It was an interview like no other. In 2006, the parking lot at the Bucks County Visitors Center looked like something from a reality TV show. Hundreds of applicants waited in a long line that wrapped around the corner of the building. Inside, workers put them into groups of six and escorted them into the auditorium where they performed songs by Bon Jovi and the Village People. Those who had fun, performed somewhat well, and embraced the unconventional process walked away with job offers.
They were not auditioning for a spot on American Idol. They were trying out for one of the eight hundred jobs at Parx Casino. And instead of Simon Cowell, they met Susan N. Eckert, the organization’s head of human resources. Eckert, whose father worked in a gaming-related field, came to Parx after what was once a thoroughbred horse racing venue won approval from the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board to bring 3,200 slot machines to its 430-acre site.
With new legislation passed, legalized gambling in high demand, and other jobs scarce, Eckert and her boss, Vice President of HR Andy Green, knew they would get more than enough applicants for the positions they needed to fill. But soon, they were overwhelmed by unending phone calls, inquiries, and walk-ins from prospective employees.
“We had to get people in the door quickly, and there was no time to do a traditional interview with each and every person,” Eckert says. “We decided to get creative and have fun, and that ended up setting the tone and contributing to the culture we still have today.”
Parx announced something similar to an open casting call and invited people to schedule a group audition. Candidates came from Las Vegas and other major cities. After twelve-hour days, six days a week for several weeks, the Parx management team processed fifteen thousand applicants to form a core team that launched what has become the most successful casino on the East Coast.
More than fifteen years later, Parx Casino is known as one of the best gaming and entertainment facilities in the region and is expanding to bring other sportsbooks and mini casinos to nearby areas. “Our opening day was like nothing you could imagine, and our momentum just has not slowed down,” Eckert says.
Parx soon outpaced all Atlantic City casinos, and Eckert put all the right policies and procedures in place to support the operation as it added more restaurants and a gift shop. Parx owners did not stop there and continued to develop the business by adding table games, poker, as well as a purpose built 1,500 seat entertainment venue.
These developments doubled Parx’s workforce. Parx is now Pennsylvania’s highest-grossing gaming facility with pre-COVID revenue topping $460 million per year.
It has been a nonstop whirlwind for Eckert and her team with its remote locations, iGaming and sportsbook operations, and racing business. Parx now employs about 2,200 full-time workers who earn a competitive salary with benefits. Compensation starts at $18 per hour for nontipped hourly gaming positions.
Eckert fondly remembers the early years when everyone had to pitch in to make big events happen with limited resources, and she has aimed to keep that same spirit and culture alive. “We grew around a very special core team, and there was a bond and an energy that became infectious that made us who we are today,” she says.
Parx’s leaders embody the values they want their employees to live by. The casino is responsible for about 75 percent of all charitable donations from casinos in the state and has given nearly $40 million in the past six years, much of it to organizations in the Delaware Valley.
Like all businesses linked to tourism, hospitality, and entertainment, Parx was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. While the casino endured multiple shutdowns, team members maintained their pay and benefits for extended periods of time during related furloughs. As variants come and go and mask mandates change, Eckert says her team is doing all it can to make sure all team members feel safe and secure.
In recent months, they’ve provided additional training on new procedures and made themselves available to answer questions and address concerns. Parx suspended indoor smoking during the pandemic, and a positive reaction from team members will likely make permanent what was intended as a temporary measure.
As the gaming industry moves forward in uncertain times, Eckert is focusing on projects and initiatives designed to attract new team members and support current staff. Parx is launching more robust employee resource groups as HR strengthens its diversity, equity, and inclusion programs.
Before earning her MA in organizational psychology with a focus on HR, Eckert studied school counseling and worked in the human services field with students with disabilities. She hopes to expand recruitment efforts and create more opportunities for veterans and people with disabilities as well as underrepresented groups.
Building a strong and inclusive talent pipeline is critical because Parx isn’t done yet. The casino still has plenty of space to grow on its existing property, and leaders are in ongoing talks regarding other plans across Bucks and neighboring counties.
As those plans unfold, Eckert and her team will continue to onboard great team members and protect the special culture they’ve built together at Parx Casino—you can bet on it.