Three times more casino jobs were lost in the one month after Hurricane Sandy than during the same period last year, November figures released by the state Casino Control Commission show.
Since July, the height of the summer hiring season this year, the industry has shed more than 6 percent of its workers. Few industry observers expect the job situation to improve during the holidays and traditionally slow winter.
“Everyone is being cautious, and this is a good time to be cautious,” Beth Deighan, president of Casino Careers in Northfield, said.
The job situation is not entirely bleak. The 35,063 casino workers employed by the industry in November is about 7 percent more than at the same time last year. That is because the November decline of about 550 jobs followed a busy spring and summer.
In March, Revel, which was preparing to open, and other casinos added more than 3,000 people to their payrolls, an increase of more than 9 percent in one month. The job growth peaked in July, when there were almost 37,500 casino employees, an addition of 5,185 jobs in five months — more jobs than were added during the seasonal hiring peaks of the three previous years combined.
Since then, the number of jobs has steadily declined and would have dipped to even lower annual levels had Revel, which opened in April, not been in operation, according to CCC figures.
The sluggish economy has been one factor. Nationally, the industry has seen a decrease in jobs, with casino hotels across the country employing 252,050 people in 2011, down more than 11 percent from five years ago, according to the latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“The bulk of that drop happened as a result of the recession,” said Holly Wetzel, spokeswoman for the American Gaming Association, a trade group representing the commercial casino industry.
New casino markets opening across the country haven’t been enough to make up for the job losses in Las Vegas and other established markets.
“We haven’t had a jurisdiction open with as many casinos as some of these earlier markets,” Wetzel said. “The offset from those new jobs don’t make up for the losses that have occurred as a result of the recession.”
In New Jersey, casino hotel jobs have decreased by 24 percent over the past five years, according to data from the state Department of Labor. Many observers cite increased competition from Pennsylvania and New York as the primary factor in the decrease.
Casino deregulation, which allowed for reduced staffing levels, and advances in technology contributed to fewer jobs, said Israel Posner, executive director of the Lloyd Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism at Richard Stockton College.
At the same time, the industry has committed to offering more amenities apart from the casino floor. Some of those jobs aren’t captured in data maintained by state regulators, because the positions are under the control of independently operated restaurants and shops inside the casino hotels, such as several inside Tropicana Casino and Resort and Revel, Posner said.
“The nongaming — the food and beverage and retail — is where you will see the growth,” he said.
In response to a changing employment situation, the industry has amended some of its hiring practices, including minimizing large employment swings by hiring fewer people during the busy summer, said Richard Perniciaro, dean for facilities, planning and research at Atlantic Cape Community College. That way, casinos can cut human resource costs, minimize bad publicity and improve employee morale.
“They’ve tried to keep the seasonal under control,” Perniciaro said.
Five years ago, the industry would have shed about 10 percent of the work force it had during its peak summer month by November. Last year, that figure was down to only about 6 percent. Casinos are trying to do a better job of estimating their employment needs year-round, he said.
“They haven’t hired that many, so they don’t have to lay off as many,” Perniciaro said. “They are trying to do it with the least amount of full-timers as they can.”
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