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IN-DEPTH 18 August 2016
Staffing a casino from scratch
Leeds’ new large casino is inching towards when it’ll open its doors to the public. Paul Sculpher is on the inside of the huddle determining who will staff the casino when that time comes
By Gambling Insider

It was back in February 2013 that GGV – Tony Wollenberg, Andrew Herd and I – submitted our second and final bid for the 2005 Gaming Act Large Casino License in Leeds. That seems an age ago, and at the time the prospect of actually opening the site seemed preposterously far away. However, as I type, our fit-out contractors are on-site carrying out preliminary works, and the opening is flying towards us at dizzying speed.

There is a vast array of tasks that need to be carried out before we open the doors in mid-November, the most pressing at the moment is recruiting the senior team, eventually followed by up to 200 staff members. As a new operator in the business, we’re aware that we look like something of an unknown quantity, but we all have individual track records and the casino is already a pretty big story in the area so word’s getting out there.

Job number one is to find the perfect general manager. We are very aware that the nature of the Leeds operation is going to be pretty different to the majority of British casinos – it’s a very large city centre site with all the opportunities and challenges that brings. We’re looking for a GM with a wide range of experience and we’re very conscious that, as an independent operator, there’s no manual for a lot of the decisions that will need to be made. With no flat structure, there is no “they” to make decisions – there’ll only be three people senior to the GM in the company, so open mindedness and independent thinking is required.

We’re looking for a best of breed casino GM to take the business forward – we haven’t ruled out someone from outside the industry, but there’s a pretty steep learning curve to ascend, and with the scale of business we are developing it would take a very special person to attack both tasks simultaneously. We’ll be using a recruitment agency for the majority of the senior positions – with plenty of other workstreams to crack on with, it makes sense to bring in a specialist.

Once the GM is hired, we’ll have them help with the senior team – the head of gaming, chief marketing officer, head of F&B and other roles, as well as the critically important shift managers. Having recently had a dip back into operations myself, it’s easy to forget just how critical the right set of shifties is – the moment interaction with customers goes beyond the routine, it’s the actions of shift managers that will determine if the interaction ends on a positive note, whether or not it started that way.

The staff recruitment will be even more of a challenge. We are in the lucky position that our casino launch is part of the launch of a very large retail and leisure development, Victoria Gate. This includes a huge John Lewis, and 20-odd retail units as well as half a dozen F&B outlets. With a scheme of this scope, it’s already big news in Leeds and that will only help us gather momentum towards the big day. Critically, Leeds Council has already been enormously helpful in getting us and other operators set for the recruitment drive – over 1,000 staff are required in all for the whole complex – and their resources and total knowledge of the area will be vital.

We’ve already had discussions with the council about recruitment roadshows – getting out there in the community and giving the potential team members a face to associate with the project, and someone to talk to. There are obviously some preconceptions involved in working in a casino, and the last thing we want is to miss out on promising candidates because they’re not sure what the job is all about.

The collaborative approach with the Council is a key part of our recruitment strategy, however the element they’re less likely to be able to help with is experienced gaming staff. Getting the right team together can be the making of a casino operation – for all the fact that we’re running a multi-faceted, integrated leisure destination we’re not confused as to where we will make the money we need to thrive – and finding a team big enough to operate what we have in mind won’t be easy. We won’t be wanting to get too close to 50% of our gaming team being trainees, although as we will be using the Blackpool Academy we can have confidence that they will, with our management team’s input along the way, by pretty much oven ready, or as ready as trainees can be when they first meet the public. It can be pretty intimidating trying to demonstrate your new-found skills in a pressure situation, and we’ll be with them along the way to make it as easy as possible.

Finding those experienced staff will be the biggest recruitment challenge we face. No doubt every member of the management team will bring a handful with them, some will appear as if out of nowhere in Leeds, and we will, like any other casino, be ready and willing to employ staff from the rest of Europe (dependent on legislation post-Brexit), assuming they have the right skill level and correct licence (a personal functional licence” for gaming staff). It’s likely, too, that some staff from the other casinos in Leeds and the surrounding areas will apply for roles. As long as we are selective in the ones we bring on board then we’ve a chance of getting the mix right. From experience of dropping into the local casinos, though, there are some fantastic team members who we would be delighted to welcome into the fold if they approach us to be involved in what has to be the most exciting new casino project in the North of England for many a long year.

The project has been in the works for more than four years, and now with the late 2016 launch rapidly approaching, there’s a huge amount of hard work ahead. Securing the right team can only make that a little easier, and we’re looking forward to the challenge.

Paul Sculpher is operations director of GGV, applying for and developing 2005 Gambling Act casino licences
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