BY LAUREN SABLE FREIMAN
PHOTOS BY LAURA WATILO BLAKE
“This industry has always been known as the good old boys league,” Donna Hogan, Horseshoe’s vice president of finance, a 20-year veteran of the casino industry, says. “When you walk in a room and notice that there are more women than men in a room, it is unique. For years we sat in board rooms and noted that we were one of only a few women in the room.”
When Hogan, who came to Cleveland 18 months ago from Atlantic City, decided she needed a change of pace from her career in public accounting, Atlantic City’s casino industry presented not only a job but a career path lined with opportunities for continuing education and advancement.
“They were very supportive of me, paid for me to go back to school, and were supportive of helping me gain more credentials to help me further my career,” Hogan says. “The company is very big on getting us ready for next positions and next levels. That’s the reason many of us have stayed in the company so long, growing in our roles and jumping from different positions.”
What began as a position as a general ledger accountant quickly grew into a position supervising the gaming side of the casino, Hogan says. Then came positions managing the accounting department, working as the casino controller and then as the operations controller, all within Caesars Atlantic City. A couple months after her youngest child graduated from high school, she was on the move again, heading to Cleveland to oversee all of Horseshoe Cleveland’s financial functions, including the cashier’s cage, the spot through which all money gambled in the casino is filtered.
Jamie Brown, who works in a regional position as vice president of marketing for both Horseshoe Cleveland and Thistledown, has also grown through the ranks of the gaming industry. A St. Louis native, a part-time gig at Harrah’s St. Louis to earn extra money through school has turned in a 14-year career that has taken her to Las Vegas, and now Cleveland.
“I have worked in just about every facet of operations, from gaming and slots to customer service and food and beverage,” Brown says. “I worked in analytics for five years and then jumped into marketing and took on progressively bigger roles.”
Today, Brown oversees all marketing, public relations and advertising functions as well as VIP relations. Her biggest day-to-day challenge is figuring out how to entice guests to return to the property time after time, in a region that has recently become ripe with gambling options. Horseshoe Cleveland’s downtown location, in a historic building in the heart of the city, presents both unique benefits and challenges. When Horseshoe Cleveland opened in May 2012, it was the first of its kind.
“While a suburban casino has its own steakhouse, spa, bars and restaurants, we partner with outside partners for everything you would normally find in a casino,” Brown says. “This is a very different model. Instead of having a bunch of entertainment on site, we send guests to Playhouse Square or a sporting event.”
Karen Kaminski, also working in a regional position as vice president of human resources for Horseshoe Cleveland and Thistledown, is unique in that she is the only native Clevelander on the executive team. She is also the only member of the team without prior experience in the gaming industry.
“I got a call in the fall of 2011 from a recruiter with Caesars,” Kaminski says. “I was working at JoAnn Fabrics and Crafts and had been very happy there for 12 years, but when I got that call I felt it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Kaminski, who oversees all the casino’s employees as well as its extensive charitable giving initiative, is much like 95 percent of Horseshoe Casino’s 1,600-member team.
“Because there was no other gaming in our area, most of our employees have no gaming experience. In most other situations, casinos bring on employees with experience, but we didn’t have that opportunity,” Kaminski says. “Applicants are very quick to say yes to a job because they’re excited about the opportunity, but it’s a culture shock to work in a nonstop environment where there is no start and end to the day. We had to paint a very vivid picture of what employment is like in this fast-paced, customer-facing industry where you are likely to have to work holidays, weekends and evenings.”
Tosha Tousant, Horseshoe Cleveland’s director of table games, supervises the almost 45 percent of the casino’s employees who work in the table games and poker operation — 99 percent of whom had no prior gaming experience. Though she says it was a herculean feat to train the table games and poker staff and get them up to speed on gaming, she was eager to give others the same opportunity she had received.
When Louisiana was approved for gaming in the early 1990s, Tousant, a Lake Charles native, was intrigued by the opportunity to work in the gaming industry.
“I had never been in a casino before and I went to a dealer school like our employees here in Cleveland,” Tousant says. “I started off as a dealer and dealt all the game we had there, then went on to hold every position at Harrah’s Lake Charles.”
Though her department is largely male, participating in one of Caesars Lean in Circles
is helping her develop her own leadership skills while learning how she can propel and cultivate the leadership of other women in her department. Brown and Hogan are also part of Lean in Circles with Caesars team members from around the country.
As Cleveland’s executive team and top leadership stray from the norm of the gaming industry, Brown says Horseshoe Cleveland’s general manager Marcus Glover is the one who deserves the kudos.
“One of the biggest factors in enjoying what you do is enjoying who you work for, and we definitely have that in Cleveland working for Marcus,” Brown says.
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