Opinon | Jill Griffin, Mary Vogel, Susan Moir, and Liz Skidmor

Building a diverse casino industry

Construction before the opening of the new Encore Casino.
Construction before the opening of the new Encore Casino. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Our legislative mandate is clear: Develop a blueprint to build a gaming industry that creates a more diverse and skilled workforce, and provides opportunities for minority, women, and veteran- owned businesses, ultimately enhancing economic opportunity for all Massachusetts residents. What better way to demonstrate the industry’s long-term commitment to diversity than to start literally with the foundation upon which it is built?

Massachusetts casino licensees have regularly met and exceeded diversity goals during the construction phase. MGM Springfield reported 8.55 percent of hours were worked by women, 21.78 percent were worked by minorities, and 8.71 percent were worked by veterans, exceeding its goals of 6.9 percent, 15.3 percent, and 8.0 percent, respectively. Encore Boston Harbor reported that, as of the end of April 2019, over 5.2 million hours had been completed on the project by over 7,000 workers. Of those workers, 1,685 were minority, 452 were female, and 301 were veterans. Encore is exceeding their workforce goals in every category, currently standing at 25.3 percent minority individuals, 7.2 percent female, and 5.4 percent veterans. Plainridge Park Casino exceeded its diversity goals in most categories, falling slightly short for tradeswomen — but more on that later.


So, how did we do it?

Set and communicate workforce goals early and often. In Massachusetts, casino developers are legally required to set diversity hiring goals and submit strategic plans for the inclusion of minority, women, and veterans in all phases of casino development. The gaming law also requires specific construction workforce goals for minorities and women. The Gaming Commission prioritized this mandate and established protocols and procedures to ensure compliance and accountability.

Identify and establish the partnerships needed to access a diverse workforce. In 2014, the Gaming Commmission formed an Access and Opportunity Committee to bring together stakeholders to further the gaming industry’s diversity goals and to independently assess the efforts and results of each licensee. The committee has statewide and local community representation with expertise in labor, workforce development, and supplier diversity. The committee’s primary function is to monitor the diversity of the construction workforce and supplier base throughout the multi-year construction phase of each gaming facility. Its shared focus is simple: Create opportunities and share best practices to recruit minorities, women, and veterans, and the businesses that they own, to maximize access to jobs and economic benefits offered by gaming.


Although Massachusetts is nationally recognized as a leader in the movement to employ women in the trades, female construction workers remain underrepresented in high-wage jobs. Given the shortage of tradeswomen to fulfill Plainridge Park Casino’s construction workforce goal, the Access and Opportunity Committee quickly realized that the arrival of thousands of casino construction jobs at MGM and Encore, combined with the industry’s commitment to setting the diversity standard, provided a prime opportunity to tackle a longstanding recruitment challenge.

The Gaming Commission awarded a $150,000 workforce development grant to launch a new partnership, known as the Northeast Center for Tradeswomen’s Equity. The center, working closely with the Gaming Commission, developed the Commonwealth’s first statewide recruitment initiative to encourage more women of color to pursue a career in the building trades. The strategy included the creation of a pipeline-access position and the implementation of a branded outreach campaign to promote opportunities for women in the building trades and support the program’s overarching goal of 20 percent tradeswomen by 2020.


The result? The campaign called The Build a Life That Works, which was launched in 2017 with support from union, city, state, and private entities. The campaign continues to gain momentum and inspire supporters. MGM Springfield and Encore Boston Harbor exceeded their goals for tradeswomen. The Policy Group on Tradeswomen’s Issues recently noted that more tradeswomen have worked on the Encore property than any other construction site in the history of Massachusetts development. Since 2016, the number of female union apprentices in Massachusetts has increased by 43 percent and is now triple the national average, at 8.49 percent.

Closely monitor and publicly report progress. Measure, monitor, and report. The Gaming Commmission requires monthly detailed, statistical reports from licensees about the diversity of their workforce and vendor contracting. These reports are presented in public, reviewed by the Access and Opportunity Committee,and made available online. Transparency regarding the challenges and frequent progress reviews result in real-time accountability, providing the opportunity to identify and address issues before they become a matter of hindsight.

Recognize success. The Gaming Commission noted that casino licensees frequently and publicly celebrated the success of contractors who were exceeding goals or making significant improvements.

Repeat. Targets should be considered a floor, not a ceiling. Consistently strive for more than compliance and engage all stakeholders. Utilize the principles of continuous improvement to achieve the best diversity results; identify opportunities to improve workflow; plan how the process can be improved and implement changes when necessary.


When it comes to diversity, achieving is good, but exceeding is better. As construction continues to boom across the Commonwealth, let’s continue to enthusiastically earn and exceed our national reputation for advancing diversity in the construction trades. Together we can build skylines and communities where strong foundations and facades stand as monuments to our shared and celebrated commitment to diversity and inclusion.

Jill Griffin is director of workforce, diversity, and supplier development at the Massachusetts Gaming Commission. Mary Vogel is executive director of Building Pathways. Susan Moir is research director of the Policy Group on Tradeswomen’s Issues. Liz Skidmore is organizer of the New England Regional Council of Carpenters. Vogel, Moir, and Skidmore are cofounders of the Northeast Center for Tradeswomen’s Equity.