There have been many memorable days since Rivers Casino Pittsburgh opened 14 years ago.
August 9, 2009 The first legal gambling establishment was launched in Pittsburgh, filled with eager and curious gamblers.
In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, when lockdowns reduced employees to a skeleton crew, the casino floor was bathed in the eerie light of silent slot machines.
August 25, 2022, when the largest bad jackpot in American history – just over $1.2 million – was won in the poker room.
On any given day, the hometown Pittsburgh Steelers are playing at nearby Acressor Stadium, and the casino is packed with gamblers and sports fans.
But everyone who works at Rivers Casino remembers January 13, 2023. The day a refrigeration pipe burst in the ceiling and the casino floor was a mess — a Friday, of course.
General Manager Bud Green was in his office when his phone “blew up” with messages saying there was a problem on the casino floor.
“They didn’t make it seem like a big event,” Green says. “I finally figured I’d better go over there and evaluate him.”
Green found team members from nearly every department at the casino already at work, using mops to try to mitigate the damage spreading across the floor. It seemed like everyone working that day jumped into the ground to attack the problem.
“To this day I shudder when I remember how this property and team members came together,” says Shannon Redmond, regional vice president of marketing for Rivers Casinos in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. “There were people from finance, people from marketing, from every department on that floor taking care of what needed to be taken care of without a second thought. I’ve been doing this almost my whole life, and I don’t know of another place where everyone is jumping in like this.”
“Workplaces are microcosms of society.”“One of the most important community resources” In American life, according to Forbes magazine. They reflect the highs and lows, mood swings, joys and heartaches that are part of everyday life.
But sometimes, the workplace is more than just a place to work for eight hours. Green says the staff helps create an atmosphere that goes beyond gambling. Some customers frequent the places where their favorite bartenders work. Gamblers often interact with the same customers, and other employees receive Christmas gifts from customers.
“It’s a real family here,” Green says. “And that’s all part of the experience. It’s not just coming here to gamble. It’s getting a little escape, talking to your friends, getting a meal, seeing the show. And it’s not just the gambling aspect.”
Russell Knox thought he was ready to retire. He worked loading trucks and traveled around the country as a salesman before becoming a table game dealer at Rivers Casino in June 2010. After about a decade, he thought it was time to retire for good.
This retirement was short. He jokes that he started working at the casino again because he felt there was no point in sitting around all day.
“You can’t have that much fun sitting on your couch at home,” Knox says.
Knox is energetic and interactive when dealing with Blackjack, Mississippi, or any other table game, and he has a saying that he sticks to:
Tell my guests that you already tipped me when you walked in the door.
If the client doesn’t win, how can I win?
Although life can be bad, and we all have our trials and tribulations, it is not that bad.
Knox admits he will eventually retire — he jokes that he’s 108 — when age finally catches up with him. But for now, he has no plans to resign.
“Who could leave something like that?” He says. “I look in the mirror, and I start hugging myself. I’m just a happy camper.
Neither Cara Chappell nor Derek Peluso knew much about the gaming industry when they started working at Rivers Casino.
Chappell, director of public relations and advertising, was hired in 2009 when the casino opened. She met co-workers in the marketing department who became loyal friends, and who knew more about her than some family members.
Chappell has become accustomed to the casino workflow “where every day is different,” she says.
“It’s truly a second family,” Chappelle adds. “I’m so used to the fast-paced environment, I can’t really imagine myself doing anything else. I’m used to it, and I love that feeling of something different every day.”
Peluso was studying finance at Point Park University in downtown Pittsburgh in 2012 when he heard about the training the casino was offering.
“I found out it was a paid internship, and I was a broke college student,” Peluso says with a laugh, noting that he had never been inside a casino before then. He didn’t envision staying for long, but after 11 1/2 years, Peluso is the director of gambling operations, doing much of the analytical work behind the scenes.
Peluso also oversees sports betting at Rivers Casino, a role that often requires being on the ground when sporting events are held, especially those involving the hometown Steelers, Penguins, Pirates and University of Pittsburgh Panthers.
“All the things you imagine that happen in a stadium happen here,” Peluso says, noting that profanity and spilled drinks are just part of the atmosphere.
Peluso admits he’s had opportunities to “expand” into other industries, but says, “This place continues to attract me and keep me. We have a really great team and it’s fun to come to work every day… If you work in this industry, you love this industry.” “Technology has made this job available 24 hours a day, and people can always reach out to me any time of the day, and they try to. I’m always thinking about that. But this place has been really good about making sure we have a good work-life balance.”
Chappell and Peluso are not alone in their belief that Rivers Casino is a good place to work. There are 346 team members, approximately 25% of the workforce, who have worked at the casino for over a decade.
Green says this continuity helps make his job easier.
“We try to give team members resources that will make them successful, and make them smile when customers come their way,” Green says.
The 30 tables in the poker room at Rivers Casino are behind glass in one corner of the floor. The poker room has hosted numerous tournaments and events, such as Poker Night in America, a Rush Street production that brought famous players, including Joe Cada, Matt Glantz, and Jennifer Harman, to the room.
The chamber received national attention in 2022 when the largest bad loss in U.S. history, $1.2 million, was distributed. Unfortunately, poker room manager Leslie Brittain was not present that day. I’ve been working every day since the poker room reopened in 2021 after being closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and decided to take a day off.
“I wasn’t there, but from talking to everyone — and I was on the phone — it was very exciting, not just for the customers who hit the jackpot but for the whole room,” says Brittain, who started out working in the poker room. When the casino opened in 2009. “It’s a community, everyone celebrates together.”
The community aspect of the Rivers Poker Room – and most other poker rooms – is unique compared to other sections of any casino. Players are isolated in a unique space. Many of the players are regulars, and some play every day. There is a palpable sense of camaraderie in the poker rooms, even when players are trying to get the better of their fellow competitors.
Brittain appreciates the regulars who stop by the room. But she expressed her greatest appreciation for the merchants, noting that about 22 team members have worked at the room since it opened.
“We don’t have turnover,” she says. “They take pride in their work. Yes, their motivation is money; they keep their own tips, so they know the better they develop their customer relationships, the better the tips will be.”
But what makes Britain happiest is when visitors from outside the city praise its team.
“I always knew they were cool,” she says. But when all these people tell you how great your merchants are, it’s really rewarding.
Tensions occasionally erupt in casinos, and losing money sometimes creates a volatile atmosphere. Rivers Casino is not immune to hot spots. The couple gets beaten by the flush in the poker room. The blackjack player splits aces and draws a tie on both hands. The payee will be upset when the slot machine refuses to pay.
For Knox, the solution is simple: he “kills them with kindness.”
“When someone is mean to you, you say, ‘I’m sorry,’ and that’s what makes them back down,” he says. “I’m taking your money, and you don’t have to be happy about it, but you have to back off.”
Brittain has witnessed arguments in the poker room, but never anything beyond heated debates. Her solution when people get upset?
“You let them talk, kind of let them attack you,” Brittain says. “You sympathize with your players, and I can talk to them a lot. I can honestly say that I have managed to defuse every situation. We have actually made it through the last 13 years without any incident in our room.
“And at the end of the day, everyone comes back there, so everyone, whether it’s random customers sitting at the table or regulars, sees it too.”