Thursday, April 27, 2000 | 10:40 a.m.
Faced with growing competition for workers, two Las Vegas casino operators are betting that child care will prove to be a powerful perk.
Though child care for customers has been a standard for locals casinos for some time, child-care centers operated by Station Casinos Inc. and the Venetian are the first specifically aimed at employees of Las Vegas casinos.
The Venetian beat Station to the punch, formally opening its child care center Wednesday morning.
"This is something we promised (employees) when we first hired them," said Sheldon Adelson, chairman of Las Vegas Sands Inc., the parent company of the Venetian. Referring to his two young children, Adelson said, "I know it means an awful lot to have child care where you work."
"No one in the hotel-gaming industry has this. It's just a continuation of our policy of giving employees the best benefits package we can give them."
Station isn't far behind; its first child-care center at Texas Station is expected to open in June.
Both companies believe the perk will be a particularly powerful one in retaining employees who are single parents and constantly struggle with trying to juggle child care with jobs that demand round-the-clock schedules.
"For anyone looking for a job today in Las Vegas, if you check the want ads, you'll see a lot of people looking for help," said Dave Newton, vice president of human resources for the Venetian. "(The Venetian and Station) don't compete in the casino market, but we certainly compete in the labor market."
Between 150 and 175 Venetian employees have signed up for the center, putting it near capacity. The center will operate from 6 a.m. until midnight, seven days a week, and will care for children up to 5 years old -- and at prices of $89 to $109 per week, the service will be 20 percent below market price, Newton said.
The center does not accept children over 5 because the need was most pressing for care for pre-schoolers.
The center is operated by New Horizon Kids Quest Inc. of Minneapolis, operator of the "Kids Quest" child-care centers for customers at several local properties owned by Station.
The benefits are twofold, Newton said -- first, the centers will help attract and retain employees; but more importantly, customer service will improve.
"You try to do things that make team members' lives easier and more successful," Newton said. "That translates into great customer service. Sometimes it's hard to smile when you're worried about your child care.
"If you need to ask someone to work overtime, this allows them to do it. They don't have to worry about getting to a child care center that's closing up at 6 p.m."
The June launch at Texas Station will mark an even more ambitious program by Station. Once complete, centers will operate at Palace Station, Texas Station, Boulder Station and Sunset Station. The only Station property that will not have a center is the unnamed Station property in Green Valley, being built in partnership with American Nevada Corp.; employees at this property will be asked to use the center at nearby Sunset Station.
The cost to employees will be about $17 per day for children up to 12 years old, with higher rates for infants. Unlike the Venetian center, the Station child care centers will be open 24 hours a day and offer a nursing program for mildly ill children -- offerings the company believes will further reduced missed days at work. Capacity will be 250 children per 8-hour shift.
Valerie Murzl, Station's vice president of human resources, said the idea came when she had a child several years ago.
"I went out into the city and went to some child care providers," Murzl said. "I told them I would be having my baby in May, and putting the child in (the center) in September. I was told, 'Fill out this form, and we'll put your name on the list ... but we can't guarantee you'll have a slot.'
"What do people who work in our casinos? That's how it started. I had a personal need, and I was kind of on this mission."
A survey of Station's 8,000 employees found Murzl's problem wasn't isolated. In that survey, fully half of Station's line employees called child care a necessity, Murzl said.
"Our team members told us overwhelmingly that child care was a challenge for them, particularly because of the shifts in which casinos operate," she said. "We believe there's a lot of people who live in Las Vegas who have never considered working in the casino industry because of this scenario.
"With unemployment so low, you have to do who you have to do to get good people."
Station has been promoting its new program to the Las Vegas labor force to some extent, placing a billboard advertisement on westbound Desert Inn Road.
"That's gotten people to tell us, 'We're just waiting for your child care to open, and we'll leave where we're working and come work for you,"' Murzl said.
But the true goal, she said, is retaining employees and cutting into Station's 35 percent annual turnover rate, a rate Murzl said is fairly standard in the competitive casino business.
"We'd love to see that turnover at about 20 percent," Murzl said. "I want to focus (promotion) internally. Once we get the team members comfortable, they'll be the best sales people (for attracting new employees)."
Though built on Station-owned land, the 30,000-square-foot centers will be owned and operated by Children's Choice Learning Centers Inc. of Dallas. The pending opening of the centers is drawing interest from other Las Vegas companies as well.
Eventually, Children's Choice believes it could operate as many as 12 child care centers in Las Vegas.
"I'd say sometime in the year 2000, we'll do something on the Strip," said Leslie Wulf, president and chief executive of Children's Choice. "But with Las Vegas growing the way it's growing, and a lot of call centers coming to town, there's a lot of other businesses that operate 24 hours a day, not just casinos."
One particular advantage, Wulf believes, is that Children's Choice is willing to foot the entire bill for developing each center.
"A lot of companies want to do child care, but they're not willing to spend $3-4 million to develop a child-care center," Wulf said.