The Headline That Casino Management Never Wants to See

Casino team members go to the media because working conditions frighten them

On August 19, the daily newspaper of the Mississippi Gulf Coast ran a front-page story with the headline:

‘It’s our lives.’ Scared Mississippi Coast casino employees
demand more COVID-19 protections

The article said that some casino workers in Biloxi say they are afraid to come to work because of a lack of communication about co-workers who test positive, and other prevention measures. Although the 13 Coast casinos have taken steps to protect their guests, team members who contacted the Sun Herald newspaper said they wanted greater protections for themselves.

Like many other gaming jurisdictions, Mississippi casinos reopened in late May with additional precautions, such as hand sanitizer stations and social distancing procedures. Masks and temperature checks are required for casino team members, and they became mandatory for guests over the July 4th holiday weekend.

Housekeepers from one casino contacted the media, and those concerns were then heard by the Mississippi Gaming Commission (MGC). The team member concerns heard by the Commission included complaints that social distancing was not being enforced, guests were allowed in without masks or wearing masks improperly, inadequate contact tracing and lack of communication from casino management. “We’re scared and angry,” one team member was quoted.

Mississippi casinos aren’t required to report positive cases of COVID-19 among employees to the Mississippi Gaming Commission or Department of Health. The MGC has been conducting inspections and the chairman was quoted as saying that the commission “will do what it can to make things as safe as possible.” But is that enough to reassure casino team members that their workplace is safe when they clock in tomorrow?


The situation is even more complex because of medical privacy requirements. Can casino management tell team members that a co-worker tested positive? If not, then how can management communicate effectively about exactly what is going on with COVID-19 among their workforce so that team members believe they are being protected?

There is an important lesson to be learned by what happened in Mississippi, because it could be happening in your casino. What do your team members think about working conditions at your property? Do they feel safe? Do they trust that management is doing all it can to ensure their safety? How can you find out before it’s a public problem, like Mississippi casinos encountered?

If you want to know what your team members think about working conditions under COVID-19, you have to ask them!

Raving has conducted employee engagement surveys that measure how a casino’s team members rank morale, training, management support and various job satisfaction components. Many casino human resources departments routinely conduct annual employee surveys, but those are not what is most needed in today’s COVID-19 environment.

The research that casinos most need to be doing today is different than what we have all been used to. Conditions affecting team members and guests are changing overnight. Geographic areas that seem to be gaining ground against COVID-19 suddenly see spikes in new cases and deaths. People become more fearful of venturing out again. Many casino team members have young children, elderly relatives or existing health issues, and they are afraid of being exposed or infected and passing that on to their families or friends.

One tool to find out how your team members feel about COVID-19 precautions at your property is to conduct short, flexible pulse surveys. These brief surveys have typically been used in employee research as a way to do a “check-up” on issues that are important to the organization. The surveys take less than five minutes; answer options can be single choice, multiple choice or it can even be an open-ended text question for the team member to write in their comments, experiences or suggestions.

Pulse surveys are also effective in learning what your guests think about your prevention practices.

Pulse surveys work just as well for your guests. How do they rate the practices and protocols for COVID-19 that you’ve implemented at your property? How safe do they feel? Do they trust that you are doing everything that you can to protect them during their visit? What is working and what is not? Imagine how the guests of the Mississippi Coast casinos felt when they saw a headline about casino employees being afraid of their work environment – the same space that guests occupy and need to feel safe in.

The benefits of pulse surveys are:

  • Fast way to get reliable data;
  • Affordable market research;
  • Easily modified as needs change;
  • Shorter, more frequent check-in than with traditional studies;
  • Helps management understand if action plans are working;
  • Identify problems/issues that could have serious repercussions;
  • Demonstrates that team member and/or guest feedback is important to the organization;
  • Helps turn insights into action.

Summary of pulse surveys:

Pulse surveys have primarily been used in conjunction with comprehensive employee engagement surveys, but even that use has been minimal by most casinos. The format of pulse surveys is just as effective with guest research as it is with employee studies.
Most casinos have not used pulse surveys. Lengthy satisfaction surveys, employee engagement surveys and other in-depth research have been more appealing because you can collect so much data about so many topics in just one survey.

COVID-19 has changed the way we need to do so many things, including our casino research. As Mississippi casinos found out, not knowing what your team members are really thinking about their workplace in today’s environment can have significant negative results. Our team members, as well as our guests, need a way to tell management what their fears and concerns are, or they may go around you to make their voices heard. Or they may just stop showing up.

Deb Hilgeman
Deb Hilgeman 15 Articles