Revel will not debut as Atlantic City’s newest casino until April 2, but already it has energized a work force movement affecting thousands of employees and every local casino property.
Nearly a decade has passed since a casino opened in Atlantic City, and local employment and industry revenue has steadily declined in recent years.
The Casino Control Commission releases 12-month average employment totals for Atlantic City casinos every Jan. 1. In 2004, employment had peaked at 45,638 people. As of Jan. 1, 2011, that had dropped by 15,232 — or 33 percent — to 30,406. By the beginning of this year, the work force had grown slightly to 32,490.
So Revel, a $2.4 billion megaresort that is expected to employ about 5,000 people, is getting an enthusiastic reception.
Revel representatives declined to comment for this story. But LinkedIn, a networking website, shows that Revel has hired professionals from every Atlantic City casino. Many Revel staffers who have posted resumes on the website list previous positions at Atlantic City casinos, plus those outside the resort, including Pennsylvania gambling halls such as Parx and SugarHouse.
“There’s not a lot of new product entering the gaming industry in the U.S. — Revel is probably the biggest. So you're talking about a very, very big deal,” said Israel Posner, executive director of the Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism at The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. “You're putting up a $2.5 billion project that's going to get the attention of the entire country, and beyond.”
Atlantic City’s high unemployment rate drove local public officials to require that 20 percent of Revel hires live in the resort. That mandate is part of Revel’s redevelopment agreement with the Atlantic City Housing Authority, former owner of the casino’s site in the city’s South Inlet section. But the agreement also states people must meet Revel’s standards if they hope to get a job there.
Revel ran 26 workshops in the city last summer as part of its Atlantic City First initiative. As of a week ago, 462 resort residents had jobs through that program and the regular application process combined. If locals accept all 330 or so outstanding offers, 800 of 4,000 anticipated direct hires will be residents, and Revel will meet the 20 percent benchmark.
City officials picked 20 percent because that is the overall percentage of Atlantic City residents among all casino employees. Atlantic City is by far the best-represented municipality of any other for casino employees. Atlantic County representation is a little more than 85 percent.
City leaders insisted Revel meet the 20 percent mark because they were concerned about the city’s unemployment rate, which is 17 percent — far higher than the 9.6 percent state and 8.3 percent national rates.
“When we enter into these redevelopment agreements to give these casinos what they need to build, like the Borgata and Revel, (it’s) to make sure you protect these residents and make sure you help unemployment numbers stay down,” Councilman George Tibbitt said. “A city is only as good as the people in it, and if they’re struggling and not working, you can’t (move forward). The better off the people are doing, the better off the city as a whole is.”
Relocating from Vegas
Las Vegas residents were best represented among the executives, entertainers, chefs, security personnel and others who found a place to rent or buy in the area during the past year, local real estate agents said.
About 30 Revel workers have been among the clients of Marketplace Realty in Margate, owner Gigi Rosenberger said. That’s a high number for one employer, and demonstrates a bigger effect than Borgata had, she said.
Sherri Lilienfeld, a Realtor based at Prudential Fox Roach’s Margate office, agreed that Revel seems to be affecting local real estate more than Borgata did when it opened in 2003, and that most of her Revel worker clients have moved here from Vegas.
“I haven’t dealt with executives — and normally, I do,” Lilienfeld said of her clients moving here for casino jobs.
Lilienfeld said she might not be dealing with executives moving here to work at Revel because the casino is filling its upper ranks with people already living and working in the area.
Michael Williams, for example, left his job as an executive chef at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa’s Japanese steakhouse Izakaya to oversee Michel Richard’s operations at Revel. Richard’s Central Michel Richard restaurant has, in other locales, won awards, including the coveted James Beard distinction. Richard’s O Bistro and Wine Bar and The Breakfast Room will debut at Revel.
Williams, who was approached a year ago, said he saw the new job as a chance to return to his French training and work alongside Richard, a chef he and the rest of the culinary world greatly admire. Revel and its ocean views appealed to Williams, too.
“It’s a beautiful property, and the quality, the style of the atmosphere, is totally different than anything that’s in Atlantic City now,” he said.
Richard and others have gone with recruitment over application-based hiring for not only executive positions, but also to fill subordinate jobs, said Williams — who lives in Absecon.
“If you have a restaurateur — no matter his theme, renowned or not — coming into a hotel/gaming atmosphere, (having) someone familiar (is) … a good fit,” Williams said.
Atlantic City union hospitality workers have seen the greatest movement among those with less seniority or who are at distressed properties such as Resorts Casino Hotel, Atlantic Club Casino Hotel and Trump Plaza Hotel Casino, said Bob McDevitt, president of hospitality union Local 54 of UNITE HERE.
“(Revel hires are) subject to part-time work, no union ... people aren't going to risk all that if they have something that's steady and dependable,” McDevitt said. “But when Revel opens up, (at least) one or two casinos are going to close. ...We know who they are. And the people working at those properties know, so they're more inclined to take that risk.”
Trump Entertainment declined comment; Resorts and Atlantic Club did not respond.
Tropicana spokeswoman Diane Spiers reported “minimal” employee migration to Revel so far. Spiers also said applications at Tropicana have increased recently — and more dramatically than what normally occurs heading into the busy summer season.
Borgata Senior Vice President of Operations Joe Lupo also noted an increase in applications, but also that employees are departing in limited numbers. He expects both to increase going forward.
Borgata has erected billboards and published print and online ads as part of a recruitment campaign launched because the casino — the last to open in 2003 — anticipated movement in the market as a result of Revel’s opening, Lupo said.
“While there’s been a decline in visitation numbers here in Atlantic City, with Revel coming online and summer coming up, we took a proactive approach to ... let career-minded individuals know that Borgata may have some opportunities, and we wanted to hear from (them),” Lupo said. “We want to make sure Borgata is top of mind.”
Borgata also announced a $50 million room redesign last week; Lupo said the company would have invested in the renovation independent of Revel. But the new competition increases Borgata’s motivation to “remain the market leader and meet customer expectations,” not to mention those of employees, Lupo said.
“In terms of retainment, I think communication with employees is a priority,” Lupo said. “But promotions also show employees we’re working hard to ensure we remain the market leader and are doing everything we can to help Atlantic City increase visitation.”
Not everyone is taking advantage, though.
John Connor, a bartender at Loews Philadelphia Hotel who grew up in Northfield, said he’s happy where he is and didn’t consider returning to the area.
“I don’t think the Atlantic City market is ready to handle a casino hotel along those lines. It’s too small of a market to put a hotel that size in that seasonal of an area,” said Connor, 27, of Manayunk. “I don’t think it’s going to be everything people expect it to be. I don’t think it’s going to be as big as when Borgata opened.”
Working without union
One major difference between Revel and all other casinos in Atlantic City is the status of union negotiations.
Talks between Local 54 and Revel have deteriorated during the four years since resort CEO Kevin DeSanctis’ project became public knowledge. At one point, the union sued the city and casino to block government subsidies and tried a voter referendum focused on the same issue. Both attempts failed.
DeSanctis said recently that negotiations won’t resume. McDevitt deemed DeSanctis “an enemy.”
Nonunion types don’t seem to care.
Bill Chafe, 23, of Brigantine, doesn’t get benefits through his current job at Tony Baloney’s pizzeria a couple of blocks from Revel. He’s still young enough to get health coverage through his mother’s plan, and will continue to do that after he starts working at Revel as a barback.
“I’m not union now, so it’s not really going to change anything,” Chafe said.
Connor likewise said that wouldn’t have deterred him if he had wanted in at Revel, nor would the company’s term limits (after four years, workers will be subject to a re-evaluation to keep their job). Same goes for his friends planning or hoping to return from other markets to take jobs at Revel, he said.
That concern also wouldn’t apply to managers and executives, who wouldn’t be covered by Local 54 no matter where they work.
Nonunion houses in Las Vegas haven’t had problems attracting workers — and that should hold true for Revel in Atlantic City, said Jeffrey Waddoups, associate professor of economics at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
The Mirage opened nonunion in 1994 and changed course years later, not due to low morale or poor retention, but to advance MGM’s interests in Detroit. Leaders in that union stronghold wouldn’t allow the company to open a casino there unless policies changed in Vegas, Waddoups said.
And a decade after its debut, The Venetian remains the sole nonunion megaresort on The Strip, Waddoups said.
Both employers offered wages on a par with union properties.
“In an economy like this, (Revel) probably can low-ball it,” Waddoups said. “The question is, will the quality of the work force be up to what they want? They had way more applications than jobs, so I’m sure they feel like they really have the pick, if they spend the resources to sort through the workers.”
A.C. casino industry
work force, 2002-12
Figures reflect total employees as of Jan. 1 each year
Source: Casino Control Commission
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