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Santa Ana Star Casino ranked among the best places to work.

By Bobbie Whitehead -- Today correspondent

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - The Santa Ana Star Casino works to foster a team environment, making sure its employees and their families know they are valued for their contributions.

With this attitude, it's no wonder the casino has been ranked by its employees as one of the best places, among large companies in the state, to work - not once, but twice.

At the end of December, the Santa Ana Star Casino was named seventh out of 66 large organizations among the best places to work. It was the only casino named a finalist in the New Mexico Business Weekly's survey.

''We were very proud,'' said Conrad Granito, Santa Ana Star Casino general manager. ''This is our second year that we were named one of the best places to work.''

The award is given to companies based on nominations placed by its employees, who participated in an online, anonymous survey. Survey results were tallied by Quantum Market Research, an independent market research firm. From there, Quantum Market Research presents the results to New Mexico Business Weekly.

Thirty finalists from the small, medium and large business categories were honored in December at a special reception.

The Santa Ana Star Casino management has a positioning statement, ''This is your casino,'' located in the building to emphasize the casino as a locals' casino, Granito said.

''We've now done this with the employees, using 'This is our casino,''' Granito said. ''It's a sense of ownership, a sense of home.''

Located just north of Albuquerque, the Santa Ana Star Casino is operated by the Santa Ana Pueblo and employs more than 750 people.

Since opening in 1993, the casino management has known that in order to retain its employees, those employees need to feel part of the organization. For this reason, Santa Ana Star Casino employees are regularly recognized for their hard work, dedication and accomplishments, Granito said.

One way the casino does this is by maintaining a ''Shining Star'' employee program. Through the program, other employees, supervisors and managers can observe a co-worker doing a good job, document the good job and post the information on various employee boards in the employee area, Granito said.

Management then separates the notices into different categories. From there, a company committee chooses who receives the recognition, he said.

''The employees are then recognized in the employee newsletter and on the employee Web page,'' Granito said. ''Then, they have a lunch with me and managers or directors of their own department.''

In addition to recognizing employees, Santa Ana Star Casino spends time training middle management just to help the managers become more successful, he said.

The casino has established philosophies to make the organization one of the best places to work. These philosophies include ''acknowledging employees for their contributions in a meaningful way; cultivating an open, inviting and sincere work environment; keeping the employees informed and enabling employees to contribute to company goals; providing competitive wages; tying the work family to the home family; and creating career opportunities,'' Granito said.

''We spend a lot of time and energy in getting information on what the casino is doing and how it's succeeding,'' Granito said. ''It's a simple thing, but the more employees know, the better they can serve the guests. Therefore, the guests' experiences are better, and they'll come back.''

Another aspect of the casino's philosophy is continuing to make the work family and home family part of the organization.

''Our employees spend more awake time with their work families than their home families,'' Granito said. ''If the employee's home family has the opportunity to participate in an event, such as an open house, where they can acknowledge the responsibilities of their family member, they better understand what it means for the employee to go to work every day. The family also has the opportunity to take pride in the work of the employee.''

Some of the ways the Santa Ana Star Casino does this is by holding picnics, Christmas parties and family skating nights, as well as events for organizations such as the American Cancer Society and the American Diabetes Association.

''A lot of things we do to create family get tied into the community events,'' Granito said.

For example, casino employees have also participated in helping the local Habitat for Humanity organization.

At Santa Ana Star Casino, ''knowledge enriching opportunities'' enable employees to advance and succeed.

''This makes the job more than just a job,'' Granito said. ''It becomes a path for growth and advancement.''