The True Meaning of Labor Day

Unlike May Day in many countries where workers are recognized for the power they hold, Labor Day in the United States honors workers for the services they perform that make everyone's lives easier. Gaming observer Richard Schuetz remembers how the true meaning of Labor Day was brought home to him many years ago.

The True Meaning of Labor Day

Many years ago, I was minding my own business at my home on a lake in Minneapolis when I received a call from Lyle Berman, then chairman of the board of Grand Casinos, Inc. Lyle was also chairman of the Stratosphere Hotel and Casino. A few months prior to this call, I had stepped down as an executive of Grand Casinos, exercised my stock options, and was taking a well-earned break. In the call, Lyle asked if I would travel to Las Vegas, hang out at the Stratosphere for a bit, and tell him what I thought.

The Stratosphere had just opened and it was no secret that it was struggling financially, and for a variety of curious reasons the local press seemed to take a bit of delight in that reality.

I agreed to his requested undertaking and flew out to Las Vegas, where I basically acted like a customer of the property for the next week. Upon returning to Minneapolis I wrote up my observations and sent them on to Lyle. I heard nothing for several weeks, and then he asked me to drop into his office. I returned to my old place of employment and as is Lyle’s nature, he got right to the point. He asked that I become the interim president of the property for a period of 90 days while the two of us would work to source a new permanent president.

I agreed to assist Lyle as the Stratosphere’s interim president and asked when he wanted me to start. He told me that he would pick me up at my house, and we would fly out on the corporate jet in two days. That seemed very quick, but then I had also come to know Lyle as someone who did not mess around.

Two days later, I was loading all of my suits and other clothing in a van to head to the local private airport to travel to Las Vegas in the Grand Casinos, Inc. jet.

One of the first matters of business I had to attend to was a press conference where I was introduced as the new interim president. At that event I was asked by Gary Thompson, then of the Las Vegas Sun, as to what I was being paid. It was a funny question because Lyle and I had never discussed that issue. Lyle had always been more that fair with me and I had no worries that this would continue. We had more important things to deal with than my salary. That was what I told Gary, and the reporters in the room found this very strange.

During the press event, I had also mentioned that we would be embarking on an eight-week marketing plan to turn the property around. Reporter Thompson’s second question was: “Why eight weeks?” I replied that what was magic about the eight week period was that this would be the time it would take to burn off the remaining cash that we had available to us at the current rate of cash burn, and if there wasn’t a turnaround that we would then need to replace me with someone who specialized in financial re-structurings. The point was, the Stratosphere was in trouble, and it needed to become something else very quickly.

I moved into the property that evening, and stayed there for the next year. One of my immediate goals was to meet every employee on the property, a number that was in the 3,000 person range. This was made easier by the fact that I lived on the property and ended up being there basically all of the time (I once went nine weeks without leaving the property).

When one makes a commitment to meet every employee on the property, one spends a great deal of time in the front and heart of the house. One of my hangouts was the employee dining room, for just about everyone drifted through it in the course of a shift. It was doing one of these trips in the dining room where I had the most significant learning event of my career, and it was with a woman named Maria.

I had just dropped into the employee dining area and started laughing and scratching with a group of dealers. I noticed this very petite woman dressed in a guest room attendant uniform standing nearby and it was my sense that she wanted to talk to me. It was Maria.

I excused myself from the group I was visiting with, and moved over to this woman. I asked her if she wanted to talk to me. She said that she did and reached into her uniform pocket and took out a picture of me that had been on the front page of the Las Vegas Review Journal, a picture that accompanied the story of my being appointed interim president. She said that she had been carrying the picture for several days for she had something important to talk to me about. She then said that it was important for her to talk to me for if the Stratosphere failed and she lost her job she would not be able to feed her two babies. She wanted me to understand how important it was for me to do a good job and to do everything I could do to make the property work.

I would hope that all of you understand that you all have Marias in your lives, no matter what you do. Think of them this Labor Day, and how we all depend on one another to take care of those Marias, those babies, and ourselves.

Articles by Author: Richard Schuetz

Richard Schuetz started dealing blackjack for Bill Harrah 47 years ago, and has traveled the world as a casino executive, educator and regulator. He is sincerely appreciative of the help he received from his friends and colleagues throughout the gaming world in developing this article, understanding that any and all errors are his own.