The busiest casino in Illinois is undergoing an extreme makeover in the form of an expansion. The goal is to add almost twice the number of gaming positions as are already available and to make all of this run smoothly, the Rivers Casino will require an additional staff of 400 new employees. Of that total, 250 will be new dealers. The projected opening of the expansion is next spring.
More On The Expansion
It was back in February when the Rivers Casino first broke ground on the renovation which will see an additional 78,000 square feet added to the existing venue. Part of the plan is to add new features such as a restaurant and a ballroom. The gaming position increase will jump to 2,000 from the present 1,200. That brings the casino to the state maximum of gaming positions allowed as noted in the Illinois Gambling Expansion Bill of 2019. The state’s first land-based casino license was granted by the Illinois Gaming Board to Rivers Casino to accommodate the massive expansion plan. Essentially, the change pushed Rivers Casino beyond the riverboat status it earned in 2011 when the facility opened. At the time, Rivers Casino was built over a shallow pool of water. This new part of the casino will enhance both the land-based and online sports betting Illinois options coming from the casino.
There will be two major phases to the expansion of the Rivers Casino. The first one will see the addition of roughly 200 more slot machines and 30 more table games. The second and final phase of the project will include another 300 slots, a poker room, and a ballroom. An expansion to the garage has already been completed. Naturally, there will be a dire need for new dealers with the additional gaming positions and Rivers Casino has felt the pinch following its June 11 reopening to full capacity. According to Rivers Casino general manager Corey Wise, the casino was caught short-handed and does not have the number of dealers required with such an ambitious expansion on the horizon. “There’s a tough labor market out there,” he says. “We have over one hundred positions open right now.”
Innovative Techniques Have Been Employed
Rivers Casino took their unusual situation and attacked it with a proactive approach using an old-school method of reaching out to potential new hires – they hosted a dealer job fair. The goal was to not only fill their existing roster but to gain access to more qualified dealers to draw on once the expansion is complete. The dealers will be needed at that time for over 800 new gaming positions and a poker room with 22 tables. The casino dealer job fair promoted that dealers will earn $55,000 or more in their first year on the job. According to Wise, earlier this month, Rivers Casino increased its pay rate for all non-tipped employees to $15 per hour in hopes of attracting new employees interested in becoming part of an exciting and social gaming industry.
Gamblers Have Been Coming Back To Rivers
There was no way of knowing how COVID restrictions were going to impact all segments of the business community. When casinos were shut down from March through June of 2020, thanks to a statewide stay-at-home order for everything other than essential business, things started to hit rock bottom in the Illinois gambling industry. Well, for the land-based casinos it did. When capacity restrictions were lifted in May 2021, Rivers Casino saw adjusted gross receipts that month hit $41.4 million which surpassed the May 2019 total of $39.5 million. But it hasn’t been smooth sailing for the casino industry as COVID restrictions forced limited capacity limits in July 2020 and another complete shutdown in November when the pandemic had a surge.
Then in January of this year, Rivers reopened with capacity limits in place and on June 11 reopened completely with 100% capacity to coincide with the Illinois Phase 5 pandemic reopening plan. Wise says that regular players have managed to get in this year to gamble, even with capacity limitations, the reopening has attracted new customers that may not have been as keen to brave the restrictions for gambling entertainment. “As people get more comfortable and restrictions have been lifted we have seen an uptick in admissions…slowly, but surely, we’re building momentum.” It is from that momentum that Rivers Casino is launching into their plans to expand their facility into the size of a major gambling venue.
The Numbers Currently And Needed
The Rivers Casino currently employs 1,350 people. While that may sound like a lot, it is actually down about 100 from the staffing level in place before the pandemic. With the upcoming expansion, the goal is to have a total of 1,750 or more employees. Wise says the dealer job fair concept was to fill that gap and add many new prospects so they would be in place before the expansion plan is completed. Also, with the two-phase project, some new hires would be working before the project is finished and the Rivers Casino can host a launching event of the new features.
There is no doubt that gambling in all forms has taken off in Illinois. To propose such a massive expansion project with COVID not so far in the rearview mirror is a brave step for any business to take. However, the pandemic has proven to have benefitted some businesses with renewed interest coming from their local marketplace which has resulted in an increase of new business far beyond that of just regular customers. Whether or not that is a new trend remains to be seen, but there may be something to that. Rivers Casino has become the most popular gambling venue in the state and sees that as the grounds for the addition of more gambling positions and a few more features to the existing venue. It is most definitely a gamble to take, but you can bet that the odds are in favor of the casino winning in the long run.