By WAYNE PARRY – Associated Press
ATLANTIC CITY, NJ (AP) — As a casino dealer, Shamikah Townsend knows when the odds are in her favor.
And now they definitely are.
Last year, while working at an Atlantic City casino, she attended a job fair hosted by another and was surprised at how quickly she was in demand when the recruiter wanted to hire her as a craps dealer.
“She said, ‘I’m paying you to move to Florida in two weeks,'” Townsend said. “I didn’t know craps so I had to be honest and tell her, but I went out there and learned. ”
On Monday, Townsend made her move and was hired on the spot at a job fair hosted by Atlantic City’s Ocean Casino Resort.
Townsend is part of a major hiring wave taking place at casinos across the country as arcades compete to hire staff as they recover from the coronavirus pandemic that has driven customers away and led to downsizing.
But casinos are just one of many industries struggling to hire new workers, and they’re not only competing for casino workers, but also for people with experience in the hotel, restaurant, and tourism industries, to name a few.
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“Gaming faces the same labor challenges that we see across the economy,” said Casey Clark, senior vice president of the American Gaming Association, the casino industry’s national trade group. “In our recent CEO survey, labor shortages are a top concern across the country.
“Competition for talent is a major impediment to growth, and we’re also seeing an expansion in gaming as consumer demand increases,” he said. “These things are problematic when they happen together.”
This has led to some innovative tactics, including the use of virtual reality goggles at some MGM Resorts International job fairs so applicants can learn what the job will be like before signing on the dotted line.
Atlantic City casinos are also in talks with state government agencies about funding new transit opportunities to bring people from farther afield to casino jobs. One possibility: Something like the Borgata’s contract with a state transit company in 2008 for a daily shuttle bus service between their Atlantic City casino and Camden — a one-hour trip that runs across the state.
Nationwide, about 1.65 million gaming, amusement and recreation workers were employed in the U.S. economy in March, about 91% of the pre-pandemic workforce, Clark said. The AGA said it didn’t have a figure for casino employment alone.
Joe Lupo, President of Atlantic City’s Hard Rock Casino, is also President of the Casino Association of New Jersey. He estimates that there are currently 2,000 full- and part-time casino jobs open in Atlantic City, where the total workforce has fallen from 22,000 from 49,000 in 2003.
“As COVID, especially last year after restrictions were lifted, the labor supply just wasn’t available,” he said. “It was difficult for all of us to find enough people. After meeting with everyone last week, I know for sure that every company is hiring.”
This has very practical implications in casino resorts that may not be able to open all of their hotel rooms or all of the craps or roulette tables they have. Restaurants that used to serve 700 tables a night may only be able to serve 300, executives said.
As in other industries, workers benefit from changing jobs or taking on a new job after a period of unemployment. Casinos are raising wages and benefits and offering to train workers without the kind of experience it used to take just to get your foot in the door for a job interview.
“Everyone is looking for the same person,” said Bill Callahan, general manager of Ocean Casino in Atlantic City. “We always need people.”
In some departments, “people who were making $14 an hour a year ago are making maybe $16 or $17 an hour now,” Callahan said.
Ocean is launching an in-house training program to teach people how to become a dealer, something most applicants previously had to learn on their own, Callahan added.
Morongo Casino in Cabazon, California has been hosting regular job fairs since December and has at least four more scheduled for this month.
In North Carolina, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians announced last month that they need nearly 900 additional workers for their two stateside casinos. Tribal leaders are considering recruiting workers from other countries and housing them in dormitories.
And in West Virginia, racetrack casinos told state regulators last month that a labor shortage is preventing them from operating at full strength for the third straight year.
Townsend, the newly hired retailer in Atlantic City, says the circumstances were a good fit for her.
“I wanted to move up and improve my situation,” she said. “These places now have to compete with everyone else for workers, and there’s money to be had.”
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