Winning Hand: Out manager helps Foxwoods hit the jackpot with LGBT guests

Stacy Morataya-Pilkington

When you work in hospitality, the goal is to make every guest feel special. But as the hotel manager of MGM Grand at Foxwoods Resort Casino, Stacy Morataya-Pilkington understands that in an oft-intolerant world, it can be extra important to make LGBT guests feel VIP.

“I think I’ve been able to show my team a different side of what a family is,” says Morataya-Pilkington. An out and married lesbian and mom of three, she’s the woman running a four-diamond hotel at America’s largest casino. But she’s also leading by example, using policy and personality to enhance the resort’s pro-LGBT culture — something she sees embodied by her hundred-plus employees.

She points to people like her head concierge, who took great steps to welcome back an older lesbian couple that had once heard rude remarks from a homophobic patron. “She did all this espionage to find out their favorite things, favorite colors, and decorated the whole room in a way [that was] personal to them,” explains Morataya-Pilkington with a smile. “When I met them, they put their arms around me. Now they’re here two or three times a year.”

Offering comfort to the community is important to Morataya-Pilkington, who has faced her own difficulties and discriminations. Raised in Las Vegas, she married young and had three children with her then-husband. “Like a lot of people, I was in a hurry to get over everything that was going on in my head,” she says. After her divorce, her ex-husband abandoned her and the children emotionally and financially. “He just told his family, ‘She’s a dyke and she left me,’” she says.

Her own family took it tough too. “It was terrible,” she recalls of the day she came out to her mother on a canyon hike. “She said something about ‘Ellen Degenerate.’ She told me the rainbow flag stood for perversity, not diversity. And she asked me, ‘How do you think I feel knowing both my daughters are going to burn in hell for all eternity?’” Morataya-Pilkington’s sister is also gay.

And yet, she bet on the hope that things would change. It paid off.

“Today she’s a PFLAG mom, and she lives with me and my wife,” says a proud Morataya-Pilkington, who celebrates her two-year wedding anniversary in September.

There has been professional progress, too. Her work has taken her from high-profile hotels between Vegas, Denver and Boston, and along the way she’s encountered behind-the-scenes backlash. One former coworker complained about Morataya-Pilkington’s girlfriend visiting at work; another confided that her sexuality cost her a promotion. That all changed at Foxwoods, says Morataya-Pilkington, who came out to VP of hotel operations Jason Guyot, whom she calls a strong straight ally, in her first interview.

“It was important to me that I know I can be myself here,” says Morataya-Pilkington. “Everyone has to be okay with who I am and what I am.”

Before long, it was Guyot who came to her with the idea to plan LGBT events with Connecticut Alliance for Business Opportunities (CABO): a New Haven-based LGBT Chamber of Commerce of which Foxwoods is considered a Cornerstone Partner, and for which Morataya-Pilkington served as director of operations. (She’s now on the leadership council of Out and Equal, a Connecticut LGBT workplace advocacy organization.)

But Morataya-Pilkington wants to make it clear the Foxwoods “walks the walk” when it comes to being pro-LGBT, taking steps more substantive than simply throwing special parties or creating politically correct marketing material. The casino includes LGBT-specific language to its Employment Policy, and has designed LGBT-specific sensitivity training for employees. The casino’s purchasing department recognizes LGBT companies as part its minority vendor program; gender neutral bathrooms are offered; and the casino ensures transgender employees can wear the uniform of the gender with which they identify, regardless of medical documentation. Next on the agenda: a push to get an LGBT employee resource group up and running. And after seeing how far her own personal and professional life has come, Morataya-Pilkington is full of optimism.

“There’s been such headway and growth, and I think Foxwoods is really doing things right,” says Morataya-Pilkington, who also marched on behalf of Foxwoods in NYC Pride. “I had custom-designed posters that said, ‘Who doesn’t prefer a full house to a straight?’” she laughs.

A full house, indeed. The more the merrier. [x]

LGBT TO VIP: An Insider Guide to the High (Rolling) Life

PLAY: Foxwoods boasts over 6,000 slot machines and game tables, but big spenders know to scope the Stargazer Casino, tucked away quietly on the 25th floor of the Grand Pequot Tower. (Minimum bets start around $200.) Rather observe the millionaires from afar? Grab a seat at the MGM Grand Theatre, this fall hosting performers like the legendary Lionel Richie and cutie R&B crooner John Legend.

EAT: There are over 30 eateries at Foxwoods. But the aptly named Paragon, a four-diamond rated French- and Asian-influenced restaurant, probably has the most elevated and under-the-radar rep. For the celebrity chef experience, opt for gourmet steakhouse David Burke Prime. And if you’re homesick, acclaimed Boston-based chef Michael Schlow has his high-end Italian eatery Alta Strada.

PARTY: Keep an eye on the Boston LGBT social group The Welcoming Committee (, which is planning a group getaway in November. But any night is great for booking bottle service at Asian restaurant slash epic dance club Shrine, or at tequila-infused ultra lounge Scorpion Bar. Boston’s Big Night Entertainment Group owns them both, and is in talks to launch recurring gay events. (BNEG Boston club The Estate is home to Chris Harris Presents’ long-running Glamlife party.) After all the fun, detox with a body wrap or massage at the ultra-luxe Gspa. Ah, hits the spot.