PLAINS TWP. – While high rollers at the Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs can earn free food based on their level of play, the venue's 1,700 employees can eat for free without putting a nickel into any slot machine.
As one of the company's perks for workers, a 24-hour employee dining hall is on premise serving food and beverages at no cost to employees.
It's a buffet style affair that includes a salad, soup and dessert bar, pizza, deli, fruit and a variety of hot foods including a weekly build your own burger bar.
Four flat screen TVs line the walls of the 6,000 square foot room that is one of the rare spaces in the casino that has windows to the outside world. Computer stations with Internet access, free Wi-Fi and even video games are among the added amenities in what's called the EDR or employee dining room.
For the casino, the offering is practical. It keeps employees on premise, promotes a feeling of camaraderie as staffers from all departments eat together and it's a nice selling point to potential employees.
For the staff, it's a perk that saves them money and time.
It's amazing, said Christine Roper, a slots attendant who has worked at the casino for six years. She wasn't told about the perk when she was hired but on the new employee tour when the guide led them to the EDR she recalls the reaction from her fellow new hires.
Everyone looked at one another like are you kidding me?' Roper said. She just figured she'd have to pack her lunch or eat at one of the casino's many public eateries.
Instead she leaves her Plains Township home each morning without a lunch bag or cooler and heads to work wondering what will be on the menu but not about the quality of the fare.
They go above and beyond, Roper said of the kitchen staff. Sometimes I can't wait to get to work to see what's on the menu.
She said the perk is so good she feels like she should tell her friends but then she wonders if she should rub it in.
I almost feel guilty telling people, Roper said. They just can't get over it.
Maria Zangardi, the casino's director of human resources, said the free food has long been one of those secrets that employees enjoy that comes along with the right to wear a Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs outfit. She estimates that eating one full meal per work shift plus enjoying a few drinks and some snacks adds up to about $2,500 the employee is not spending out of pocket.
Katie Borkowski, the casino's employment manager, was aware of the dining perk thanks to a friend who worked at the casino but said I really didn't grasp it until I walked through the doors.
Borkowski said in previous jobs she would spend $10 to $15 a day on food and drinks. Now she can leave her West Pittston home without money or food and eat well at work.
It adds up, said Zangardi, of Exeter.
But it makes sense for the casino to offer the benefit.
She said the casino sells fun to the community and the employees that are part of that experience deserve some fun of their own.
It really is a place where people can come socialize or get a total break and enjoy all the options, Zangardi said, noting that the EDR is constantly evolving. Ice cream and video games have been added but the newest addition seems to be among the most popular. Two Coca-Cola Freestyle machines, which allow users to mix and match flavored additives such as vanilla, grape, cherry and more to sodas such as Coke, Sprite, ginger ale and root beer, have been well received, multiple employees interviewed for this story said.
Looking around the room as coworkers nosh on pizza, chili and fresh fruit, Susan Stavish, a vendor license coordinator from Wilkes-Barre, voiced what many were likely thinking as they cleared their plates: How can you top this?
Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs is the largest area employer that offers free food to its workers, though not the only one.
Jack Frost and Big Boulder ski area in Kidder Township does offer its year-round full-time employees and department heads free food at on-site eateries during the ski season, while other employees eat at a 50 percent discount, resort spokeswoman Heather Schiffbauer said.
Some restaurants offer employees discounted or free meals during their shift, too.
While other area employers do have in-house cafeterias that employees can use, including hospitals, school districts, Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania, universities and Benco Dental, all charge employees who use them.