SIOUX CITY | In the sweepstakes for a new Woodbury County casino, the local economy already stands to be a big winner.
The three developers competing to replace the Argosy Sioux City with a larger onshore casino each promise to create hundreds of additional jobs with competitive wages.
To staff a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week facility with a larger gaming floor and more amenities than the current floating casino, the winning bidder will need to add dozens of positions, from pit bosses and dealers to valets and security guards to wait staff and housekeepers.
Backers say the added payroll, combined with increased tourism and higher casino spending for local goods and services, will reverberate through the local economy, spinning off hundreds of additional permanent jobs.
As many as 1,000 construction workers also would be on site during the 18 months or so it would take to build the gaming and entertainment palace.
MORE CASINO JOBS
The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission on Thursday in Altoona will hear full-blown presentations from the four groups applying for a land-based gaming license. The five-member panel will pick one proposal on April 18.
The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino is projecting the largest number of jobs and payroll. The Hard Rock expects to hire 500 casino workers, about 175 more than the Argosy's current employment of around 325.
Developers of the Warrior Casino & Hotel anticipate creating 461 casino and hotel jobs, up 136 compared to the gambling boat's count.
Argosy owner Penn National Gaming Co., which has offered a choice of two sites for its Hollywood Casion, would add as many as 150 workers if it retains the license.
Penn expects to employ 434 at its downtown Sioux City site, or 472 at a rural location near Salix. The difference in the two numbers is due to the inclusion of a 150-room hotel at the $167 million rural project, said Penn spokeswoman Karen Bailey. A hotel would be part of a later phase at the $160 million downtown site along Gordon Drive.
Penn's overall increase in local employment, Bailey said, would be due to a larger number of food and beverage options at the Hollywood Casino, which would feature a fine-dining steakhouse, a casual grille and and a sports bar and pub.
"I can't speak to how the other applicants came up with their employment numbers but I can speak to the fact that we are a seasoned and experienced casino operator and base our employment numbers on our experience in this market," Bailey said.
The Hard Rock's higher employment projections are largely driven by the complex's multiple amenities, which include a buffet, an upscale casual restaurant, beer garden, a sports-themed brew pub and grill and retail shops, said Bill Warner, president of Sioux City Entertainment, which is developing the $118.5 million project, designed around the historic Battery Building downtown at 323 Water St.
Warner said the staffing levels are structured to give guests a great experience when they visit.
"We're looking for people who are committed to guest service," Warner said. "My view is the team really delivers the success of the property, and focusing on having the right number of team members and the right quality of team members is critical."
The $122 million Warior Casino & Hotel, centered around the historic Warrior Hotel and Davidson Building in the 600 block of Sixth Street, feature such amenities as a buffet, fine-dining restaurant and sports bar & grill.
Lance Morgan, CEO of Ho-Chunk Inc., which is leading the Warrior development, said he expects the number of casino jobs to eventually exceed the projections in its license application.
"We put up a conservative number and then we try to beat it. That's what a solid Midwest company does," Morgan said. Winnebago, Neb.-based Ho-Chunk, an economic development corporation owned by the Winnebago Tribe, has multi-facted operations in Iowa, as well as throughout the country.
About 35 of the Warrior Casino & Hotel's 461 employees would work in the 91-room hotel.
The Hard Rock job numbers do not include any increased employment from its Hard Rock-themed hotel.
The 60-room boutique hotel would be run by the Stoney Creek Inn, which currently operates a 161-room hotel across the street from the casino site. Jenn Pavone, general manager of the Sioux City Stoney Creek, said a few more hotel jobs likely would be added to serve the Hard Rock rooms.
LOCAL HIRING PREFERENCE
The three developers expect most of the jobs to be filled by Iowans -- 90 percent for Hard Rock, 75 percent to 80 percent for Penn, and 70 percent for the Warrior, according to the applications.
While the Winnebago Tribe and Ho-Chunk are the largest equity investors in the Warrior project. Morgan pointed out the casino's development company, called Warrior Entertainment, will operate like any other Iowa business, and will not give a hiring preference to Native American applicants.
If Penn wins the license, all of the existing Argosy workers would advance to the new land-based casino with the same pay, benefits and seniority, Sioux City general manager Lance George said. A number of existing employees likely would be promoted to fill new positions, George said.
In its license application, Warrior Entertainment said it has "every intention" to give a "clear" hiring preference to the Argosy workers that would be displaced.
"We would be fools not to take a highly trained staff and put them back to work," Morgan said. "Our plan is to draw as much as we can from the Argosy employees and then fill as much as we can from the Siouxland area."
Due to ongoing litigation, Warner declined to specifically comment on the Argosy workforce, but he indicated that “previous experience in the gaming and hospitality industries would certainly be a factor" in the Hard Rock's hiring process.
Penn is suing the Argosy’s current nonprofit license holder, Missouri River Historical Development, for breach of contract. MRHD has partnered with Sioux City Entertainment on the Hard Rock project.
Hard Rock projects a first-year payroll, including wages and benefits, of more than $20.3 million. That compares to Argosy's current annual payroll of about $12 million.
For its Hollywood Casino, Penn forecasts a first-year payroll of $19.7 million at the rural site, and $18.2 million for the downtown location.
The Warrior places its first-year payroll at nearly $14 million.
All three prospective operators would offer a full slate of benefits that includes health dental and vision insurance, 401k retirement plans with company match, and paid vacation.
In their license applications, the developers list pay ranges for various salaried and hourly jobs. A position-by-position comparison is difficult, though, because of differences in job titles and responsibilities.
Hard Rock backers are touting their own analysis of the salaried positions listed in the applications. Hard Rock projects an average starting pay of $55,058 for Hark Rock, $47,315 for each of the Hollywood sites and $46,350 for the Warrior.
For their calculations, Hard Rock officials added up the low end of the respective salary ranges and then divided by the total number of positions listed in the applications -- 48 for the Warrior, 39 for Hard Rock and 38 for Hollywood. Because the Warrior did not list salaries for two key positions -- general manager and casino director -- the starting salaries for the same jobs with Hard Rock were used in the calculation, according to Hard Rock.
Overall, the Hard Rock projects 102 salaried jobs, while the Warrior and Hollywood forecasts its numbers at 90 and 61, respectively.
In their applications, the prospective operators listed broad pay ranges for hourly employees in general divisions, but not specific positions.
A comparison of those pay scales is complicated by the fact that many of the hourly positions would receive tips, and by a state gaming law that requires casinos to pay 25 percent more than the Iowa minimum wage of $7.25 per hour for non-casino jobs.
The latter provision requires casinos to ensure employees make more than $9.07 per hour, after tips. The casino operator must make up any difference to reach that level.
For table games, for example, Hard Rock listed a range, after tips, of $10.44 to $20.25 per hour. In the same category, Warrior's range was $10.55 to $13.89 per hour, while Hollywood's was $6.25 to $18.90.