PLEASANTVILLE — Olawale Egunjobi recalled how he made $15,000 in four months while working as a dealer at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa. Now, he is collecting unemployment checks.
Welfare recipient Suzanne Carrier’s unemployment insurance ran out a long time ago. She has been unable to find casino work since losing her credit clerk job five years ago at Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort.
In what has become a frustrating and time-consuming routine, Egunjobi and Carrier were back once again at the state unemployment office in Pleasantville, hoping to land new jobs in the Atlantic City casino industry. But they were looking in the wrong place. These days, the job prospects are in Pennsylvania.
While Atlantic City’s struggling gaming halls continue to slash jobs by the thousands, a hiring boom is under way at the Pennsylvania casinos as they prepare to add table games this year to complement their slot machines.
In all, about 4,000 to 4,500 positions will be filled at Pennsylvania’s nine existing gaming parlors and the new SugarHouse Casino opening this summer in Philadelphia. Each property will employ hundreds of new dealers, supervisors and other workers for their blackjack, craps, roulette, baccarat and poker tables.
Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs, near Wilkes-Barre, Pa., plans to hire 500 workers for table games positions as well as new jobs in the security, cashiering, slots, valet and food and beverage departments. Mohegan Sun is opening its first dealer school this month.
Mount Airy Casino Resort, in Mount Pocono, Pa., held a job fair last month to begin recruiting 225 to 250 new workers. Of the 1,000 job applicants who showed up, about half were from Atlantic City.
“I don’t think they feel they have job security,” Mount Airy Chief Executive Officer George Toth speculated about the heavy Atlantic City turnout.
Toth, a former Atlantic City gaming executive, said many of the applicants are dealers and managers who are ready to restart their careers in a new market after spending 10 to 20 years in Atlantic City.
Competition from Pennsylvania’s slot parlors already has been driving down revenue in Atlantic City. The rivalry will become even more intense with the arrival of Pennsylvania’s table games.
As Atlantic City’s gaming revenue has declined, so too has the number of jobs. New Jersey Casino Control Commission figures show that the total work force is currently about 36,000 employees, a level comparable to the late 1980s. Casinos have cut about 2,000 jobs in the past 12 months — on top of the thousands of other positions that were eliminated when the recession hit with full force in 2008.
“The stories I get out of Atlantic City is that the market is down and people are looking to improve their own status by going to a market that is stealing from other markets,” Toth said.
Carrier, who lives on Frambes Avenue in Pleasantville, began her Atlantic City casino career in 1988. She said she has had no serious job prospects since leaving the Taj Mahal in 2005.
“I’ve been out of work for a long time,” she said.
Carrier said she had applied for a job last year at Mount Airy, but never heard back from the casino. Now, she plans to give the Pennsylvania market a second chance because of the hiring surge.
“I’m ready to relocate. I’m all by myself and my children are grown,” said Carrier, a 56-year-old divorcee. “I don’t mind going up there.”
Egunjobi, a 28-year-old Nigerian who emigrated to the United States five years ago, lives on Fernwood Avenue in Egg Harbor Township. He lost his job at Borgata in 2008. Some days, he spends hours at the unemployment office looking for any type of work.
“Normally, it will take me four hours,” he said. “I haven’t found anything yet. I’m worried about losing my house. The bank is working on the mortgage.”
Egunjobi was a blackjack, craps, roulette and mini-baccarat dealer in Atlantic City. If a new job doesn’t materialize in Atlantic City, he said he will consider taking his skills to Pennsylvania’s casinos.
“I know that if I can drive there, I’ll be fine,” he said.
Atlantic City dealers average about $21.50 to $29 per hour in tips and wages, said Jim Moore, an international representative for the United Auto Workers union. The UAW represents dealers at Bally’s, Caesars, Tropicana Casino and Resort and Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino. Moore said he knows of no UAW members at this time who are planning to jump to Pennsylvania.
“It’s not that entertaining to make that transition,” he said. “They will have to consider relocating their families, taking their kids out of school, job security, all of those things.”
Toth said Mount Airy will offer dealer pay and tips that are competitive with Atlantic City’s wages. Pennsylvania’s table games, he asserted, will attract the big-spending gamblers from New York and northern New Jersey who now visit Atlantic City.
In an effort to make Pennsylvania even more appealing for would-be employees, Mount Airy had real estate agents at its job fair to give an overview of the local housing market.
Lisa Sanderson, a salesperson for Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate, Wilkins & Associates, of Stroudsburg, Pa., said there was intense interest in the Poconos market.
“I was amazed,” she said. “There were people coming in from all over the place — California, Florida, as well as Atlantic City.”
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