Casino Resorts Practice Responsible Gaming
Casino destinations are transforming themselves into good citizens and green hosts
By William Ng
June 30, 2010
As green consciousness and corporate social responsibility expand in the incentive travel market, hospitality stakeholders have been hard at work remaking major and small casino locales alike. Resort operators like Harrah’s Entertainment and MGM Mirage have transformed their properties into environmentally minded resorts. Began initially as employee engagement and internal cost-efficiency measures, the investments are now meeting a growing demand for low-carbon and socially conscious incentive travel programs.
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The initiatives are changing preconceived notions that gaming destinations can’t be green. “We’re moving back of the house to the front of the house,” Gwen Migita, Harrah’s Entertainment’s corporate director of social responsibility, says about the impact-reduction changes that have happened behind the scenes.
Migita shepherds the CodeGreen program, now in its third year and effecting transformations among 36 Harrah’s resorts and 70,000 employees in the U.S. “This year, we’re communicating CodeGreen to guests.” Migita says the plan is focused on enhancing the company’s brand, by publicizing the $60 million and 110 projects it has invested in green works since 2003, so that guests “feel good about staying at Harrah’s properties.” At the operator’s venues across the country, information about the CodeGreen initiative is being posted at public waste receptacles, on electronic billboards, and on customer folios, for example. Total Rewards guests will see messages on the backs of their loyalty cards encouraging recycling—including the cards themselves once they expire.
To her, the timing of the public rollout is opportune because CodeGreen is maturing and showing gains. The program now is backed by a list of statistical accomplishments, as well as accolades. Harrah’s is the first gaming company to win an EPA Environmental Quality Award, for conservation performance in Atlantic City, and an EPA WasteWise New Partner Gold Achievement Award, for recycling efforts at the Bally’s and Paris resorts in Las Vegas.
Before CodeGreen, “we knew we had pockets of different programs across our properties,” and after the program began, “we knew the first two years we needed to lay groundwork and get the different teams organized,” Migita says. Although there is now a corporate framework, it still remains up to associates at the property and regional levels to innovate and drive environmental and social responsibility.
In the program, a facilities manager at the Horseshoe Hammond casino in Hammond, IN, developed a system to reuse waste vegetable cooking oil as clean-burning biodiesel fuel that became a companywide best practice. Harrah’s now recovers 640,000 gallons of waste vegetable oil annually. The company’s Mid-South team, responsible for three properties in Tunica, MS, implemented recycling systems in a rural area with few recycling resources, as well as a chemical-free treatment system for Harrah’s Tunica’s cooling tower.
At the Harrah’s and Harveys Lake Tahoe resorts, Steve Lowe, director of sales, says that despite greening being more difficult to enact at older properties, they combined to recycle 262 tons of materials last year, ranging from paper, glass, and plastic to cooking oil and batteries. Compact fluorescent bulbs comprise 80 percent of the resorts’ lighting, and they are moving toward LED bulbs this year.
Other examples are the Harrah’s Louisiana Downs racino in Bossier City, LA, which supplies a mushroom farm with straw bedding and manure for composting, and Harrah’s Rincon North San Diego, which wrapped up the installation of a 1-megawatt solar-energy system in late March.
Jordan Clark, Harrah’s vice president of sales, is CodeGreen leader at Las Vegas Meetings by Harrah’s Entertainment and has had the division market the efforts in the city to groups. These include the elimination of bottled water at all property restaurants on the Strip, an eco-friendly central laundry facility for the seven Harrah’s Las Vegas resorts that saves 72 million gallons of water per year, and a 5-megawatt cogeneration plant at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino that generates electricity and recycles the process waste heat for hot-water production.
The Las Vegas team partners with the Teacher Exchange, a local nonprofit that collects and distributes leftover supplies from meetings to Clark County schools, saving groups from shipping the surplus back home. Harrah’s corporate has donated $700,000 to the organization.
The field of hardcore green and socially responsible groups remains in the minority, Clark notes, but more and more, Las Vegas Meetings by Harrah’s has had to show agility in answering client needs.
“Part of one client’s requirements for getting its meetings business was making a food donation to a shelter,” Clark says. “It set aside a part of its budget for CSR. It was logistically difficult for us, so instead we used our buying power, as a hotelier, to purchase food from a wholesale distributor that our client then used as its donation. [The group] would have gone retail and gotten much less food for the same money.”
Martie Sparks, Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino’s vice president of convention services and catering, says the property allows meeting planners to tour its back-of-the-house recycling facility. “Amid all the greenwashing, we are very open about our recycling,” she explains. “We want them to see the conveyors. We actively promote this.”
According to Sparks, Mandalay Bay last year recycled 92 percent of the waste produced within its meeting spaces. As part of the property’s internal employee engagement effort, every operational division of the resort is involved in green efforts, and standardized practices are in place. For instance, the Mandalay Bay Convention Center saves electricity by shutting down HVAC in unoccupied meeting rooms and public areas for about seven hours each night.
While food and beverage is still a challenging cost center because of organic food prices, Sparks says propertywide recycling efforts keep Mandalay Bay’s waste disposal costs “considerably lower”—which has enabled the resort to rebate groups on trash-hauling fees and lower other service rates, in turn attracting greater group business.
Sparks is aligned with fellow MGM Mirage green teams in charge of environmental responsibility at sister resorts, although the process isn’t too formalized. Sparks points out: “The properties communicate with each other periodically. There’s a chair for each green team, and it’s, ‘What are you doing that we don’t know about,’ and sharing practices.” They all work within a six-part framework of energy savings, water conservation, sustainable construction, waste management, procurement, and education, set by MGM Mirage’s Energy and Environmental Services Division, which was established in 2006.
At the property level, “we communicate to our employees constantly on what we’re doing,” notes Sparks, who adds that every MGM Mirage property has its own green brand. Excalibur Hotel Casino’s team, “Green to Go,” publishes a newsletter that recognizes eco-friendly employees and shares property accomplishments. Monte Carlo has its “Green Thinking,” and Circus Circus its “Green Act.” In Biloxi, MS, “Always Bet on Green” is the moniker for the Beau Rivage’s environmentally friendly efforts modeled after MGM Mirage’s framework. Among its actions are employee pre-shift green briefings, paperless communications with meeting planners, and upgrades to variable-frequency-drive heating and cooling equipment, which responds to conditions instead of operating at 100 percent capacity full time.
While these projects retrofit existing MGM Mirage properties to modern, sustainable standards, the company’s CityCenter destination complex on the Las Vegas Strip is undoubtedly the showcase for its green ambitions and know-how. Being the world’s largest sustainable development is just one apsect of CityCenter’s ambitions. All existing components of the project—the Aria Resort & Casino, Vdara Hotel & Spa, and Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas, plus the Crystals retail arcade and Veer Towers residences—possess LEED Gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.
The 18-million-square-foot development uses its own 8.5-megawatt natural-gas cogeneration plant—a first on the Strip. The plant reuses the heat it generates to produce hot water for CityCenter. For using sustainably harvested wood products in its construction, CityCenter earned the Forest Stewardship Council-US’s 2009 award for best commercial project. Its construction recycling operation recycled or reused 260,000 tons of building-material waste. CityCenter also has an extensive water conservation program.
Fueled by a statewide renewable-energy incentive program, New Jersey has risen to become a recognized national leader in solar energy, with more than 5,000 residential, business, and industrial solar-power installations. That has powered the green movement in Atlantic City, says Gary Musich, vice president of sales for the Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority. The efforts have included the addition of the largest single-roof solar-panel installation in the U.S. at the Atlantic City Convention Center.
Musich says Atlantic City’s growing green reputation owes a significant part to Harrah’s EPA-award-winning CodeGreen strategies there. Among them are a power-generating steam turbine at the Showboat resort, automatically limiting thermostats in the majority of Harrah’s’ 6,800 guest rooms in the city, and subsidization of employee mass transit costs to lessen automobile impact.
In New England, Christopher Perry, vice president of hotel sales and marketing for the Mohegan Sun casino resort, says that while there hasn’t been much green meetings demand at the property yet, it hasn’t stopped the Uncasville, CT, destination from implementing low-impact measures like hybrid vehicles for transporting staff across the grounds and sending food scraps to a local pig farm as feed. In 2008, EPA New England awarded the Mohegan Tribe an environmental merit award, and five years ago, the tribe won the EPA Energy Star Combined Heat and Power Award.