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Behind the casino curtain: Keeping a 56-acre complex running no matter what

Harrah’s Cherokee Hotel and Casino towers over the landscape in Cherokee, its three hotel towers only surpassed in height by the mountains providing its backdrop.

The polished product it offers patrons — legal gambling in a refined setting with a high-class feel not found elsewhere in the region — is only a fraction of what happens on the 56-acre footprint that Harrah’s occupies.

Running the operation is a machine, and keeping all the working parts moving 24 hours a day means it must be immaculately oiled.

Laundry for the hotel alone amounts to around 12,000 pounds a day. There is so much, in fact, that it has to be taken to a large warehouse laundry a mile up the road.

The casino and hotel complex has 4.46 miles of walkways and corridors that must be vacuumed and kept trash free. Thousands of windows have to be washed.

Powering the campus is a monstrous feat in itself, and in a non-stop video gambling palace, there can be no such thing as a power outage. The casino employs eight generators, capable 16 megawatts of power. It’s enough power to light up the entire Cherokee reservation. It’s so much power that, on particularly toasty summer days when air conditioners are running full tilt across the state, Duke Energy calls up to ask Harrah’s a favor: can they switch over to their generators to free up power load on the grid?

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Speaking of AC, the units that serve the new gaming floor each move 35,000 cubic feet of air every minute — designed to continuously pump out the cigarette-smoke laden air and pump fresh, clean air in.

And how, exactly, do you keep a place with miles and miles of corridors and gaming floors and restaurants and hotel rooms and lobbies full of fresh air?

“We pay for it,” says Norma Moss, laughing bluntly. Moss is in charge of operations at Harrah’s, so she knows precisely which cogs must turn in which wheels to keep things running smoothly.

And with 2,000 employees and a 24-7 schedule, the logistics can be slightly nightmarish, with cleaning being a particular challenge. It seems somewhat uncouth to clean around customers, but the customers never fully leave, so Moss and her team have to get creative in their efforts. On top of that, though, they just put a lot of man hours into it.

“We have people that do nothing but pull trash out of trash cans off the casino floor,” says Moss. “They pull trash out of cans and put in a new liner. That’s their whole job, that’s what they do every day. They’re not reassigned.”

There are people who come in the dead of night to do heavy cleaning in the parking garages. There are people who constantly empty ashtrays.

There is an on-site upholsterer who repairs and replaces the multitude of furniture, from hotel room sofas to stools on the gaming floor. There are people who roam the halls, replacing thousands and thousands of light bulbs.

That alone is a challenge, given the dozens of different light bulb types found throughout the casino and hotel, some highly specialized and very expensive indeed.

Basically, if you see something wrong anywhere in Harrah’s, there are probably people for that.

The place is gargantuan, so there are going to be problems. The goal, says Moss, is not just staying on top of them but staying ahead of them.

Even though there is a specialized job for just about everything — about 250 different job descriptions in all— the philosophy is that everyone should be responsible to the whole thing.

See peeling wallpaper? Tell somebody, make sure it gets taken care of.

Burned out light bulb? Missing trim? Cracked window?

When it comes to staying ahead of the avalanche in a non-stop business, Harrah’s has taken a leaf from the Department of Homeland Security’s book: if you see something, say something.

And it shows in their maintenance record. When things break, a form, of course, gets filled out. When the thing is fixed, the form is closed out. They close about 700 a week, says Moss. There are fewer than 20 that are two weeks old, ever.

It’s how they keep the machine from spilling out into the front of the house, this seemingly paradoxical philosophy: something is specifically your job, but everything is everyone’s job.

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