Hawkins: Rivers Casino admits it has problem

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Amanda Green Hawkins (Courier Photo/J.L. Martello)

 

As anyone in a 12-step program can attest, the first step in recovery is admitting you have a problem.

And according to Allegheny County Councilwoman Amanda Green Hawkins, The Rivers Casino has, and is taking further steps to correct problems.

“The management is committed to seeing all their customers are treated the same, but it’s clear that message isn’t filtering down to everyone,” she said. “So they are aware of the problem.”

This admission came during a private Aug. 29 meeting with Rivers General Manager Craig Clark, consultant and attorney David Caliguiri and Rivers CFO Mary Cheeks, the top African-American executive at the casino.

 

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Mary Cheeks (Courier Photo/J.L. Martello)

 

Hawkins arranged the meeting after receiving reports alleging Black patrons had been discriminated against during events at The Rivers. The incident that brought things to a head involved the Ruff Ryders motorcycle club’s contracted meet-and-greet party at the casino’s Drum Bar.

“The casino has recognized the need for more staff training and have started a new diversity training component for its 300 supervisors and management personnel,” said Hawkins. “They are also renewing their diversity training program for the 1,500 lower-level employees.

As reported first in the July 26 New Pittsburgh Courier Online, the party was shut down early, the casino said, because there were too many people in the Drum Bar. But some of those patrons said the reason was there were too many Black people in the Drum Bar.

Ruff Ryders president Kenneth Wright said he had attended functions there before that were not closed down and were just as large, but they were not just as Black.

 

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Craig Clark (Courier Photo/J.L. Martello)

 

Clark personally apologized to Wright and refunded the groups payment for tables at the Drum Bar. But Hawkins said the casino realizes it did not handle the situation correctly from the start.

“It appears, from reviewing the tapes and interviewing employees, that different managers may have delivered different messages when closing down the party,” she said. “For one thing, no one was told they had to leave the casino, but some people thought that was the case.”

She also said, with respect to charges that “no rap music” or “Black music” be played in the Drum Bar, that Rivers management said it realized that having any popular music in that space—Hip-Hop, Rock & Roll, Country—was a mistake because of overcrowding and noise.

DJs or live performances will be held in larger banquet or ballroom spaces or at the outdoor amphitheater in the future. The Drum Bar is to have a quiet lounge feel, Hawkins said, if anything is playing, it will be pre-recorded soft jazz.

Live and pay-per-view boxing, MMA, and other sporting events, including the upcoming Floyd Mayweather match, will also be held in the larger spaces.

“They are aware they have a problem and are taking steps to remedy it,” said Hawkins.

In addition to increasing its employee diversity training, The Rivers has also hired a “secret shopper” firm that is sending people into the casino to test for any instances of disparate treatment.

“They are using young Black males, seniors, Asians, males and females of all ages and racial backgrounds,” she said.  “And they have also asked me, in my capacity as an attorney having dealt with diversity programs for the United Steelworkers, for help in forwarding any such initiatives that could be helpful.”

(Send comments to cmorrow@newpittsburghcourier.com.)

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