Casino’s originals cite attitude, drive for longevity

Published 6:44 pm Friday, February 28, 2014




A change of scenery 20 years ago brought Faye Hudson and Don Smith to what was at the time Vicksburg’s third casino in a frenzied first year of construction locally following gaming’s legalization in Mississippi.

As the city’s largest gaming venue wraps up three days of promoting their 20th anniversary on Washington Street, Hudson, a bartender in the Bottleneck Blues Bar, and Smith, the facility’s operations manager for table games and slots, are still on the job and say they’ll keep smiling for a while to come.

“Being a bartender is like is sort of like being a psychiatrist,” said Hudson, an Alabama native who ran nightclubs in the 1980s at Park Inn, which later became Battlefield Inn, after a stint at Grand Gulf Nuar Station as an electrician.

“You just listen to customers and guests who come in,” Hudson said. “They like to tell a bartender their problems and you just give them the best advice you can.”

Smith had a longer career in the nuclear power industry, 19 years, before coming to casinos. He applied some aspects of his old job as a quality assurance manager when figuring out where to start the second act of his working life.

“The kids were getting older, and it was time to stop moving,” said Smith, a father of two grown children and two granddaughters who travels with various nuclear plants took him to seven different countries. “I did an evaluation of the casinos in this market, and Ameristar was the casino of choice for me.”

How they survive the daily grind in an industry known for high turnover can be felt in the daily rhythm of their jobs.

“You’ve got to come with a positive attitude,” Hudson said. “You’re gonna meet all kinds. You’ll meet that person who’ll come in and can turn bad or turn good.”

“It’s just the desire to be the best casino company in the world,” Smith said. “I want every day to be memorable and magical for our guests because they make a choice to come here. They could have gone somewhere else.”

Ameristar Vicksburg opened Feb. 27, 1994, six months after Isle of Capri opened the first casino in the city. The 72,000 square-foot casino on Washington Street in the shadow of the Mississippi River bridges has been the market leader for most of its existence. Its poker room, in place since 2005, is the city’s lone poker venue under state gaming law. In August, the casino was sold along with seven other Ameristar-branded casinos to Pinnacle Entertainment in a $2.8 billion deal.

The casino employs about 773 people, according to statistics filed with the Mississippi Gaming Commission for the final quarter of 2013, and estimates charitable giving from its workforce at $100,000 annually.

“This anniversary is so big we are making it a three-day celebration,” said general manager George Stadler in a statement. Events since Thursday have included special prizes and concludes today with champagne for casino guests.

Mayor George Flaggs Jr. issued a statement this past week lauding the casino for its community involvement.

“Ameristar has been a great corporate citizen for the past 20 years, providing career opportunities, generating tax income, promoting tourism and being an economic mainstay,” Flaggs said. “We look forward to the next 20 years.”