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Using an Extra Board to Optimally Staff Live Table Games

Article Author
Bill Zender
Publish Date
June 30, 2009
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Author: 
Bill Zender

Henry had been given the task of balancing the casino's dealer and floor supervisor schedule. After several weeks, he had finally developed a plan that would properly balance the schedule so that all dealer and floor shift positions were staffed to handle the current business level during the various hours of the day and week. He also was able to schedule an extra dealer for each shift to cover any vacations or call-ins. Henry was quite comfortable with the new schedule and received notice from upper management for accomplishing what several other casino executives thought was "impossible."

Everything was going fine until the next morning when Henry came to work. On his desk, on top of a pile of notes, was a request for a medical leave of absence from one of the swing shift dealers. Henry was aware that there were several upcoming vacation approvals scheduled for this month, but he could handle them with a minimal amount of schedule juggling. The surprise LOA was another thing. Then, he noticed a note left for him by the day shift manager. It appeared that one of his floor supervisors would be required to serve on a jury during an upcoming trial. The trial was rumored to last several weeks because of the nature of the case.

Near the bottom of the pile was a note from the casino manager. Since the flu season hit really hard this year, a number of dealers from each shift were calling in sick. Could Henry schedule several additional dealers per shift so the casino could open the necessary number of games? At the very bottom of Henry's notes was a memo from the vice president of gaming operations reminding all gaming departments to watch their payroll expenses and not schedule anyone for overtime unless it was absolutely necessary. How can Henry accommodate the wishes of the VP of gaming operations and still properly cover all the shifts needed to operate the table games optimally?

What is an Extra Board?
The best method for combating the scheduling problems faced by Henry is to establish an extra board of dealers. An extra board is a name given to an employee pool that is used to provide additional help to staff the table games during both expected and unexpected temporary decreases in available staff due to vacations, illness and unplanned occasions like jury duty. An extra board can also be used to temporarily bolster up the staff during holiday weekends and special events.

The personnel that staff the extra board are usually a diverse group. Some of them are dealers that are looking to gain a permanent dealing position with your casino. Some of them are dealers looking only for part-time positions because they have other jobs or are involved in school or the military. Several of the extra board staff could be permanently employed dealers who do not have a set shift, but are waiting out a permanent shift opening while dealing from the extra board.

Many of the extra board dealers work fewer than 32 hours a week. This minimal amount of hours does not qualify them for employee benefits under the law, thus reducing the cost of having them on the schedule. By using dealers from an extra board pool of part-time employees, the casino does not have to pay costly overtime and, in addition, utilizes employees who are not costing the casino in accumulated vacation days, workmen's comp or health insurance. [Author's note: This depends on the laws and regulations of the jurisdiction where the casino is located.]

All Shifts Extra Board vs. Set Shift Extra Board
In smaller casinos, the extra board is used as a temporary employee pool for all shifts. This means that any dealer on the extra board could be scheduled to work on any shift deemed necessary by management. Employees working the extra board format understand that they are available 24/7. It is also wise on the casino scheduler's part that these dealers are scheduled primarily on one shift per week and not bounced around from shift to shift. Abusing dealers by rotating shift hours leads to desertion and/or burnt-out personnel from sleep deprivation.

In larger casinos, the extra board can be broken down to a "per shift" basis. This allows each shift to keep its own extra board of dealers. In this manner, the extra board dealers know what hours they will work each week, and the shift supervisors and managers know the game capabilities of each dealer. In addition, extra board dealers can be called in at the last moment. When a dealer calls in sick, the schedule person or casino executive can pick up the phone and request an extra board dealer from their shift's pool. In some instances, the casino will have a number of unscheduled extra board dealers "on call" just in case this situation occurs.

Using the extra board on a per shift basis also helps accommodate the shift manager when a permanent shift position opens. The shift manager can inform the casino manager as to the person he wants to promote based on his experience with that dealer during the extra board time. In other words, the shift manager can promote a dealer to the full-time position that shift management already knows, and the dealer being promoted knows what is expected of him or her on that shift.

Permanent Extra Board
Some casinos will utilize permanent extra board personnel. These dealers are full-time employees that receive full benefits but do not have a constant shift schedule. The permanent extra board dealer will be used as a replacement for full-time dealers who go on vacation or are placed on LOA. This allows the permanent extra board dealer to work five days a week on a semi-fixed schedule, replacing an employee position for several weeks at a time. This concept allows the casino a degree of scheduling flexibility while providing the extra board employee full-time benefits and job security. Usually, dealers in this role are waiting for an opportunity to grab up a full-time position of their choosing. In large casino operations there could be several permanent extra board dealers working on each shift.

Utilizing Dual Rates
The term "dual rate" describes a dealer who is also qualified to work as a floor supervisor. If the casino qualifies several dealers to a dual-rate status, it gives them flexibility to temporarily staff floor supervisor positions. This concept comes in extremely handy when a supervisor calls in sick. Usually, a shift does not have the flexibility with its floor staff as it does with its dealers. When a floor supervisor calls in sick, the shift manager will need to work a floor supervisor from the previous shift overtime, spread his remaining floor staff extremely thin, or opt not to open the necessary number of table games. If the shift manager has a dual-rate dealer available, he can stand the dual rate on the floor and either call in an extra board dealer or operate one game short. This saves money through the avoidance of overtime (which is costly when considering the hourly rate of a non-tip earning supervisor), while allowing the casino to open the needed games to optimally run that shift.

The dual-rate concept also greatly assists the casino manager when a floor supervisor position becomes available. By promoting a dual rate to permanent floor supervisor, the casino manager has a person who is already trained in that capacity, as well as someone whose strengths and weaknesses are apparent to the shift manger. The dual rate who is promoted also knows what is expected of him or her and is in a position to work better with the other supervisors on that shift.

Where Do I Get My Extra Board Dealers?
If you're a casino executive in the process of straightening out your present dealer schedule, you may find that you are slightly overstaffed. If this is the case, move the extra dealers to an all shift extra board pool if possible. Although this concept is easier said than done, the energies used to begin an extra board pool will greatly add to scheduling flexibility that you will need for reducing payroll expenses.

This first group of extra board dealers, taken from any employee overage, can be kept in full-time status or placed in part-time status, depending on need and/or personnel availability. Once the basic pool has been established, consider contacting several dealing applicants to find out if they are interested in working part time or on call. Many people who want to get "their foot in the door" will jump at this opportunity as long as you can assure them they can work no less than a couple days per week.

Another possibility comes from some of your older dealers who no longer wish to work a full five-day schedule. They may find working only a couple days per week is what they truly want to do, especially if they have a spouse who works full time with the spouse's own family health benefits. You now have an experienced dealer working several shifts a week on a part-time basis. This situation is a win-win since your cost in employee benefits is reduced.

One more area to consider when looking for extra board personnel: local colleges and the military. Students, who attend classes during the week, may also be looking for part-time jobs on the weekends when the casino is busier and more dealing positions are needed. College students also have holidays and seasonal breaks from their classes. This combination could play nicely into the hands of the savvy casino executive who has a need for extra personnel during busier holiday and seasonal times. For example, Harrah's Lake Tahoe almost exclusively hires college students in the month of May to bolster its dealing and other frontline positions for the upcoming tourist-heavy summer.

Don't forget the military. Quite a few military personnel have the need to make additional income and are looking for a job where they can work 16 to 24 additional hours per week. The only downside to hiring part-time help from the military is that at any time our country mobilizes its forces due to external conflicts, and the military personnel may be called away. Still, the military-trained employee is usually educated, well disciplined and an extremely dependable employee.

Abusing the Extra Board
Don't abuse the extra board dealers. Once permanent positions open on the various shifts, you need to promote your part-time help to full time. In some instances casinos have opted to use part-time employees to cover full-time positions. Their motivation is to lower payroll expenses through utilizing more part-time help. This philosophy appears to be beneficial when concerning costs, but it also has its own price. The practice of using part-time help to fill full-time positions has a drastic effect on employee morale. You end up with a large group of dealers on the extra board who are not receiving healthcare benefits. This leads to resentment and a high degree of job desertion when other casinos are hiring full-time dealers. Why train people you can't keep because of improper and abusive staffing policies?

Bill Zender is a former Nevada Gaming Control agent, casino operator, professional card counter and present gaming consultant. He has been involved in various areas of gaming and hospitality since 1976.  He can be reached at wzender@lastresortconsulting.com.

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