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Tight labor market exacts a price: Pa. casino fined $152,500 for failing to hire enough security

The Mohegan Sun Pocono struggled to retain security officers as two new employers heavily poached the casino’s staff. Mohegan Sun was forced to increase pay.

Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs
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The state’s tight labor market has proven to be costly for one Pennsylvania casino.

The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board on Wednesday fined Mohegan Sun Pocono $152,500 for failing to maintain mandatory security staffing levels in the casino for 91 days during the first four months of 2019.

The casino said it struggled to retain security officers, especially on the overnight shift, as two new distribution warehouses opened in the area and heavily poached the casino’s security staff, said Tony Carlucci, the casino’s general manager.

Mohegan Sun responded by increasing the starting pay for security guards by 21% and paying retention bonuses. But that didn’t prevent it from getting fined.

“We got ourselves into a bad mess, frankly,” said Carlucci.

Since December, the casino has identified 78 viable security guard applicants, screened 58, interviewed 27, and extended offers to 20, the gaming board said. Only six were hired.

The gaming board tried to help the casino out of its jam by accelerating background checks of new applicants for state casino employment licenses. But the casino was still unable to obtain tax clearances from the Internal Revenue Service during the 35-day federal government shutdown in December and January, and hiring stalled, Carlucci said.

The casino offered overtime pay to existing employees, but stopped short of mandating overtime shifts to maintain workforce morale. “We’re losing people already,” said Carlucci. “If I start forcing people to do overtime, it’s just going to make matters worse.”

The casino maintained required security levels at the facility entrances, he said, but cut shifts of roving security officers after midnight on the gaming floor below mandated levels. The fine was based upon the large number of shifts for which the casino was short-staffed.

The casino, which is owned by the Mohegan Tribe of Indians of Connecticut, eventually worked its way out of its human resources hole by increasing the starting wage of a security officer from $9.50 an hour to $11.50 an hour and paying $15 an hour for the graveyard shift. It also offered bonuses to new hires who remained on staff and rewarded existing employees for successful referrals of new hires.

Carlucci was apologetic about not taking action earlier.

“This is one where I wished we had a do-over,” he said.