ATLANTIC CITY - Casinos cut more than 400 jobs in March as a downward spiral in employment continued for the eighth straight month in the troubled gaming industry.
Analysts had hoped that the labor market would start to recover in March, but the loss of so many jobs suggests it will take longer this year for the casinos to transition from the slow winter months to the busier spring tourism season.
"The season's not as robust as in the past," said Brian J. Tyrrell, director of the New Jersey Center for Hospitality and Tourism Research. "The competition and the economy are both at play here."
Casinos have been battered by the economic meltdown and fierce competition from Pennsylvania slot parlors. Recession-wary customers are cutting back on their discretionary spending for casino trips or are bypassing Atlantic City altogether in favor of the slot parlors in eastern Pennsylvania.
Atlantic City's 11 gaming halls have responded to declining revenue by shedding jobs at an unprecedented rate. Nearly 3,100 jobs have been lost in the past 12 months and 412 were cut in March alone, according to figures released this week by the New Jersey Casino Control Commission.
July 2008 was the last month that casinos added jobs. There are now 37,315 people working in the gaming industry, a level not seen since the late 1980s and far off the peak of 51,560 in July 1997. Only Harrah's Resort has more employees than at this time last year, the result of a $550 million expansion project that added nearly 1,000 hotel rooms and a lavish pool and spa complex.
Although Harrah's has increased the size of its work force in the past year, it was among eight casinos that shed jobs in March. Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, which leads the industry with nearly 6,600 employees, cut 152 jobs in March for the biggest decline. Only the Atlantic City Hilton Casino Resort, Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino and Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort increased their payrolls for the month, but by very small numbers, the figures show.
Tyrrell had anticipated the job market would finally pick up in March, a month that usually sees Atlantic City shake off the last vestiges of the winter doldrums to draw more tourists to the casino hotels in spring and summer.
"I would have thought that with the gearing up for the spring season, those numbers wouldn't continue to decline and there would be a bit of a reversal," he said. "I'm surprised about it."
Using past figures as a guide, the casino industry typically adds a modest number of seasonal workers in April, then greatly accelerates its hiring in May and June. Employment usually levels off in August and is followed by big cuts in September to coincide with the traditional post-Labor Day slowdown in tourism.
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