Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2010 | 2 a.m.
IT’S A CRIME IN NEVADA
Many employees may think it’s against company policy, but may not realize that accepting money for employment, either directly or indirectly, has been a misdemeanor in Nevada since 1967.
Many companies have online screening programs, some of which can be manipulated. Other protective steps are having multiple employees sign off on new hires and preventing managers from overriding the standard hiring process.
In the days when mobsters lined their pockets with casino cash, employment in the industry’s more lucrative echelons often depended on knowing someone in a position of power. For the best-paying casino jobs — dealing high-limit games to wealthy, big-tipping players — getting the gig typically involved something else: cold hard cash.
According to former casino executives who now consult to the gaming industry, jobs dealing baccarat or other big-money games could cost job seekers up to tens of thousands of dollars — a paltry sum for a job that once yielded up to $100,000 in earnings or higher, much of it untaxed.
Today’s multibillion-dollar casino industry has adopted more professional hiring practices over the past two decades, using sophisticated human resources procedures that include online application forms and multiple interviews to find the best employees out of countless applicants.
And yet, gaming consultants say, such graft survives in Las Vegas, a recession-ravaged town where people are desperate for work.
Job peddling, one of the top 10 forms of employee theft and fraud in the casino business, is on the rise, said John Boggs, an employment law attorney and principal of Hotlink HR, a Utah-based company that sells software to help companies process job applications, handle employee grievances and comply with labor laws.
“As times get worse, people try to make money on the side,” he said. “Vegas is one of the worst places for having this happen, as employees and managers start to look for other ways of making money. Managers are saying, ‘The job market is so bad for employees that I can capitalize on this.’ ”
Over the past decade, job selling has occurred largely among Asian immigrants seeking casino employment because graft is considered acceptable commerce in Asian culture, casino consultants say.
In some Asian countries, bribery isn’t considered a crime but rather a way of “getting ahead” in life, said Jeff Voyles, a casino management professor at UNLV and former MGM Resorts executive.
“There’s a culture of bribery (in Asia) that if you want something, you pay for it,” said Voyles, who lived in Korea for years and speaks the language.
During his travels throughout Asia, Voyles said, he has turned down offers for money in exchange for jobs in Las Vegas by people hoping to get a foot in the door in some of the best-known casino resorts in the world.
Before the recession, job selling typically occurred when new resorts were hiring and managers could more easily disguise fraudulent hires among the thousands of workers needed for casino jobs, he said. Managers could reasonably recommend job-buying dealers for employment if the dealers had specialized experience dealing games preferred by Asians or were fluent in the first language spoken by high-rolling Asians from, say, China or Taiwan, he added.
“These jobs are very valuable to people,” Voyles said. “It’s a status thing for Asians to work at some of these (Las Vegas) properties.”
The presence of graft boils down to simple math, said Max Rubin, a casino consultant who has witnessed job peddling at casinos in Nevada and California.
“You have such a deep labor pool and thousands of people who want the same job. The person who gets the job is most likely someone who has juice,” said Rubin, who has written several books on gambling.
In many cases the employee knows someone at the company who recommended him for the job — a process common in many industries yet systemic in the casino business, he said.
Selling jobs appears to be more prevalent in California casinos, where dealers keep their own tips rather than pooling them with others on a shift, as is typical in Nevada casinos, Rubin said.
Since the 1960s and 1970s, when he witnessed such graft firsthand in Las Vegas, Rubin has heard frequent allegations about job peddling, which is likely occurring “wherever good jobs are most scarce” because perpetrators don’t usually get caught.
There’s a “circle of silence around this that can be very tough to crack,” he said.
Difficult, perhaps, but not impossible. One former executive of a major Las Vegas casino said he once caught a casino manager red-handed by having someone posing as a dealer pass an envelope of cash to the manager, who was suspected of accepting bribes because he was “living larger than his income would allow.”
Job peddling is “more prevalent throughout the system than people want to acknowledge, especially in tough economic times,” said the executive, who requested anonymity.
It often comes to light when workers who paid their bosses for employment rat out those bosses after being laid off or passed over for choice shifts, he said. For employees with questionable ethics, complaining to upper management about a superior who is not delivering results upon payment is “no different from filing a complaint with the Better Business Bureau,” he added.
That’s what happened at the former Aladdin casino in the 1990s when Bill Zender, now an industry consultant, served as director of casino operations.
Zender said he discovered a scheduling manager who sold days off after employees complained to higher-ups when the manager, who had been demoted, was no longer delivering their expected benefits.
In 1998, Zender was hired by the Casino San Pablo in California to retrain staff — including many less-than-competent dealers who had paid $2,000 each for work there.
Most recently, Zender said, he advised a major Las Vegas casino against employing a manager suspected of selling jobs and other unethical practices, such as issuing credit to gamblers who probably couldn’t repay their debts. A few years ago, the casino employed the manager to make contacts among Asian-born players, who are believed to be more avid gamblers, Zender said. The casino dumped the manager after suspicions he was selling jobs to dealers, said Zender, who declined to name the property or the manager.
Several major casino companies contacted by the Sun said they weren’t aware of job peddling at their properties. Moreover, they said it would be virtually impossible for candidates to be hired without at least the requisite job skills, as HR systems require all applicants to fill out online forms that reject those lacking necessary skills or job experience.
Although many companies have online screening programs, a single person may still decide who among the prescreened candidates gets hired, leaving the company vulnerable to fraud, said David Black, vice president of Hotlink HR and a 1996 graduate of UNLV’s William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration.
“Most systems are easy to manipulate” unless employers have frequent checks and balances, said Black, whose HR software is now part of the hotel management curriculum at UNLV.
Although some companies brush off claims of job peddling as little more than urban myth, some casino experts say such allegations are a real concern — though they remain largely unproven and thus, out of the public eye.
Three years ago, the Gaming Control Board attempted to investigate allegations that a manager was selling jobs to Asian-born employees at the Stratosphere. The board abandoned the probe when employees refused to testify, leaving little evidence with which to charge the manager, said Jerry Markling, chief of the Control Board’s enforcement division.
The person in question is no longer employed at the Stratosphere, which is now under new ownership, he said.
Companies have been similarly thwarted in attempting to uncover fraud in their own ranks, said Gregg Kamer, a Las Vegas employment lawyer who works for major casinos and other hospitality companies.
With the supposed victims unwilling to come forward and no proof that money has changed hands, supervisors can easily deny such claims, he said.
Nor are law enforcement authorities likely to investigate such crimes anytime soon.
The Control Board, which primarily investigates gambling crimes, has a broader interest in protecting the integrity of the casino industry from the actions of unethical employees. The agency retains the authority to issue fines and revoke casino licenses at properties where crimes or other unsavory acts are taking place.
Yet the Control Board lacks the manpower and expertise to conduct the kind of sting operation that would be required to infiltrate the Asian-speaking community and uncover hard evidence of job peddling, Markling said. Spokespeople for other law enforcement authorities at the state and local levels told the Sun they were unaware of any prosecutions involving job peddling, nor any allegations that would prompt such an investigation.
In years past, the potential for huge financial gain seemed to outweigh the risk of losing not only a lucrative job in management but also future employment in the casino industry, consultants say. That may change, however, as companies adopt more advanced hiring methods. Some casinos, for example, are putting applicants through multiple interviews with different people before they get the nod.
About a year ago, Hotlink HR began receiving calls from Las Vegas gaming customers uncovering evidence that managers were selling jobs at their properties, Boggs said.
The job peddling had occurred before these casinos became users of the company’s services.
The company’s Hotlink HR software aims to stop such graft by preventing the common practice of having a manager expedite an individual’s job application or otherwise override the standard application process.
At multiple intervals throughout the application process, the system can require hiring managers to electronically sign statements that they have not taken any gifts or money in association with furthering an applicant through the system. They also can require that multiple employees sign off on the application after the candidate passes the interview process.
Accepting money for employment, either directly or indirectly, has been a misdemeanor in Nevada since 1967.
“They may know it violates company policy but a lot of employees don’t know it’s a crime,” Boggs said. “Employees are willing to be dishonest but a lot aren’t willing to blatantly violate the law, knowing you are going to go after them. These signatures are a strong deterrent.”