Mike Bauer, 42, of Warminster, pulls the wires from Cole and forms a loop to feed over to Dan Sherman, 53, from Blackwood, N.J.

"We're getting our cables extended out to the camera locations that will be used over the new table games," Bauer said.

When Parx opened in mid-December, this crew did the original installation of surveillance equipment and electrical power for the slots.

This go-round, there's little time to spare. Craps, baccarat, blackjack, and roulette tables - three or four tractor-trailers full of them - will be arriving June 7 from Vegas. Parx wants to have them up and running for Fourth of July weekend, which means they'll have to be ready the week before to iron out any kinks and get final regulatory approvals, Ziegler said.

Ziegler worked on hotel towers for Atlantic City's casinos, including Harrah's Resort and Showboat, before being wooed 31/2 years ago by Parx president and chief operating officer Dave Jonas, his boss for a dozen years at Harrah's Entertainment Inc. at the Shore.

Both he and Jonas represent the talent drain from Atlantic City to Pennsylvania's growing casino industry.

There's internal poaching going on as well: Wendy Hamilton, general manager of the SugarHouse Casino being built on the Philadelphia waterfront, came from Parx.

Casinos in Pennsylvania are a major source of new hiring and construction jobs these days as more gaming halls open and those that have been in operation add hotels, gourmet restaurants, and other amenities.

That helps make up for the 11,200 building-trade jobs lost in the five-county Philadelphia metropolitan area between March 2009 and March 2010, according to state Department of Labor and Industry figures.

Parx, for one, is undergoing a multiphase expansion that includes plans for a 400-room hotel within three years. When the third-shift electricians go home at 10 a.m., the day crew starts blowing holes in the back of the building to accommodate additional bathrooms, locker rooms, and changing areas for the new employees.

Each Pennsylvania casino has been holding job fairs to hire hundreds of table dealers, and some have been providing free schooling, like Harrah's Chester Casino and Racetrack, to get them ready for the rollout.

Starting in September, the grandstand of the former PhiladelphiaPark Casino & Racetrack that sits next to Parx will host live poker games for players such as Jason Kim of Ambler.

"As long as they have the same structure [as Atlantic City's poker tables], I'm coming here," said Kim, 51, as he worked a nickel Spin Poker slot machine last week near an area being cleared out for table games.

"There's a lot of people who are looking forward to table games coming here," said Kim, who owns a Center City dry-cleaning business. "All my friends talk about it. Even the Atlantic City dealers are looking forward to coming here."

There's big money at stake: About a third of Atlantic City's revenue comes from table games, and the Pennsylvania casinos are aiming to capture a share of that.

"Table games will be another shot in the arm for Pennsylvania's already impressive performance," said analyst Joseph Weinert of Spectrum Gaming Group L.L.C. in Linwood, N.J. "And they will significantly impact the already hurting Atlantic City gross gaming revenues, along with those in West Virginia and perhaps Delaware as well."

On May 6, electricians Lehnau and Cole were pulled from the unemployment rolls at Local 98 to handle the wiring at Parx.

Lehnau, out of work for five months, said he was thrilled to get the call.

"It's great for us," he said, venturing out onto the floor to check on how Cole was doing with his wire feeds.

"We love the work."


Contact staff writer Suzette Parmley at 215-854-2594 or [email protected].


 

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