fter Tuesday's anouncement that Sycuan Casino would be looking for a new director of sales — the first of more than 700 jobs that will be generated by a $226 million expansion-, the San Diego area's $1 billion casino building boom is becoming more than ever a boon for job seekers.
With the county’s jobless rate at 3.3 percent, San Diego area casinos find themselves not only locked in a fierce battle for customers but also housekeepers, cooks, front desk clerks, cashiers, bartenders, valets, hospitality managers, security guards, IT workers and more.
The 10 casino expansion projects — adding hotels, spas, pool complexes, restaurants and casino floor space — nearly 3,000 full- and part-time jobs are being created. That figure doesn’t include thousands of construction workers who have also been put to work. Staff salaries range from entry-level pay to six figures.
“Wow, if any company were coming into town saying they’re going to create 3,000 jobs, we’d be jumping up and down,” said Phil Blair, president of the staffing agency Manpower.
“It’s an employee’s world right now. San Diego’s thriving tourism and hospitality industry only adds to the pressure casinos face in hiring, training and retaining workers. You need to be a people person with what we call ‘soft skills,’ ” Blair said.
“You know the difference when you walk into a resort and the gardener says, ‘Hello, how’s your day going?’ versus looking straight ahead, people who shake you hand and say, “Welcome to Pechanga or welcome to Viejas,’” he said.
“You can’t teach customer service overnight, that takes time and these places need to hit the ground running. … They’re filling the pools with water as we speak.”
Blair added that casinos are often located in fairly remote areas, making traveling to work potentially expensive and time-consuming. Potential employees need to feel like they’re not just getting a job but starting on a career path.
“If I were these HR people, I’d be trying to think way out of the box on trying to attract (job prospects) them. Otherwise, they’ll look closer to home or for something that pays more. And there are so many, employees can say, ‘I can drive north, I can drive east, and I can drive south,’ and that’s the challenge for these casinos.”
Even when they’re not expanding, casinos are perpetually in hiring mode. The October 2016 opening of Hollywood Casino Jamul-San Diego resulted in an estimated 1,000 jobs created and while it’s currently not expanding, on Tuesday it held a job fair to fill open positions.
According to a 2016 study prepared by Beacon Economics for the California Nations Indian Gaming Association, tribal gaming operations supported some 40,700 direct jobs statewide, of which 24,100 were in Southern California. Economist Kelly Cunningham said San Diego County casinos likely account for the majority of those jobs.
And the numbers keep growing. Pala Casino Spa & Resort’s $170 million construction project, including a new hotel tower and expanded pool area, will generate 200 new resort jobs. And Valley View Casino & Hotel will hire an estimated 80 workers when its $50 million expansion and remodel is completed next year.
Sycuan, one of San Diego County’s first casinos, is building a full-scale resort with its first hotel — a 12-story, 300-room tower — a spa, new restaurants, a pool complex with a lazy river and a conference and event center. Tuesday’s announcement said they’ll be hiring in the hotel, food and beverage and casino departments, beginning with leadership positions during the first half of 2018. Sycuan will hold a series of job fairs later in the year, with an eye toward an early 2019 opening for the new hotel and resort.
Andrew Kerzmann, Sycuan’s vice president of hotel operations said his first hospitality job was as a part-time front desk clerk at a Holiday Inn Express when he was in college.
“These aren’t just jobs per se,” he said. “We want people to see the potential career path in hospitality. We have a very high rate of promotion. … We reinvest in our team members and recognize their performance through growth and development.”
Kerzmann said Sycuan is partnering with community colleges and career centers around the region to get that message out. They’ll also trumpet its health and retirement benefits as well as free transportation to the El Cajon casino from around the region via casino buses.
Sycuan also has an on-site dental and medical center.
“You can go over on your lunch break and get your teeth cleaned,” Kerzmann said. “I just did that last week.”