Making the News

Casino Connection, Atlantic City Edition

Originally Published:Wednesday, November 1, 2006

The survey conducted by SIGMA in conjunction with Spectrum Gaming Group includes a 5 percent margin of error, and further research will be done to explore some of its results. By the end of 2006, the survey will be completed by 200 more employees, in hopes of reducing the error margin to 3 percent.

Strength in Numbers
SIGMA survey strives to pinpoint the nature and character of Atlantic City's front-line workers

By Beth Joseph
Casino Connection, Atlantic City Edition

Who is the Atlantic City front-line employee?


Approximately 40,000 casino employees work on the front line. These include card dealers, waitresses, slot attendants and more. Recently, the Stockton Institute for Gaming Management (SIGMA) conducted a survey designed to develop a reasonable representation of the front-line workforce in Atlantic City.


Established last year, SIGMA was designed to strengthen leadership and supervisory skills in the casino workforce. Dr. Israel Posner and Dr. Lewis Leitner, Stockton professors, partnered with Michael Pollock of Spectrum Gaming Group to create SIGMA's comprehensive curriculum. Its mission is to "enhance the overall performance of the region's gaming industry by enhancing its knowledge base and strengthening leadership and managerial skills."


Along with education, research is a large part of SIGMA, and the employee survey was created to better understand front-line workers. The survey sample consisted of 480 front-line employees varying in age groups, ethnicity and work experience. It was administered during casino training sessions, and was completely voluntary and anonymous. The survey covered specific issues such as communication, transportation, health and work satisfaction.


According to its administrators, the survey both produced interesting results and created further research opportunities.


Diversity by Design


The diversity among front-line workers was found to be strong, with workers of Caucasian, African American, Asian and Hispanic decent. The front-line workforce is heavily weighted with Asians and Hispanics. The New Jersey population of 64 percent Caucasian is double the survey's 32 percent of white casino workers. Asians are found in the casino industry three times their rate in New Jersey as a whole, and 22 percent of front-line casino employees are of Asian descent. African Americans comprise 26 percent and Hispanics 18 percent of those surveyed.


The gender breakdown was relatively close with 52 percent female and 48 percent male. The United States averages a 30 percent single or unmarried population while 42 percent surveyed are single. The married population of those surveyed totaled 43 percent, significantly below the United States marriage average of 60 percent. Over 30 percent of those surveyed are under 29 years of age, which may contribute to the low marriage rate. The minority population is skewed toward the younger workers. The majority of young workers are African American or Hispanic. Hispanic workers over 60 years old accounted for less than 5 percent. The survey shows that 40 percent of employees have been working in the industry for four years or less, which reinforces the youth of front-line casino workers. Only 29 of the 480 surveyed had been working in the industry for 25-29 years.


Communication Breakdown


With so many differences in languages and dialects, the issue of communication among workers, customers and upper management is of paramount concern. The SIGMA survey was designed to find when workers have trouble communicating with others, to initiate efforts at improving understanding among workers. Overall, each ethnic group represented in the sample was comfortable communicating in English. When the survey was further broken down, however, issues arose with understanding co-workers and customers. While workers may be comfortable speaking in English, when it came to hearing and understanding English, problems arose.


About 20 percent of the front-line workers have some trouble understanding their supervisors, with 3 percent "almost always" having problems communicating with supervisors. (Nearly 80 percent of workers claimed they almost never have any difficulty understanding their supervisors.)


When asked if employees had difficulties in understanding their co-workers, the level of those who sometimes had difficulty rose to 30 percent. Understanding between employees proved to be more difficult between workers than between workers and their supervisors. "This could be due to the more significant time workers spend together rather than with their supervisors," explains Leitner, who is executive director of management training and development for SIGMA.


More important were the results of problems when employees were dealing with customers. While the ethnicity and language of customers played some role, 47 percent of front-line casino employees claim to have at least some difficulty in understanding customers.


When experience was combined with communication issues, a surprising result showed that the longer employees have been working in the industry, the more difficult it is for them to understand both co-workers and customers. In almost every experience group, there is at least a 40 percent report of difficulty communicating with customers.


"This could be a huge issue when dealing with customer satisfaction and problems," says Posner, who is SIGMA's executive director of corporate and professional services. "Further research needs to be done to determine the backgrounds and languages of customers and their employee interaction."


Job Concerns


The next stage of the survey dealt with issues affecting the workforce such as child care, shift work, personal health, transportation and housing. Front-line workers are most largely concerned with the issue of shift work. Overall personal health also ranked as a top issue, with 21 percent of those surveyed saying it was at least sometimes a concern affecting their ability to work.


The least important issue among workers is child care, which could be a result of the overall younger, single workforce. The younger demographic, though, most markedly affected attitudes toward shift work. Since those surveyed were mainly single and in the 20-30-year-old range, the effect of working the night shift on social lives boosted shift work to the number-one issue among casino front-line employees.


 White workers had the highest problem with shift work, with 27 percent reporting that it affects their ability to do their job at least sometimes-just slightly ahead of African Americans with 25 percent and Asians with 23 percent. The least likely to identify shift work as a problem are Hispanics.


Hispanics, though, identified affordable housing as the most pressing issue with respect to their jobs. Of those surveyed, 54 percent rented, well below the New Jersey home-ownership average.


Along with housing came issues of transportation, with 270 of the 480 surveyed using cars as their source of transportation. One hundred employees walked, while 75 used the jitney. Transportation was the most important issue among Asians. Younger workers also had much more of a concern with transportation issues than those 60 and older, who had nearly no problems with transportation.


Health concerns are expected to increase over time, but in this survey, there was only a small variance from 20-year-old workers to those 60 and above when it comes to personal health as a job issue. European or white workers were most concerned, with 28 percent reporting personal health as a job issue. According to the study's administrators, this could be due to the fact that the older workers in the casino industry tend to be Caucasian. (Overall, one of every four employees regardless of age reported that personal health is an issue affecting their jobs.)


Rainbow Retirement


Workers were asked whether they would want to stay in the casino industry until retirement. The study showed that only one out of every ten workers under 30 years old plans to stay in the industry. However, the older the employee, the more likely the plan to remain until retirement. When broken down by ethnic group, black and Hispanics were less likely to consider working in the industry until retirement.


"One of the possible reasons that blacks and Hispanics do not look at this casino industry as a long-term career is because they may see less of an opportunity for upper mobility than other ethnicities," Posner says. "Further research may find differences or confirm this statement."


Issues dealing with differences in ethnicity among co-workers found that those age 60 and older are significantly more likely to have difficulties dealing with other ethnic groups.


Younger workers do not perceive the differences in background to result in problems. White employees reported 31 percent to be affected by differences in ethnicity of co-workers while only 6 percent of Hispanics were affected.


Minorities are less likely to perceive difficulties with other minorities among their co-workers, says Leitner, and ethnicity is less of a concern for younger workers. "The lack of concern with younger workers to be affected by co-workers' ethnicities seems to indicate that the newer generations are becoming more comfortable with diversity of population," he says.


The survey conducted by SIGMA in conjunction with Spectrum Gaming Group includes a 5 percent margin of error, and further research will be done to explore some of its results. By the end of 2006, the survey will be completed by 200 more employees, in hopes of reducing the error margin to 3 percent.


Further and more focused surveys are being planned to begin in 2007. For more information, call (609) 347-2175.

Beth Joseph is associate editor of Casino Connection magazine.

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