After earning his bachelor’s degree in marketing fresh from the University of Louisiana-Monroe, Brandon Dardeau went to Las Vegas and got a job in the casino industry.
Back then, degrees didn’t impress that much, he noted. He started out in the reservations call center — making about $10 an hour — rather than in his dream job of casino host. That he considered a “glamorous job” and was the reason he moved to Vegas.
Dardeau, now 45, never really became a casino host in the 20 years he spent exclusively at MGM Resorts International.
He became a casino hosts supervisor, among many other positions he held on his journey to becoming the new President and Chief Operating Officer of Southeast Operations at the Beau Rivage Resort & Casino in Biloxi and the Gold Strike Casino Resort in Tunica.
He doesn’t need time to familiarize himself with the resorts and the staff. He has worked in various capacities at both properties, most recently as general manager and senior vice president of marketing and operations at Gold Strike.
He eats at the restaurants and occasionally stays with his family, he said, to see the Beau Rivage through the eyes of the guests.
And when he holds the door for VIPs checking into the Beau Rivage, or picks up a broken item at the front entrance and carries it to the trash, it’s done without anyone knowing he’s the person now running the resort.
First things on his to-do list at the Beau Rivage include investing millions of dollars to remodel all the hotel rooms, redesign the Jia restaurant, expand the coffee shop and introduce a new themed area for Buffalo slots fans.
Improvements began two years ago with the remodeling of the suites at the Beau Rivage. This refresher should be making its way into hotel rooms quickly, but COVID hit and everything changed, Dardeau said.
The new schedule calls for work to begin in April and all hotel rooms to be revamped by November, along with new carpeting, lights and wall paneling in the hallways.
Guests sleep on the same mattresses as in the rooms at MGM’s famed Bellagio casino resort in Las Vegas. They can check in, set the thermostat and open their hotel room door on their smartphone if they wish.
The guest room renovations will be designed by MGM Resort International’s own interior design group, Dardeau said. Decor is Biloxi-specific, using a collection of sand, turquoise, and other soft beachy and sunset hues.
“It has a Southern flair, as do the suites,” he said, to make guests feel like they’re on the Gulf Coast.
The Jia restaurant at the Beau Rivage has been “redesigned,” he said, with new furniture and lighting yet to come. Now the Asian restaurant is open to the casino floor and is located next to the relocated baccarat pit. During the renovation, a noodle bar was set up and the menu expanded to include Vietnamese dishes.
The Terrace Cafe, just behind the front entrance and next to the buffet, gets more space and a new identity.
“Demand for the buffets isn’t as high as it was before COVID,” Dardeau said. With almost 700 seats for the buffet, the area in the atrium will be integrated into the full-service restaurant called Atrium Cafe.
At the other end of the buffet, a private dining room is transformed into a Buffalo themed room filled with the popular Buffalo slot machines.
A SOUTHERN EXPERIENCE
More changes are on the horizon at Beau Rivage, Dardeau said. Like all MGM hotels, Biloxi Casino will join the transition of the rewards system for M Life players to MGM Rewards on February 1st. 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 national acts have returned to touring because of the coronavirus. Big & Rich are scheduled at the Beau Rivage in February and Celtic Woman in April.
While entertainment is a big part of Beau Rivage’s business, he said it’s not limited to headlining.
“Really everything we do is entertainment,” he said, on stage, in the casino, and in the shops and restaurants.
Beau Rivage is the largest of the 12 casinos on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and with 1,792 rooms to fill, drive-in customers aren’t enough.
They tapped into the database of MGM Resorts in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, Detroit and their other casino markets across the country to find players looking to try their luck in Biloxi.
“Our company still needs to bring in people from other areas,” he said. Sun Country Airlines flies people from 85 cities to Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport and the Beau Rivage, with three flights a week only from St. Petersburg, Fla., he said.
Many of these people have never visited the Mississippi Gulf Coast, he said, and they are greeted with warm weather, views of dolphins from their hotel rooms, and the Southern hospitality the resort is known for.
“Our service ratings are the highest in the company,” he said.
GO TO WORK
Dardeau said he’s been handed more responsibilities every year or two since moving from Las Vegas to Biloxi. Where he really stood out was when he helped expand charter flights.
Dardeau, who lived in Las Vegas early in his career, said he was broke and decided to return south. He grew up in tiny Pine Prairie, Louisiana just north of Lafayette with a population of about 792.
In July 2001, just two years after the Beau Rivage opened, he was able to transfer to Biloxi within the MGM Resort.
Casinos have so many different jobs that employees can move to another area if they wish, he said, or switch from hospitality and try to work on the golf course or in operations without losing seniority.
Of that first call center job, Dardeau says he started as an assistant slots shift manager when he got to Biloxi and made more than $10
“Back then we had coins and a cashier,” he said, and he had to see the evolution of ticket-in/ticket-out. He enjoyed working in operations, but switched to marketing, “back then managing casino hosts,” he said, and running the call center.
One of his main goals, Dardeau said, is to educate people about the opportunities in the casino industry as he’s experienced them.
“We don’t just offer jobs, we offer careers,” he said. Ten percent of the Beau Rivage’s staff have been there since their first year, with almost half for more than five years.
Now that he’s worked his way to the top, “I’m honored to sit here,” he said.