In ten days, Atlantic City will once more become a nine-casino town. And with the same-day openings of Hard Rock and Ocean Resort, thousands of workers who lost their jobs due to five closures between 2014 and 2016 will finally be clocking back in on June 28.
The two Boardwalk casinos will together employ roughly 6,000 workers, which is more than half of the 11,000 jobs that were lost due to the closures.
Hard Rock — the former Trump Taj Mahal, which was at one time the casino property of President Donald Trump –will open on June 28 at noon ET. Ocean Resort Casino (formerly the ill-fated Revel), will open three hours later.
Speaking with the Associated Press, Unite Here Local 54 President Bob McDevitt said the workers returning to the revamped casinos are “tough” and “resilient.” With nearly 10,000 members, Local 54 is the primary casino workers’ union in New Jersey.
It’s indicative of the kind of workers they are that these casinos want them back.” McDevitt said of the long-awaited re-employment opportunities.
Many area residents who were employed at the Taj, Trump Plaza, Revel, Showboat, and Atlantic Club left AC when the economy plummeted and unemployment consequently soared. But now — as the gaming beach resort goes through something of a comeback — those same people are returning.
From a Hard Place to a Rock
The seven Atlantic City casinos open today employ in the neighborhood of 21,000 workers. Records with the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement (DGE) show that’s more than 50 percent fewer than the 49,000 jobs created by city casinos in 1997 — about 20 years after land-based gambling was first legalized in New Jersey.
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that Atlantic City area unemployment rate was six percent in April. While that’s still far higher than the national average of 3.7 percent, it represents a year-over-year 13 percent reduction from 6.9 percent.
When Hard Rock and Ocean Resort officially open, Atlantic City could see its unemployment rate dip below six percent for the first time in a decade. That’s not to say that everyone is getting rich: the BLS reports that the average weekly wage in Atlantic City is $841, which is $180 less than the national average of $1,021.
Regardless, with the unemployment rate lowering and more jobs on the way, there’s plenty of optimism regarding Atlantic City’s economic future.
“We’re very excited about the renaissance of Atlantic City,” Resorts President Mark Giannantonio said in January. “We think it’s for real. I’m extremely optimistic.”
$1 Billion Bet
Hard Rock and Ocean Resort are collectively spending roughly $1 billion to open their revamped doors.
While thousands of new jobs are welcomed, of course, it’s gamblers who make such massive investments profitable. And through May, Atlantic City casino floors haven’t exactly been at risk of getting a fire department shutdown for overcrowding.
Year-to-date gross gaming revenue is down 4.3 percent, which is a nearly $46 million loss. A recent report from the DGE showed that operating profits fell 11.7 percent in the first quarter of 2018.
According to industry analyst Anthony Marino, 2017 visitor arrivals to Atlantic City were at their lowest levels since the early 1980s. Atlantic City Chamber President Joseph Kelly refuted that view, saying, “We are seeing and hearing from businesses that everybody is feeling pretty good about the outlook for the coming season.”
Marino agreed that the outlook is rosier than the past. “The new arrivals [Hard Rock, Ocean Resort] to the Atlantic City tourism market can certainly be expected to generate considerable publicity and large crowds,” he concluded.