Packing a bachelor’s degree in marketing fresh from the University of Louisiana-Monroe, Brandon Dardeau headed to Las Vegas and a job in the casino industry.
In those days, a degree didn’t impress as much, he discovered. He started at the reservation call center — earning about $10 an hour — rather than in his dream position of casino host. That he considered a “glamorous job” and the reason he moved to Vegas.
Now 45, Dardeau never actually became a casino host in the 20 years he’s spent entirely with MGM Resorts International.
He did become the supervisor of casino hosts, among many other positions he’s held on his way up to being named the new president and chief operating officer of Southeast Operations at Beau Rivage Resort & Casino in Biloxi and Gold Strike Casino Resort in Tunica.
It won’t take him any time to get familiar with the resorts and the employees. He’s already worked in several capacities at both properties, most recently as general manager and senior vice president of marketing and operations at Gold Strike.
He dines at the restaurants and stays overnight occasionally with his family, he said, to experience the Beau Rivage through guests’ eyes.
And when he holds the door for VIPs checking into the Beau Rivage or picks up a broken object at the front entrance and carries it to the trash, it is without anyone knowing he is the person now running the resort.
Among the first thing on his “to do” list at the Beau Rivage is investing millions of dollars to remodel all the hotel rooms, redesign Jia restaurant, expand the cafe and introduce a new theme section for fans of the Buffalo slot machines.
The improvements started two years ago with the remodel of the suites at the Beau Rivage. That refresh was intended to move quickly into the hotel rooms but COVID hit and everything changed, Dardeau said.
The new timetable is for work to begin in April and to have all the hotel rooms remodeled by November, he said, along with new carpeting, lights and wall coverings in the hallways.
Guests will sleep on the same mattresses in the rooms at MGM’s famed Bellagio casino resort in Las Vegas. They will be able to check in, set the thermostat and open their hotel room door on their smart phone if they choose.
The guest room makeovers are being designed by MGM Resort International’s own interior design group, Dardeau said. The decor is specific to Biloxi using a collection of sand, turquoise and other soft beach and sunset colors.
“It has a Southern flair, just as the suites,” he said, so guests feel like they are on the Gulf Coast.
Jia restaurant at the Beau Rivage has been “re-imagined,” he said, with new furniture and lighting the last touches still to come. Now the Asian restaurant is open to the casino floor and is next to the relocated Baccarat pit. A noodle bar was created in the remodel and Vietnamese dishes were added to the menu.
Terrace Cafe, just inside the front entrance and adjacent to the buffet, is getting more space and a new identity.
“The demands for the buffets are not what they were pre-COVID,” Dardeau said. With nearly 700 seats for the buffet, the section in the atrium will be absorbed into the full-service restaurant that will be named Atrium Cafe.
At the far end of the buffet, a private dining room is being converted into a themed Buffalo room, filled with the popular Buffalo slot machines.
A SOUTHERN EXPERIENCE
Other changes are coming at Beau Rivage, Dardeau said. Like all MGM properties, the Biloxi casino will join the conversion of M Life players rewards system to MGM Rewards on Feb 1. Dardeau said the new card will give customers points for non-casino activities like hotel stays and meals.
Entertainment is back, he said, even if not all the national acts have resumed touring because of the coronavirus. Big & Rich are scheduled in February at the Beau Rivage and Celtic Woman in April.
While entertainment is a big part of the Beau Rivage business, he said it’s not limited to headliners.
“Really everything we do is entertainment,” he said, on the stage, the casino floor and in the shops and restaurants.
Beau Rivage is the biggest of the 12 casinos on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and with 1,792 rooms to fill, the drive-in customers aren’t enough.
They tap into the database of MGM Resorts’ properties in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, Detroit and their other casino markets across the country, he said, to find players eager to try their luck in Biloxi.
“Our company still needs to bring people in from other areas,” he said. Sun Country Airlines flies people from 85 cities to the Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport and the Beau Rivage, with three flights a week just from St. Petersburg, Florida, he said.
Many of these people never visited the Mississippi Gulf Coast, he said, and they are welcomed with warm weather, glimpses of dolphins from their hotel room and the Southern hospitality for which the resort is known.
“Our service scores are the highest in the company,” he said.
GOING TO WORK
Dardeau said that once he transferred from Las Vegas to Biloxi, every year or two he was given more responsibility. Where he really stood out is when he helped grow the charter flights.
Living in Las Vegas at the start of his career, Dardeau said he spent himself broke and decided to return to the South. He grew up in tiny Pine Prairie, Louisiana, north of Lafayette, population about 792.
In July 2001, just two years after the Beau Rivage opened, he was able to transfer within MGM Resort to Biloxi.
Casinos have so many different jobs that employees can relocate to a different area if they want to, he said, or change from food and beverage and try working the golf course or operations without losing seniority.
From that first job at the call center, Dardeau said he started as slot assistant shift manager when he arrived in Biloxi, making more than $10
“Those days we had coins and cashier,” he said, and he got to live the evolution to ticket in/ticket out. He enjoyed working operations but switched to marketing, “Then manager of casino hosts,” he said, and managing the call center.
One of his most-important goals, Dardeau said, is to let people know about the opportunities in the casino industry like he has experienced.
“We don’t just offer jobs, we offer careers,” he said. Ten percent of the staff at the Beau Rivage has worked there since the first year and almost half have been there more than five years.
Now that he’s worked himself to the top, “I’m honored to be sitting here,” he said.