Making the News

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Originally Published:Sunday, October 14, 2007

In the summer of 2005, the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa sparked an uproar when it started random weigh-ins to keep watch on its cocktail waitresses, who wear bustiers and miniskirts. It was part of the casino's push for an identity in a crowded market, said Joseph Weinert, senior vice president of gambling industry consulting firm Spectrum Gaming Group.

"They are trying to let people know that they are younger, hipper and more fashionable than their competitors," Weinert said. "The Babes are a big part of that."

It matters little, he said, that the Borgata's actions have also spawned a lawsuit, a union grievance and at least two complaints to the state's civil rights division.

"Any publicity good or seemingly bad sends out the message: We've got hot cocktail waitresses. Come look at them," he said.

Unattractive need not apply

By Tim Barker
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Wanted: Smart, outgoing and energetic men and women to serve drinks and food at a new downtown St. Louis casino.

All the better if you have modeling, acting, dancing, singing or cheerleading experience.

Oh, and one other thing: It never hurts to be pretty.

Las Vegas-based Pinnacle Entertainment Inc. is in the midst of a massive hiring spree to fill some 1,200 jobs needed to run its $495 million Lumière Place when it opens in December. But none of the jobs will attract as much attention as the so-called Ladies and Gents of Lumière.

These will be the revealingly attired women and men serving as cocktail waitresses, bartenders and food servers throughout the complex. They will also promote the casino at special events, parties, football games and the like. They'll appear in print and broadcast spots. Maybe even a calendar.

So perhaps it should come as no surprise that the company is being picky — only a dozen or so of the 120 Ladies and Gents have been hired so far — as it searches for what essentially will be the face and personality of the casino.

"They'll be fun to be around. They'll be fun to look at as well," said April Amos, Lumière's talent manager.

And Pinnacle seems intent on keeping it that way, counting a height-weight ratio among the job's requirements. The company won't share the ratio publicly, though Amos called it "very generous."

"It's not something where it will knock out a ton of people," she said.

At 5 feet 8 inches tall, and weighing 135 pounds, that was not something Dana Wolf, 25, had to worry about before being hired as one of the first Ladies. Wolf, who recently moved to St. Louis from Decatur, Ill., doesn't see a problem, noting that her co-workers come in a wide range of sizes.

"There are girls that are taller and skinnier, but there are others that are more voluptuous and curvy," Wolf said. "It's not like you have to have a super-toned body."

STANDING OUT

Lumière Place is not the first casino to put an emphasis on beauty when hiring cocktail waitresses and bartenders. It's not even the first Pinnacle-owned casino to do it.

The Ladies and Gents program was born in 2005 at Pinnacle's L'Auberge Du Lac Hotel & Casino in Lake Charles, La., as a way to gain an edge in a crowded marketplace.

"We really wanted to stand out in a different way," said Jackie St. Romain, senior director of human resources.

The program, assisted by a modeling agency, started with casting calls in six cities, including New Orleans and Baton Rouge, La. Since then, the casino has spiced up its mix, with recruiting trips to Eastern Europe and South America to bring men and women in for four-month stints during the summer.

It is a job that comes with a wide range of perks, including free or discounted tuition, health club memberships, tanning, makeup and spa treatments. Someone comes in with a bad hair day? They're sent to the hairdresser on property. Uniforms are sent off each night for cleaning.

In return, however, the Ladies and Gents have to stay within 5 percent of their hiring weight, though there is an opportunity at each anniversary to adjust that official weight. Violating the 5 percent rule earns a counseling session.

"We've had to, very rarely, talk to someone about gaining or losing too much weight. But I've never had to terminate anyone because of it," St. Romain said. "They're wearing a uniform every day that's pretty sexy. You aren't going to want to gain weight or look bad in it."

But that's not necessarily good for the health of those workers, said Edith Benay, a San Francisco-based attorney considered an authority on obesity case law. In the 1990s, Benay won a $36 million settlement against United Airlines, which had significantly different weight standards for men and women. The lawsuit was won as a gender issue, not on the basis of weight discrimination.

But even if the weight rules are applied equally, Benay said, they can foster eating disorders.

"It's completely unreasonable," Benay said. "You start starving yourself, throwing up and taking laxatives in order to meet the weight guidelines."

The use of sex to sell gambling is hardly a novel idea, with casinos around the world using it to varying degrees throughout the years. The Ladies and Gents program actually draws its inspiration from the controversial Borgata Babes in Atlantic City.

In the summer of 2005, the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa sparked an uproar when it started random weigh-ins to keep watch on its cocktail waitresses, who wear bustiers and miniskirts. It was part of the casino's push for an identity in a crowded market, said Joseph Weinert, senior vice president of gambling industry consulting firm Spectrum Gaming Group.

"They are trying to let people know that they are younger, hipper and more fashionable than their competitors," Weinert said. "The Babes are a big part of that."

It matters little, he said, that the Borgata's actions have also spawned a lawsuit, a union grievance and at least two complaints to the state's civil rights division.

"Any publicity — good or seemingly bad — sends out the message: We've got hot cocktail waitresses. Come look at them," he said.

'NOT JUST LOOKS'

And while it might raise the ire of critics, there doesn't appear to be anything wrong with using attractiveness as a job qualification.

It isn't the same thing as discrimination based on race, gender, age or disability, said David Kaplan, a management professor at St. Louis University who teaches employment law.

In a nutshell, it's not illegal to turn away an applicant because they're ugly.

"Congress has not passed a law to protect people on the basis of beauty," Kaplan said.

It could, however, get tricky if the company isn't careful when deciding who is and isn't attractive. Ending up with a roster full of white, blond-haired women, for example, could create trouble.

"You have to make sure your definition of beauty is not code for racial or ethnic discrimination," Kaplan said.

Casino managers insist that won't be a problem, saying they subscribe to the belief that beauty comes in many forms. They say attitude will be just as important as appearance.

"You look at the attractiveness of a person, it's everything. The personality. The smile," said Todd George, Lumière's general manager. "It's not just looks. It's like any other skill position."

His comments are echoed by members of the inaugural class of Ladies and Gents.

Chris Herbert, 22, of O'Fallon, Ill., has done a bit of modeling and is looking for an agent, with hopes that his job as a Gent will provide better exposure and opportunity.

But Herbert plays down the role his appearance played in getting the Lumière job: "I don't really think it had anything to do with it."

Neither does Mandy Sullivan, 26, of Ballwin. The former bartender, with no modeling background, says her co-workers are more about personality than beauty.

"They're not ugly by any means. They're all pretty people," Sullivan said. "But there's a lot more to them. They're all very smart and easy to talk to."

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