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Dealers Reject Union at Most Las Vegas Casinos

Labor: Votes at six major establishments are greeted with relief by management, which faced the possibility of costly job actions.

February 23, 2001|TOM GORMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LAS VEGAS — A sweeping campaign here to unionize many of the city's blackjack, craps and other casino dealers, which showed initial momentum, is on the verge of folding like a house of cards.

Dealers at six major casinos have rejected representation by the New York-based Transport Workers Union in elections overseen by the National Labor Relations Board.

Dealers at two smaller casinos voted to organize, with three elections remaining.

The union defeats at some of Las Vegas' premier casinos have brought a collective sigh of relief from management, which had faced the prospect that dealers could cause financial havoc in a job action.

About half of a typical casino resort's revenue is generated through gambling, and half of that comes from table games run by dealers--from $2 roulette wheels to $100,000 baccarat games.

While other casino floor workers on the Strip--including bartenders, waitresses and change people--have organized in recent years, dealers have remained an independent lot.

But last fall, some dealers began pushing for collective bargaining to achieve greater job security, formalize grievance procedures and win increases in hourly pay. Most dealers' salaries are about $6 an hour; they make most of their money in tips, or "tokes."

Unsuccessful in linking with a union already established in Las Vegas, the activists turned to the Transport Workers, which represents mass-transit employees in New York, Philadelphia and elsewhere.

With the help of its organizers, dealers submitted petitions for union elections at 12 local casinos. While the signatures of only 30% of the dealers were required to call an election, organizers boasted they had collected the signatures of more than 70%.

But in recent elections, union representation was easily rejected by dealers at the MGM Grand, New York-New York, Monte Carlo, Bally's, Las Vegas Hilton and Riviera.

Collectively in those six elections, 554 dealers voted to organize and 1,564 opposed representation, according to NLRB officials.

In remarks that reflected the sentiments of executives at other casinos where the union was rejected, MGM Grand President Bill Hornbuckle said the vote was "an affirmation of a fundamental concept that dealers and our management team work on the same side of the table. The TWU has displayed a complete lack of understanding of this simple truth."

Dealers voted to unionize at the Tropicana, 112-51, and at the Stratosphere, 116-48.

Dealers will vote today at the New Frontier, Sunday at Excalibur and March 10 at Treasure Island. The latter two are owned by companies with other casinos where dealers already have rejected the union.

The union withdrew its request for an election at Luxor, saying tensions were too high there to subject dealers to a vote.

Frank Trotti, a Transport Workers organizer, speculated that support for the union vaporized after management mounted intimidating anti-union campaigns and promised to better address dealers' concerns.

"If those promises aren't kept, we'll come back in a year, and the dealers may have a change of heart," he sad. "At least they got their chance to vote."

Shannon Bybee, a casino-industry expert at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas, said dealers may have felt pressured by aggressive co-workers to sign the petitions but, in the end, voted secretly to preserve the status quo.

"They make good money in tips, and they don't want to risk losing that in contract negotiations," Bybee said.

Union support at the Tropicana and Stratosphere shows that relations between dealers and management there aren't as healthy as at the other casinos, Bybee said.

Stratosphere spokesman Mike Gilmartin said he would not speculate on why the union won support there, but added that "we recognize the dealers' willingness to have a union, and we look forward to bargaining in good faith."

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