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An MGM Grand Honcho Wins by Going 'Undercover'

By Carol Tice
Casinos are busy, noisy, colorful places. You'd think it would be easy to blend in with the crowd. But when MGM Grand Hotel & Casino president and chief operating officer Scott Sibella worked in disguise at his resort for yesterday's episode of CBS's Undercover Boss, he was sure his cover would be blown.

Disguised in wireframe glasses and a dark mop of a wig that Sibella says made him feel like "a cross between a Beatle and former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich," the MGM Grand's president and chief operating officer made the rounds of four different casino jobs: he dealt blackjack, manned the roulette wheel, staffed the front desk, and worked the slot-machine area. He was basically nose-to-nose with workers nonstop for six-hour shifts.

He also kept blurting out things like "Well, we're going to change that," when his undercover sleuthing turned up problems in how company policies worked in practice. But Sibella got lucky -- nobody caught on.

"The hard part is you want to stop and fix it right there," he says.

Sibella agreed to go on the show just five months after moving over from sister MGM Resorts International Property The Mirage because he wanted to learn how things were done at the Grand. He welcomed the chance to see how employees operate when they don't think a head honcho is looking over their shoulders, and to show workers he cared about their opinions.

"I didn't want the employees to think 'This guy's just going to come in here and make a bunch of changes," Sibella says.

What he saw impressed him -- especially after he tried his hand at doing some of the workers' jobs. Among his most embarrassing moments:

  • He had a hard time calculating complex roulette winnings and spun the roulette wheel too fast, causing the ball to fly off the wheel.
  • Committing blackjack faux pas including putting his hands in his pockets -- a no-no as you could be hiding chips -- and bending over to pick up dropped cards, a move that gives players a chance to cheat.
  • Failing to sell loyalty cards to slot-machine patrons.
Overall, though, Sibella says, "I think I did okay."

He also learned about where company policies thought up back at headquarters fell short out on the front line. The front-desk computer check-in system was running too slow, for instance, a problem Sibella says has since been resolved.

The loyalty-card program has been overhauled, too. When Sibella worked undercover, employees were given an incentive to sell 10 cards a day -- but no incentive for selling any more cards. A newly formed employee council is helping draft a new plan that may allow workers to carry over extra cards sold to the next day, or reward them in other ways for exceeding the goal.

Sibella says, "Working slots was so much harder than I expected. It sounded easy to me -- pay the jackpots and keep the area clean. But it's not easy signing people up for something when they're playing slots."

He says the employee council will be reviewing new policy changes going forward before they're rolled out.

"They should know about them first," he says. "A change shouldn't come in cold."