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Table games at Rivers Casino offer new chance for North Siders

| Monday, Feb. 22, 2010

Landing a job at the Rivers Casino is more than a game of chance for some.

It's a matter of location.

Sixty-five of the casino's 1,000 employees -- about 6 percent -- are from the North Side, according to the casino. That's likely more than from any other neighborhood, casino spokesman George Matta said.

But for a facility that pledged to community leaders to give North Siders and those in low-income neighborhoods preference come hiring time, that's not acceptable, said city Councilman Daniel Lavelle, who represents parts of the North Side.

Rivers officials today are expected to announce details of how to land one of about 300 table games jobs coming to the North Shore facility. Lavelle said table games are an opportunity for the casino to improve upon its commitment to the North Side.

"Six percent hiring does not sound like a good number any way you put it," he said. "I think the table games give us a great opportunity to review what was done and what can be done better."

In all, 87 North Siders worked at the casino when it opened in August, Matta said. It was unclear what jobs they held.

"When you look at the number of applicants, ... I think it's very good," said Matta, estimating the Rivers had received 65,000 applications when it opened.

The casino gives preference to applicants who list their referral source as the Northside Leadership Conference, the Urban League and the North Shore Community Alliance, among other organizations, said Andre Barnabei, vice president of human resources for the casino.

"My concern would be making sure that individuals who do come in off the street and apply from the North Side aren't losing points because they don't have one of those organizations on their application," Lavelle said.

If an applicant's residence comes up during an interview, it's taken into consideration then, Barnabei said.

"We don't necessarily have the software capability or the manpower to sit there and say, 'Oh, this person's from the North Side or this person is from this area here, let's interview them first,'" Barnabei said.

Agreements between casinos and community groups are "pretty rare," said Clyde Barrow, director of the Center for Policy Analysis at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, which operates the Northeastern Gaming Research Project.

The Meadows Racetrack & Casino in Washington County, for instance, doesn't have a formal agreement with neighborhood groups, but the majority of its employees are local, said spokesman David La Torre. He said he could not elaborate.

"We want to make sure that people locally are enjoying the economic benefit of the casino," he said.

The Northside Leadership Conference recently asked the Rivers to identify which jobs North Siders hold there and why some applicants are rejected, said Mark Fatla, the group's executive director.

"This is a work in progress with the casino," he said. "We're not satisfied until every person we get who's looking for employment who's a credible candidate gets a job."

On average, 15 percent to 30 percent of a casino's initial workforce is on a form of public assistance such as food stamps, Barrow said.

"It's an industry that's able to absorb a lot of low-income workers or those who don't have high educational attainment," he said. "Anywhere from 40 (percent) to 50 percent of the total employee workforce only requires high school diplomas or less."

But there could be barriers to hiring residents of low-income communities, said Joseph Weinert, senior vice president of Spectrum Gaming Group in Linwood, N.J.

"You have to look at certain issues," he said. "There's a certain percentage of applicants who can't pass a drug test or who can't be licensed. There is a screening process that casinos have to follow."

Additional Information:

Workshopping

Prior to opening in August, the Rivers Casino signed an agreement with the Northside Leadership Conference to give hiring preference to North Side residents and those low-income communities.

The conference held 25 workshops to educate people about casino employment in the year leading to the Rivers' opening.

The Rivers collected 800 names and scheduled 340 interviews. The casino hired 65 -- or 19 percent -- of those applicants, said Andre Barnabei, the Rivers' vice president of human resources.

The casino plans to continue hiring from within Western Pennsylvania, Barnabei said, including for table games jobs such as poker room manager and table games shift manager and supervisor that are posted on its Web site.

'Our intent is to make this a Pittsburgh casino,' Rivers spokesman George Matta said. 'We would look for as many people (locally) to have these jobs as possible.'

Table games job candidates should have at least six months' experience with table games or have table game certification, Matta said. The casino will offer schooling for such jobs, Matta said. Details could come today.

'We believe if you have the right personality and makeup, we can train you,' he said.

Employees must have a license from the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board to work in the casino.

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