Casino Execs Discuss Labor Challenges in Atlantic City, Foxwoods Increases Wages

Posted on: September 22, 2022, 01:51h. 

Last updated on: September 22, 2022, 03:37h.

Casino executives are gathered this week in Atlantic City for the 25th Annual East Coast Gaming Congress (ECGC), held at the Hard Rock. A major topic of conversation is how the gaming industry weathered COVID-19 and the ongoing challenges the pandemic continues to present.

casino executives East Coast Gaming Congress Atlantic City
Limuel Toledo, a Foxwoods Resort Casino employee, sprays disinfectant over slot machines on May 28, 2020. US casino execs say hiring remains a major challenge of their post-pandemic operations. (Image: The Day)

Many casino bosses said that hiring continues to be their most challenging issue.

In Atlantic City, the nine casinos collectively employed 23,466 people at the end of June — the most recently reported month of employment data. Though that’s 878 more jobs than in June 2021, the number remains substantially below the 30K-person workforce the industry employed during the summer of 2018.

Because of forced shutdowns, casinos across the Northeast furloughed many workers amid the pandemic’s gravest days. Industry leaders say many laid-off employees found work elsewhere, opting for new careers where work-from-home is allowed or left the labor market altogether.

Workers Have Upper Hand

The labor shortage resulted in a worker’s market in the US casino industry. Hard Rock International announced earlier this month that it’s putting aside $100 million to better pay its non-tipped hourly workers at its restaurants, hotels, and casinos.

Hard Rock International Chair Jim Allen said the overhead increase will reduce the company’s high turnover. Jason Guyot, president and CEO of Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut, said his company also continues to increase base pay to retain quality employees.

Guyot says all workers at Foxwoods now make at least $14.50 an hour. Just two years ago, the starting rate at the casino was $10.50. Foxwoods employs more than 3,000 people in Connecticut.

Guyot added that Foxwoods used the pandemic to rethink its business “from the top down.” The restructuring, he says, has improved margins by about 8%.

Casinos Look to Cut Buffets

The pandemic provided the casinos a unique time to assess their operations and amenities. Certain staples like casino buffets have yet to return post-pandemic.

It forced us and gave us the ability to say to our guests that things that used to be viewed as an entitlement, maybe they don’t need them as much as they thought they did. Do you need a buffet? Should you have a buffet?” Allen pondered.

David Cordish, whose Cordish Companies operates Live!-branded casinos in Maryland and Pennsylvania, said his firm hasn’t returned to buffets. He said Cordish has instead focused on maintaining clean environments where customers feel safe and will continue to feel safe regardless of future health concerns.

“What we did is, we put in every possible type of health and safety screening. People were fed up with being cooped up and came pouring back to the casinos when we did these things,” Cordish stated. “Since we reopened, business has been terrific.”

Smoking Kept Outside

The elephant in the East Coast Gaming Congress room is the ongoing debate regarding indoor casino smoking. A planned discussion on the matter was called off before the ECGC gathering after Resorts Casino CEO Mark Giannantonio withdrew from the event.

Giannantonio, who additionally heads up the Casino Association of New Jersey, was set to defend the casinos’ position. The businesses contend that indoor smoking is needed to keep the destination competitive with casinos in nearby Philadelphia, where tobacco use on the gaming floors is partially allowed.

Supporters of making Atlantic City casinos smoke-free are campaigning outside Hard Rock during today’s ECGC.