The COVID pandemic has forced most US casinos to close for months, leading to plummeting payrolls, revenue and profits.
But forced shutdowns and highly regulated recoveries have also taught the industry useful lessons that will endure even after the pandemic is a distant memory, panelists at a major casino conference said Thursday.
Speaking at the East Coast Gaming Congress, executives from major gambling companies said there were some benefits to the changes they had been forced to make due to the pandemic.
“We’ve learned lessons that can’t be unlearned,” said Thomas Reeg, CEO of Caesars Entertainment.
“It forced us and gave us the opportunity to tell our guests that things that were considered a right, maybe they don’t need it as much as they thought,” Jim Allen added. , president of Hard Rock International. . “Do you need a buffet?” Should you do a buffet? »
The conference was held at the Hard Rock Casino in Atlantic City, whose buffet is still operating. Some of the Hard Rock casinos in other states including Florida offer buffets while others do not.
David Cordish, president of the Cordish Companies, which operates casinos in Pennsylvania, Florida and Maryland, said the pandemic presented his company with an opportunity “to tighten the ship”.
“We haven’t gone back to buffets,” he said. “It was definitely not fun. Being closed for months was horrible for the employees. But there were a lot of lessons learned.
“What we did – and we may have to do again – is that when we were closed we put in place every kind of health and safety check possible”, including hand sanitizers and barriers between player positions at table games, measures that have been commonly adopted in casinos across the country.
Cordish said those expenses were largely reimbursed once casinos were allowed to reopen in mid-2020.
“People were tired of being locked up and were coming back to casinos in droves, especially when we were doing these things,” he said. “Since we reopened, business has been great.”
Eric Hausler, CEO of Greenwood Racing, owner of Pennsylvania’s Parx casino, said the pandemic has opened his eyes to a special responsibility.
“We had a restaurant that was open every day for lunch and never made any money,” he said. When the casino reopened after its pandemic-related closure, “We didn’t bring it back, and no one ever said anything about it.”
Jeff Gural, who owns two racetrack casinos in upstate New York, had a similar experience.
“We had a Subway sandwich shop that wasn’t working,” he said. “Then we converted it into a pizzeria and it didn’t work out. Someone suggested converting it to sushi place – and I don’t like sushi. And it is successful. »
Gural also said the shutdown helped him realize that spending a lot of money on broadcast ads, billboards and car giveaways wasn’t bringing the return he was hoping for, which made it easier to reduce expenses for such things.
The daily cleaning of casino hotel rooms has become another casualty of the pandemic in some places. In June, Atlantic City’s main casino workers’ union filed a complaint with the state that four casinos were not cleaning guest hotel rooms daily as required by law, and one of of them admitted that he didn’t have enough maids to clean every room every day.
Hospitality industry leaders say the combination of a shortage of housekeeping staff and some guests’ reluctance to allow hotel workers into their rooms during their stay has led to abandonment a standard of daily room cleaning at resorts across the country.
A lingering effect of the pandemic is the decline in the wage bill. This is due both to workers who were made redundant during or shortly after the shutdowns and not rehired, and to a continuing difficulty in attracting new workers to the gaming industry, as with many. ‘others.
Jayson Guyot, president and CEO of Connecticut’s Foxwoods Resort Casino, said he ordered a complete top-to-bottom restructuring of the business during the shutdown, which would have been difficult to do if he still had worked.
“It has allowed us to rebuild our margins from 10-13% to 18-20% now,” he said.
But he also expressed a common concern: Foxwoods has yet to return to its pre-pandemic level of activity.
This is a major concern for Atlantic City casinos, which collectively have yet to return to 2019 revenue and profit levels for in-person gambling.
Second-quarter results, released in August, show five of Atlantic City’s nine casinos fell short of their pre-pandemic profit levels, and the resort as a whole saw a decline in profits by nearly from 1 %.
Atlantic City has thousands fewer casino employees than before the pandemic. Like virtually every other casino market, it has struggled to attract new workers and retain existing ones.
Hard Rock recently made headlines when it spent $100 million to give big raises to 10,000 tip-free workers, most of them in the United States. Other companies have recently granted smaller increases. Foxwoods raised its minimum hourly wage from $10.50 two years ago to $14.50 now, Guyot said.
—Wayne Parry, Associated Press