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Mohegan Sun employment steadily rising

Mohegan Sun employees leaving the High Limit area of the casino, (left to right) Ron Caverly, director of player development, Bill Amos, marketing, Nichole Zangardi, marketing and David Giordano, executive casino host.

Clark Van Orden/The Times Leader

Employees of Mohegan Sun leave the break area. From left are Ron Caverly, director of player development, Bill Amos, marketing and David Giordano, executive casino host.

Clark Van Orden photo illustration/The Times Leader

When Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs opened its “temporary” slots parlor in November of 2006, it added 425 people to the existing staff of 148 at the Pocono Downs race track. As its fifth year as a gaming facility approaches, nearly 2,000 people work on the property.

The steady growth has been buoyed by the permanent slots casino, which debuted in July 2008, and the addition of table games two years later. At each step, the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority has given job creation projections to the state’s gaming control board, and to date has lived up to those promises.

The authority, which also operates its flagship Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut, told the board there would be 1,000 employees when the permanent slots facility opened. There were. It said tables would bring an additional 600 jobs. They did. As of July 1, the state reported 1,600 Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs employees at the Plains Township property. That does not include nearly 300 more who work on site at establishments not owned by Mohegan Sun, such as Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Johnny Rockets or Bar Louie. An additional 150 people are employed offsite at the Downs off track wagering parlors in Carbondale, Hazleton, Allentown and East Stroudsburg.

Just counting on-site Mohegan Sun employees, Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs ranks fourth out of the state’s 10 existing casinos, in terms of employment. It trails only Parx Casino, just outside of Philadelphia in Bensalem, Bucks County, which has more than 2,000 employees; Harrah’s Chester Casino & Racetrack in Chester, which has more than 1,800 employees, and the Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh, which has about 1,700 on staff.

The Sands Casino in Bethlehem is right behind Mohegan Sun with 1,588 employees. Eighth on the state’s list is Mount Airy Casino Resort near Mount Pocono, with 1,312 in its work force. That number does not, however, include the staff of its hotel, spa or golf course.

Bobby Soper, president and chief executive officer of Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs, said the facility is proud to be among the largest employers in Luzerne County. He said filling the positions has not been a challenge.

“We actually turn down 39 out of 40 applicants,” Soper noted. He said jobs are routinely open and just as quickly filled. In early 2010, the casino held a job fair for potential dealers to sign up for the casino’s in-house dealer training school. More than 2,000 people showed up. Of those, 350 were chosen for enrollment.

“This area has a very rich pool of labor and a good work ethic,” Soper said. While he said the hiring is a constant, he said it’s nothing out of the ordinary for a large company.

“Like every business, we have natural turnover. When you have 1,800 employees, you’re going to be hiring on a continual basis to replenish that natural turnover. It’s a fluid process,” Soper said.

He said the turnover is not because the Mohegan Sun is a bad place to work. He pointed to the 425 original hires who came on board to open the temporary slots parlor. Of those, 340 still work at the casino.

Soper said the number of people the casino employees is significant in this region.

“For some areas, like Philadelphia, 2,000 jobs doesn’t mean as much as it means in Northeast Pennsylvania,” Soper said.

Larry Newman, vice president of the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Commerce, said Mohegan Sun is currently the third largest individual employer in Luzerne County, following Geisinger Health System and Wyoming Valley Health Care System respectively. Mohegan Sun is followed by T.J. Maxx, PPL, the U.S. Social Security Administration, and Pride Mobility Products — all of which have more than 1,000 employees in Luzerne County.

“Mohegan Sun has met or surpassed each and every promise made to the residents of Northeast Pennsylvania,” said Todd Vonderheid, the chamber’s president. “They have become the corporate citizen we hoped and are now actively engaged in nearly every aspect of our community.”

Soper said casinos have a tried-and-true formula for projecting the number of people that need to be hired based on factors including the number of slots, tables and square footage. Mohegan’s hiring track record compared to what was promised proves it the reliability of the planning system, he said.

While Mohegan Sun officials have stuck close to the employment figures they projected in submissions to the state gaming board and at public hearings and events, Mount Airy has many fewer jobs than promised.

The main culprit is the absence of 2,225 slot machines from the gaming floor. When Mount Airy officials estimated they would employ 1,000 people even prior to table games being legalized, the total was based on 5,000 slot machines being authorized. Instead, the casino was approved for 2,275 and as a result, total employment was at about 850 when the slots opened in October 2007. Today the total stands at about 1,300, thanks to the addition last summer of 72 table games. The casino promised 480 additional jobs if table games were approved, according to gaming control board records. The figure is closer to 400.

While the original promise of casinos was property tax reduction, followed by jobs, there is one more bonus being realized, at least locally, Vonderheid said.

“Mohegan Sun has created not only the direct jobs at the casino, but also a significant tourism attraction that has brought patrons from around the Mid-Atlantic and New England and it’s that traffic that has helped to sustain jobs at other venues in the region.”

At Mount Airy, rather than an in-house dealer school, the casino partnered with Northampton County Community College. It’s one of many partnerships the resort has lined up or is working on finalizing. Other partners include Pocono Raceway, the Mountain Laurel Center for Performing Arts and local eateries and shops.

“As a locally owned, family run casino and resort, Mount Airy aims to provide an economic engine to Northeastern Pennsylvania and the Poconos,” said Tonia Lewis, Mount Airy’s vice president of marketing. “From partnering with Northampton Community College and providing curriculum in order to train local residents to become dealers to commissioning local artists to supply paintings for each and every hotel room, Mount Airy is conscious and committed to providing jobs to the region, whether it’s adding to our work force or hiring local vendors.”

STEADY GROWTH

The workforce at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs has grown year after year, according to information provided by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board and Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs. On July 1, 2007, there were 506 Mohegan Sun employees. That grew to 782 a year later, then to 849 on July 1, 2009. By July 1, 2010, thanks to the implementation of table games, the employee figure rose to 1,371. The staff is now at 1,600.

At Mount Airy, the growth has been more moderate. On July 1, 2008, there were 964 employees, the same amount one year later. On July 1, 2010, the total grew to 1,165 and today it stands at 1,312.

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