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Casinos and hospitals don’t sound like they’d have a lot in common. But when it comes to scheduling, they’re more alike than you’d think.

Both are open around the clock, staffed mainly by shift workers and have specialists who can’t have just anybody fill in when they’re on vacation or sick.

So it makes sense that, like hospitals, casinos have been some of the earliest adopters of shift-scheduling software.

A prime example is Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantucket, Connecticut, not far from the Atlantic coast town of Mystic. Begun in 1992, the 16-year-old casino is already one of the biggest in the country and will grow larger with the opening in May 2008 of a $700 million MGM Grand casino, hotel and theater complex opens at the resort. When it does, Foxwoods will have approximately 12,000 employees, including close to 4,500 dealers and supervisors for 30 table games such as blackjack, roulette and craps.

Like nurses, table-game dealers possess a diverse skill set. Some can run all 30 games, others only a few. Some experienced dealers have the equivalent of a five-star rating and are the only ones who work at the casino’s high-roller tables. All dealers rotate between tables and games with 20-minute breaks between hourlong sessions. The number of dealers the casino needs changes on a daily basis. Bad weather means fewer customers and dealers. Special events mean more players and more dealers.

Creating schedules that take all those variables into account, plus about 1,500 requests for shift changes a week, once required four full-time staff members, says Brian Charette, the company’s information services vice president.

To do it, Foxwoods first used spreadsheets, then home-grown software, then software from an Australian developer, but nothing worked the way it needed to, Charette says.

Three years ago, Foxwoods did a detailed needs assessment, and after that it spent approximately $300,000 on shift-scheduling software from VasTech, the Annapolis, Maryland, developer that at the time was just breaking into the casino industry. It took the partners 18 months to train employees and get the software up and running, including integrating it into Foxwoods’ payroll and time-and-attendance software.

Today, dealers log on to a dozen PC-based self-service scheduling kiosks set up throughout the casino complex to manage their schedules, including swapping shifts. In addition to eliminating those four administrative positions, the change has had a positive effect on morale, Charette says.

“It’s created a more balanced and fair schedule,” he says. “You’re always going to have holes in schedules, but it’s been greatly minimized.”

Foxwoods currently is upgrading the scheduling system so dealers can use a phone and follow prompts in English, Spanish, Creole French and Chinese. “In the table-game dealer population, you have a lot of people who don’t speak English, so we thought we’d reach a larger group through the phone,” Charette says.

On the drawing board: a Web-based portal that dealers can use from work or home, plus 16 more self-service kiosks. Management has considered adding food and beverage and housekeeping personnel to the shift-scheduling system, but that’s not in the works yet, Charette says.

Time will tell whether VasTech’s casino scheduling software package will be affected by the company’s March 2008 acquisition by Lawson Software. Jennifer Langer, a Lawson product management global director, says Lawson is putting VasTech products through their paces “to make sure they work as we think they do.”