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As US Casinos Reopen, Hiring Back Employees Proves Difficult

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After months of restriction to help calm the spread of COVID-19, casinos are once again opening their doors and returning to full capacity.

But looks can be deceiving.

Although casinos have the ability to operate at 100% capacity, the dedicated workforce used to make these properties run smoothly is lacking.

To be clear, multiple states with casinos are having difficulty getting fully staffed. Hundreds of casinos in small and large cities are having trouble filling the jobs left behind by the coronavirus pandemic. Let’s discuss three in particular: Colorado, Massachusetts, and Nevada.

Las Vegas casinos short-staffed

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Las Vegas unemployment rate sits at 9%, the second-highest in the nation. This contradicts the fervor of Las Vegas businesses – where demand is so high with people ready to vacation and spend money, they can’t keep up. Thus, long waits and few available hotel rooms and restaurant reservation openings.

But even though the unemployment rate continues to decline, employers at Nevada casinos and beyond are having trouble finding workers.

“At the height of the pandemic, 98% of Culinary Union members were laid off,” Geoconda Arguello-Kline, Secretary-Treasurer for the Culinary Workers Union – Local 226 said in a statement. “Currently, only 50% are back to work.

MGM Resorts International has experienced staffing shortages in recent weeks, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, but has been holding weekly job fairs to help fill vacant positions.

MGM VP Randy Goldberg said pre-pandemic, MGM had roughly 70,000 employees but as of Dec. 31, the company only has about 42,000.

“We don’t want to be in a position where we can open all the restaurants and open at 100 percent occupancy but not have enough people to serve our guests the way we want to serve them,” said Goldberg.

“There’s no doubt that we’re probably a little bit stretched,” he said. “I don’t think anyone expected the ramp-up to happen this quickly.”

Vaccination efforts

Don’t forget about efforts from MGM which helped create on-site vaccination clinics for employees on the Vegas Strip.

The company introduced the “Show Your Vaxx” initiative where employees who upload their vaccination cards to MGM’s internal portal are entered to win various prizes.

“We will continue working to vaccinate as many people as possible and remain vigilant with health and safety protocols designed to protect our employees, guests, and community,” said MGM President and CEO Bill Hornbuckle. “This vital work must continue for us to defeat this virus, and MGM Resorts is committed to doing our part to get it done.”

Trouble on the East Coast

But the effects of a labor shortage are not only felt in Las Vegas. These shortages are spreading to every industry in every state including places on the East Coast.

Northscott Grounsell, general manager of Plainridge Park, a casino in Massachusetts said the Plainville slots parlor was facing many of the same hiring issues. Even with positions posted, Grounsell said hiring remains a challenge.

“We’re making every effort to make sure former team members are aware of the opportunities,” he said.

Even the massive 125,000 square-foot, MGM Springfield isn’t immune to labor shortages.

Seth Stratton, VP and general counsel of MGM Springfield told The Lowell Sun, “It’s bringing back folks in the food and beverage environment, entertainment environment, where you’re having this confluence of events.”

“We’re looking to bring people back but every bar and restaurant is now looking to up their staff so the competition for bringing those workers back is out there,” Stratton said.

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Issues at Colorado casinos

Over in Cripple Creek, Colorado, several of the cities casinos are struggling to get works back.

Scott Porter, director of corporate casino operations for Triple Crown Casinos, said the company is in an “employee crisis.”

“We can’t even get applications. It’s crazy,” Porter told The Gazette. One contributing factor, according to Porter, is the continued government unemployment benefits.

“That’s not helping anything, and it’s keeping people from jumping back into the labor market,” Porter said. “It’s killing the industry.”

Triple Crown is even offering a sign-on bonus of $1,050 for cashiers and surveillance positions. Despite these efforts, the pool of applicants is nonexistent.

“We’re not getting any applicants; nobody’s applying,” Porter said.

Director of human resources for Bronco Billy’s Casino, Jackie Sunshine, said a large number of employees simply were not ready to come back to work.

“Some of that, I’m sure, was driven by the extra $600 per week in unemployment payments,” Sunshine said.

Sunshine said, of 300 casino employees before the shutdown, 200 have returned.

“We’ve not been able to open all of our restaurants because we can’t staff them,” she said.

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