Oct. 09--Since opening table games in 2010, Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem has developed a reputation as one of the East Coast's biggest destinations for Asian gamblers. Now it has become Pennsylvania's biggest casino employer of Asian workers.
Amassing a workforce that is gradually changing the face of south Bethlehem, fully 20 percent of Sands' more than 2,100-member staff is of Asian decent, most of them Chinese immigrants who have moved from New York City, according to a report from the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board.
It is perhaps the biggest migration of workers in the city since European immigrants began arriving to work at Bethlehem Steel more than 100 years ago, Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan said.
It's also the highest percentage of any casino in the state, and while Sands President Robert DeSalvio knows that calling attention to any issue that involves race is sensitive, he's rather proud of his casino's diversity. In this case, virtually all of the more than 400 Asian employees working at Sands speak Mandarin, and many also speak Cantonese.
"It's important to have as many team members as possible who speak Mandarin and Cantonese," DeSalvio said. "There's no amount of signage that can get over that language barrier."
Sands doesn't release its detailed breakdowns of who visits the gambling complex, but its casino, hotel, event center and outlet mall draw more than 9 million visitors per year. DeSalvio said about 50 percent of the gamblers who play games such as blackjack, craps and baccarat at its 189 gaming tables are Asian visitors -- most arriving on dozens of daily buses to the casino from the New York neighborhoods of Flushing, Chinatown and Brooklyn.
Sands has the closest table games to the Asian-rich neighborhoods of New York, even closer than casinos in Atlantic City, N.J., and Connecticut.
Sands hired an Asian marketing team almost immediately after Pennsylvania legislators agreed that casinos could add table games in 2010. When Pennsylvania casinos first opened in 2006, they could only have slot machines. To attract workers who could communicate with its growing clientele, Sands placed employment ads in the Chinese and Korean newspapers published in New York, and then directed the applicants to get their dealing, serving and casino management training at Northampton Community College. Sands also recruited from other casinos.
From there, word of mouth took over, as Sands workers encouraged their friends and family members to apply, DeSalvio said. As a result, the percentage of Sands workers who list themselves as Asian has increased from 9 percent in 2010 to 20 percent this year.
It's not only altered the face of the casino, but it may well change the demographics of south Bethlehem.
And south Bethlehem is better for it, DeSalvio said.
"Flushing and Chinatown are neighborhoods where people like to walk to work, so many of our employees have moved into south Bethlehem, within walking distance of the casino," DeSalvio said. "They're becoming a bigger part of the community."
Callahan said the new residents carry on a migrant worker tradition in south Bethlehem that dates back to the start of Bethlehem Steel more than 100 years ago.
"Because of our diversity, I probably attend 15 national flag-raisings a year," said Callahan, who leaves office in January after 10 years as mayor. "I wouldn't be surprised if the next mayor one day adds a Chinese flag-raising to the schedule."
The average percentage of Asian workers at the 11 other casinos is 8. The percentage is 3 percent at Hollywood Casino near Harrisburg, 3 percent at Mohegan Sun near Wilkes-Barre and 7 percent at Mount Airy in Monroe County, according to the state casino diversity report.
The casino's need gave Pak Lau, 30, of Whitehall Township, the perfect opportunity to get his wife and 6-year-old son out of Atlantic City. Lau is a Sands player development worker who handles high-end Asian gamblers who don't speak English. Whether they need a limo to the casino, a private room to gamble in or a six-figure credit