Sequins sparkle as MGM casino staff puts on $500,000 Vegas-style show

In casinos around the country, staff talent shows give employees a chance to claim their own jackpots.

In Las Vegas this week, MGM Resorts International is taking the concept a step further, combining the talent show with the staff meeting. The result: Nine extravagant performances of a production called "Inspiring Our World."

MGM, the largest private employer in Nevada, is paying 50,000 employees from 10 area casinos to attend the show at the Mandalay Bay Events Center on the Las Vegas Strip.

In the $500,000 production, a dock worker plays electric violin in a song and dance number about the value of respecting one's co-workers. A training manager dons a sequined silver dress to sing a ballad about MGM's commitment to environmentally-friendly buildings.

On Monday, a security guard took to the stage that has hosted performers including Prince, Pavarotti and Bon Jovi to explain how he directs patrons to their destinations. He used a rope to illustrate his technique, first splitting it into two pieces, then three, then bringing it back into a single cord.

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"This is one of the greatest experiences I've had in my whole life," said Michael Whitson, 50, who said he has worked at the MGM Grand for 16 years and practiced magic for 30.

Whitson was among the 70 employees selected through auditions to design and perform the show.

Casinos from Indiana to Florida regularly hold morale-boosting talent shows with payouts as large as $5,000. But this week's MGM show eschews the rivalry and prizes in favor of collaboration and teambuilding.

For CEO Jim Murren, these kinds of events play a key role in ensuring a competitive edge.

Sitting in the Mandalay Bay greenroom before his cameo on stage, Murren linked the decade-long staff diversity program to lowered absenteeism, shorter service times and increased retention.

"I think more than most industries, we recognize that the experience is core to the business model," said Murren, who had traded his suit and tie for a long-sleeved black polo shirt embossed with the MGM logo. "The delivery of that experience comes from the employees. And if your employees aren't engaged and feeling good about the work environment, then they can't possibly be the kind of ambassadors to the customers that you would want."

In addition to promoting corporate values like recycling and customer service, show also features nods to diversity. Employees told stories of overcoming prejudice, and presented a clip show featuring Martin Luther King Jr. and labor leader Cesar Chavez.

Cage cashier Chris Tacktay played the drums in a number celebrating recognition of differences.

Tacktay, 23, hopes his skills will one day land him in the procession show "Blue Man Group."

But for now he has a smaller-scale ambition, one shared by many of his fellow staff performers: A road trip to MGM Grand Detroit.