A common cliché states that the standard of customer service in Vegas is streets ahead of what you’ll experience in the average UK casino. Perhaps truism is a better word a better word than cliché. Having just returned from Sin City, along with hundreds of other European casino people visiting the G2E casino exhibition, I’ve seen nothing that would change my view on this subject – they’re generally excellent.
The question is, of course, why? There are a number of reasons. It’s definitely fair to say that service levels all over the US in all sectors of the leisure industry tend to be better, but that certainly doesn’t explain the discrepancy in the casino experience between the UK and the US.
The central difference is simply the raw material. It is becoming harder and harder for UK operators to recruit the right type of staff. This is not the place to discuss macro-economic factors such as the overall unemployment rate and immigration, but there’s no doubt that advertising for trainee dealers doesn’t usually lead to a bunch of keen, polite, suitable youngsters popping up on the appointed day to learn how to deal.
Rewards are certainly part of it, and the tipping culture in the US makes a job as a dealer potentially the beginning of a financially workable career. Dealer salaries in the UK tend to hover fairly close to minimum wage, plus in most cases a pretty token supplement from tips, so there can be limited appeal.
There are other hurdles that prevent youngsters in the UK joining us in the casino sector. Few people willingly launch themselves into a night shift based job that appears to severely curtail their social life – although the reality is that one of the best parts of the casino lifestyle is the social life, where your social circle tends to be pinned to the people with the same days off that you have, and many a midweek happy hour suddenly becomes accessible with no work the following morning.
It could be argued that progression is difficult within casinos – not a view I can sympathise too much with, having progressed from dealer to GM myself – but it is certainly true that there is a bottleneck between supervisor and shift manager, and with many companies looking to bring people in from outside the industry to work as senior managers, this is not simply a perception issue. I’m sure many of us have worked with talented people who simply leave to progress in other roles or sectors, tired of waiting for opportunities, in an environment where promotion is limited by budgeted wage bills, and only when a spot in the level above becomes open can someone move on up.
Obviously one solution, which has been very successful for the major operators in particular, has been to run training schools in less prosperous countries, so that the salary package looks a lot more attractive. As long as these staff can adapt to the culture and identify with the customers, this would appear to be one of the better options for operators. From a service perspective it’s also worth noting that the nature of UK casinos is completely different to a Vegas operation – in the UK we are all about developing relationships with players. A relentless “have a nice day” style service isn’t always what a twice-a-week player wants – recognition and remembering their name probably goes a lot further in fostering loyalty.
In summary, for all the value placed on customer service training and maintaining a consistent brand, both between casinos within a multi-site operation and within a single site, it’s only ever as good as the people hired by a casino operation. It’s certainly not getting any easier to find keen and courteous employees, and since the 2005 Gaming Act missed the opportunity to genuinely bring casinos into the mainstream and help with the employee perception challenge, there hasn’t been much help from a legislative perspective. Operators are fighting, from a rewards and opportunities standpoint, some pretty low level employers and only through hard work and excellent local management – along with compelling corporate communication – will we be able to aim at a better standard in the future.
Paul Sculpher is half of gaming industry recruitment specialists GRS Recruitment, along with gaming industry recruitment veteran Steven Jackson. He can be contacted at [email protected]