Vegas glitz may be a gamble too far
Employment practices raise questions about objectifying women, writes Paul McGeough.
The casino that Larry and Sid built on the New Jersey shore is chock-full of glass sculptures by Dale Chihuly. But nothing covers up the fact that it is several rugby fields filled with thousands of slot machines and hundreds of card tables - not even the skimpily clad Borgata Babes who patrol the aisles with their drinks trays.
Larry is Larry Mullin and Sid is Sid Vaikunta, the American duo imported to Australia to give Sydney's Star casino the Atlantic City treatment, some of which is prompting complaints by female employees that echo their sisters at the Borgata Hotel Casino and Spa.
Borgata took Atlantic City by storm when it opened in 2003. In a city that tries, maybe too hard, to live up to its motto - ''Always turned on'' - the management decreed there would be no Bibles in the rooms and no fat or wrinkles on the sprawling gaming floor.
The first new casino in Atlantic City in more than a decade, the $1.1 billion Borgata effectively launched the campaign for the city to be more like Las Vegas than a ''dilapidated step-sister'' of the Nevada city, as it was described at the time.
The city's dozen other casinos soon went the Borgata way.
Atlantic City still pulls more than 30 million visitors a year, but revenue is down and the competition from new east coast gambling venues is intense - and that's where sex comes in. When the Borgata opened, the casinos in Atlantic City relied on gaming for about 80 per cent of their revenue, compared with just 50 per cent from gambling in Las Vegas.
The Borgata Babes are subjected to random weigh-ins. Those who gain more than 7 per cent of their approved weight are suspended without pay for up to 90 days - and then fired unless they lose the extra kilograms.
In 2006, two former Borgata staff sued for $70 million, alleging a ''sexual and gender-hostile environment and sex discrimination''. The case was settled out of court.
The issue simmered until last year, with a raft of claims against the nearby Resorts Casino Hotel, where cocktail waitresses who were called in for a photo shoot were shocked to find that instead of checking to see if their skimpy new flapper-style uniforms fitted them, their employer in fact was checking to see if they fitted the new uniforms. Those who did not were sacked for ''violating uniform standards''.
Kevin Costello, representing another group of the Resorts women, told the Herald: ''As a civil rights lawyer for more than 20 years, I have seen the darker side of stereotyping and this is not 1955 - to claim that the job has to be done in a traditional, sexy-sexy way and that the women must obey this stereotype is illegal.''
However, he said the casinos would get away with their employment practices until there was a definitive court ruling.
With more than 40 years in the business, Dennis Gomes, the owner of Resorts and a named defendant in the women's legal action, firmly believes sex sells.
He predicted the casino would be found to have acted within the law, explaining: ''If a woman looks good in the uniform it doesn't matter what age she is … but if you are walking through and you come across someone who looks atrocious, it breaks the flow.''
Joe Lupo, the senior vice-president of operations at Borgata, said: ''It's not about objectifying women - they are our ambassadors and we're very proud of them. It's a very good place to work - we have 6000 staff and I'd like to think they all are happy.''
But we cannot be sure of that. Lupo conceded the Herald could order a drink from the Borgata Babes, but he insisted, no less than four times, under no circumstances were they to be quizzed about working at the casino.