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Pennsylvania Casinos Begin the Hiring Process;
Searching for the Hottest Cocktail Servers
 in the Country
By Christina Gostomski and Sam Kennedy, The Morning Call, Allentown, Pa.McClatchy-Tribune Business News

Nov. 26, 2006 - It's not your typical job advertisement. Then again, it's not your typical job.

"Grab your 4-inch heels. Dress to impress. And be ready for the audition of a lifetime," the ad reads.

Oh, and one more thing -- look like a model.

"If you have style, grace, personality...and want a career that allows you to earn beyond your wildest dreams, this is all about you," the ad says. "The all-new Philadelphia Park Casino is searching for the hottest cocktail servers in the country."

The casino's ad and hiring process -- which requires women to wear bustiers in public places -- may seem shocking, risque, even discriminatory.

But while the practice has raised the ire of gambling opponents and women's rights activists, the prevailing legal opinion appears to be that casinos can -- with some restrictions -- use appearance as criteria for hiring and firing. And to many in the gaming industry, it's simply the way business is done.

"We're in the entertainment business," said Darlene Monzo, vice president of marketing at Philadelphia Park. "This is really how you bring out the outgoing personality and [someone] who is going to be a team player and who is going to look at things with an open mind."

So Philadelphia Park broke out the bustier tops and velvet tights -- and then passed them out to the female job applicants to play dress-up.

The Park had plenty of takers.

Lured by the potential of a $10-an-hour job plus tips which, in the case of Philadelphia Park, are expected to total $50,000 to $60,000 a year, more than 600 applicants turned out for one of five auditions at bars and nightclubs in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Many were just a few years past the legal drinking age. The casino hired about 50 people, primarily women, for a mix of full-time and part-time cocktail server jobs.

"Your body is a beautiful thing," said 25-year-old Amy Tiller of Philadelphia, who has dreamed of becoming a casino cocktail server since visiting the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City a year or two ago. "Some women may feel it is demeaning; that's up to them. I think it's awesome."

So Tiller joined the other women for an audition in which casino officials, who called themselves judges, selected women to wear the bustier outfit and engage in a role play in which the judges pretended to be slots parlor patrons. The women also had to carry a tray of drinks while wearing heels.

Tiller, who didn't make the cut for cocktail server but was offered a job as a players service representative, said the cocktail position -- along with its revealing uniform -- appealed to her as "the good girl's way of going bad."

"If you're not comfortable with it, you just don't take it (the job). It's not demeaning at all," added Janine Small, 35, of Williamstown, N.J. -- one of the few to be offered a cocktail server job.

While watching the tryouts "was fun from a male perspective...it is kind of sexist," allowed Jason Pollock, manager of Rascals Comedy Club in Cherry Hill, N.J., where Philadelphia Park held two rounds of job tryouts, called auditions.

"They're trying to find the most beautiful, perfect girls," he said. "There were some who you knew didn't stand a chance. It was kind of sad."

'Offensive' if not illegal

Women's and anti-casino groups questioned the ethics behind the hiring practice.

"While it may not be illegal, and I'm not completely certain of that, it certainly is offensive," said Carol Tracy, director of the Women's Law Project in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

"With the high level of violence against women and the high level of objectification of women's bodies, these types of 'auditions' further denigrate women."

"It says that women who don't meet their idea of perfection are less worthy," said Joanne Tosti-Vasey, president of Pennsylvania NOW. "It's discriminating."

"What is most disturbing," said Dianne Berlin of Casino-FreePA, an anti-gambling group based in Harrisburg, "is that these young women are willing to be exploited."

Cocktail servers at Philadelphia Park will have to sign appearance contracts requiring that their weight not fluctuate beyond certain percentages. The exact details of the contracts have not been determined.

Legally, Philadelphia Park is within its rights as an employer, said Gary Vallen, a professor of casino gaming management and hotel operations at Northern Arizona University.

"You have to be careful, but it's not inappropriate," Vallen said.

Based on the market, "it is legitimate...to tell applicants they have to wear 4-inch heels and have certain types of looks and tell them what hairstyle they should have and how much make-up they can wear."

Appearance a legal criterion

One of Atlantic City's newest and most prestigious casinos, the Borgata, is being sued over its policies regarding cocktail servers. The Borgata Babes, who have their own calendar and are heavily hyped by the casino, are prohibited from gaining more than 7 percent of their body weight.

"We're continuing to try to demonstrate this policy is discriminatory," said Jill Owens, an attorney with the White Plains, N.Y., firm representing the two women suing the Borgata.

Borgata officials did not return calls for comment but they have previously defended their practice in published reports, saying it is a necessary part of the casino's image.

Past legal challenges to beauty based hiring practices have established that employers can use appearance as a determining factor for employment -- as long as they do not discriminate based on age or race, said John Myers, a Pittsburgh attorney specializing in labor law.

"Basically what the courts have ruled is that if...the male employees have grooming standards and the female employees have grooming standards, it's not a violation," he said.

The standards do not have to be the same for both sexes, he said. So a casino could -- and many do -- require female cocktail servers to wear a certain amount of make-up and prohibit male cocktail servers from wearing make-up. However, a casino could not only have a make-up requirement for one gender.

"Lack of consistency, lack of clear standards -- that's what's going to get you in trouble. You have to hire consistently and fire consistently based on the guidelines," Vallen said. "Look at companies like Hooters. They very clearly hire based on look and dress and certain size requirements. Those do hold up in court...because it is called Hooters after all."

He added: "A Chinese restaurant is allowed to say they prefer Chinese [workers]...and they're allowed to hire a Chinese worker over an Anglo worker for that reason even if the Anglo worker has more experience."

Similarly, a casino can regulate how much weight an employee can gain or lose and set other appearance requirements, such as banning body piercings or setting hairstyle standards, Myers said.

"They have the right to want to present a trim, attractive appearance," he said.

Seeking outgoing personalities

Monzo, of Philadelphia Park, said the company uses the auditions to find "people that have style and that have great personality."

"We really want to hire above average," she said.

The casino has extended its auditions to other jobs as well, including for accountants, Monzo said. Anybody applying for jobs other than cocktail server positions is required to perform a skit to the song YMCA or play air guitar.

Monzo said the casino likes the auditions because it helps it identify outgoing personalities. But lawyers say that by auditioning for positions other than cocktail servers, the company is ensuring that its policies are consistent for all jobs.

With Pennsylvania casinos just beginning the hiring process, gaming experts say the state is in for a lot more 'auditions.'

Penn National near Harrisburg, which has been approved for casino licenses, has not begun the hiring process for cocktail servers. Most stand-alone slots parlors, which have not yet been awarded licenses, also aren't hiring yet.

But at the newly opened casino Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs near Wilkes-Barre, cocktail waitresses don burgundy miniskirts and sleeveless tops with plunging necklines (modest by Philadelphia Park standards). The Pocono Downs' hiring process centered around a series of interviews -- sans the 4-inch heels.

Most of its cocktail servers, and the bulk of the casino's staff, were recruited at a hiring fair earlier this year. Job candidates were interviewed in groups of eight to 10. Preferred candidates came back for a second interview.

"We really tested them to see who had the best personality for the job," Pocono Downs spokesman Jim Wise said. "We didn't do anything different for that position than we did any of the others."

Harrah's Chester Casino & Racetrack in Delaware County, which is advertising for cocktail servers, makes no mention of model looks or high heels in its employment ad. The ad requires that cocktail servers be able to make change, carry a tray, stand for long periods and have knowledge of cocktail ingredients.

The job description also calls for an employee who "utilizes smiles and frequent eye contact and friendly tone of voice to project warmth and friendliness." The ad says the cocktail server "creates an atmosphere of luck and celebrates customer wins."

But the Harrah's ad includes a disclaimer, leaving open the door to appearance requirements:

"This is not necessarily an exhaustive list of all responsibilities, skills, duties, requirements, efforts or working conditions associated with the job."

christina.gostomski@mcall.com

717-787-2067

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Copyright (c) 2006, The Morning Call, Allentown, Pa.

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