SPRINGFIELD — A word of warning to business owners in the hotel and hospitality industries: Casinos will be coming for your employees.
“Give them some love; up their pay a little bit,” Speros A. Batistatos, a business leader who helped lure casino developers to Indiana, said at a Western Massachusetts gambling forum Wednesday. Otherwise, those employees “will leave you, and everything you have invested in that person will walk out the door,” he said.
Bankers should not be too comfortable, either, Batistatos said. “Bank tellers, people who handle cash, are going to be highly sought after.”
Batistatos, president and chief executive of the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority in Hammond, Ind., offered the advice in remarks to the state gambling commission at the latest in a series of educational forums the panel is hosting around the state. Topics at the forum, held on the campus of Western New England University, included tourism, workplace development, and mitigating the effects of casinos in the community.
The business of casinos is to keep customers within its walls, at the gambling tables and on the slot machines, said Batistatos. “The casino on its own is going to bring in a lot of visitors,” he said. “The casino on its own is not going to change your hospitality industry. . . . Every day we talk about how do we get people from the [casinos] into downtown.”
‘Give them some love; up their pay.’ Otherwise, ‘everything you have invested in that person will walk out the door.’
Business owners and organizations need to be aggressive, he said, to tap into a casino’s stream of visitors. “Is that casino’s loyalty card going to be recognized at every shop downtown?” asked Batistatos. He urged cross-promotion between the casino and the region, making the point with a hometown example: a casino restaurant with a basketball theme that would advertise the Basketball Hall of Fame in downtown Springfield.
Peter Rosskothen, chairman of the Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau, told the commission that regional business officials want to “break the mold that casino patrons stay inside the casino.”
Business leaders will be pressing casino operators to agree to promote local restaurants and regional attractions, he said, “so we can keep people [in the area] for a couple [of] extra days.”
Stephen Crosby, chairman of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, said in an interview that the panel could require developers to document in their applications how they would cross-promote local attractions.
Before the forum, commissioners saw the first significant public protests at one of their traveling events.
“No dice, Springfield!” shouted gambling opponents who want to keep a casino out of their city.
“Roll the dice, Palmer!” chanted supporters eager to have a casino development in their town, rather than in Springfield.
The protests showed the wide array of competing interests in the casino debate in Western Massachusetts, the only region of the state that currently has a vibrant competition among casino companies. The operators of Mohegan Sun in Connecticut are proposing a casino in Palmer. Four companies have their sights set on Springfield: Ameristar, MGM Resorts, Hard Rock International, and Penn National Gaming.
“If we have to have a casino in the area, let it go to Palmer,” said Michele Lamountain, a Springfield resident demonstrating against the gambling proposals in her city.
James St. Amand of Palmer was one of several dozen demonstrators sporting a pale yellow “Palmer First” T-shirt, in support of the Mohegan Sun proposal for a resort casino in the town.
“We need the revenue so we can rehire police, fire, and school teachers and reduce taxes,” he said.