Former casino workers find alternative careers

Some former casino workers are living proof that adaptability is the key to survival.

The majority of the Coast’s 17,000 casino workers lost their jobs when Hurricane Katrina destroyed or damaged the 13 gambling barges from Bay St. Louis to Biloxi. With only three of the casinos back open and others employing just key personnel, there’s about 3,500 jobs now.

Increasingly, former casino employees are having to find work elsewhere.

Karen Laveroni, a former table games floor supervisor at Grand Casino Gulfport, turned a hobby into a job. Carlos Colegial, a former cashier at the President Casino, is relying on skills he had learned managing an apartment complex. And Bob Davidge, the former public relations and advertising manager for Casino Magic Bay St. Louis, put networking efforts in high gear to secure a new position.

It’s not been easy for any of them.

Laveroni, who had also worked at casinos in Canada and Tunisia before moving to Mississippi, thought „Here’s my life“ when she learned the extent of the destruction at Grand Gulfport.

„I’m 57 years old and now I’m going to have to start over again,“ she said. „It’s scary. It’s a very, very scary thought. Let’s face it, at this age, we are not as desirable a commodity in the workplace as we used to be.“

Laveroni, who used to do the taxes of friends and family for free, is now the manager of American Tax Service in Gulfport. Having kept abreast of yearly tax changes, she realized that with the federal hurricane relief provisions more people would need help filing this year.

„Starting a business the first year is always tough,“ she said. „I’m not only the new kid on the block, we’ve got the big names to compete with that people are familiar with. All you can do is give good service, hope they are happy and hopefully they’ll return next year and pass the word. Most of my business has been word of mouth.“

Colegial used to count money in a casino, but now he stays busy with tools. Although he lost his job and his home, he was back at work in three weeks.

„I just took it one day at a time and starting putting in my applications,“ he said. „They called me from Garden Park Medical Center. I started working there and have been working there ever since. I work in maintenance. It’s a great job.“

Colegial got the job because he had once been an apartment complex manager.

„Managing an apartment complex, you have to learn to do everything,“ Colegial said. „That’s where I got the experience.“

He said he has no plans to return to a casino job because of the hectic pace, noisy machines and cigarette smoke.

Davidge stayed in marketing, but had to learn about a completely different industry. He now works for STAR Marketing Systems/Creekstone Companies, which is involved in condominiums and construction. The company has sites in Long Beach, D’Iberville and Gulfport it plans to develop.

He got his job through desperation networking. While still an evacuee in Panama City with his family, he went to a Rotary Club meeting because he knew that’s where the business leaders would be. He also took his family for meals at Woodlawn Methodist Church because that’s where he knew he’d find compassionate people.

„I had on a a pair of sandals, a Harley T-shirt and a pair of shorts when I walked into the Panama City Rotary Club early so I could wait for the president of the club and ask if I could sit and wait through the meeting,“ Davidge said. „It was at the Rotary Club that I found out about the meals at Woodlawn Methodist Church.“

Davidge wound up having seven interviews within two weeks because of the people he met while an evacuee.

„I was to a point where I got to select what was best for me and my family and would allow me to get back to the Coast,“ he said.