The U.S. Bankruptcy Court knew the price of everything, yet the value of nothing.
The court knew the price of a slot machine, a set of bath towels, and even the light fixtures. Of course, those numbers fit nicely in a spreadsheet. The court even knew the price of wages and benefits. What the court failed to recognize is the value of the employees of the Atlantic Club Casino Hotel.
The court was correct in rejecting a greedy attempt by executives to give themselves a bonus by splitting $875,000 in the bankruptcy sale - essentially a reward for going out of business - while leaving nothing for the 1,600 employees who work directly with the customers. These employees are the face of the business, the people who actually shape the image of the business and the people who make the business money.
Where the court fell short in its calculation, Caesars Entertainment Operating Co. and Tropicana Atlantic City Corp. must fill the gap. I believe they have a moral obligation and a financial imperative to grant preferential hiring status to the employees of Atlantic Club.
In the hospitality industry, no assets add more value to the bottom line than the employees. They are fundamental to any service industry. Look, a patron can buy a sandwich practically anywhere. What makes a difference - what makes a profit - is the smile that comes with the sandwich. It's a principle that is still as relevant as the day when Dr. Jonathan Pitney first set foot on Absecon Island.
After 36 years of casino gaming, the local hospitality talent pool is wide and deep. We have a casino and hotel workforce with experience, an advantage we have over other gaming locales. Why lose this advantage by watching these workers go to Maryland? If stakeholders believe in the future of Atlantic City, which it seems they still do, then letting a dedicated workforce walk out the door to a competing destination is economically shortsighted.
Atlantic City is still in the midst of a transition, moving from a gaming model base on an East Coast monopoly to a world-class destination resort in a competitive market. Las Vegas went through a similar transition in the 1990s, with casinos like The Dunes, the Aladdin and Sands making way for the Bellagio, Planet Hollywood, and The Venetian. So, the closing of Atlantic Club is not a sign of the end of the Atlantic City gaming market. Our market will grow, and the industry will still need people to welcome our guests.
Now there are reports that Hard Rock International is negotiating to purchase Revel Casino-Hotel and, upon the completion of the sale, will temporarily shut down the property. Again, new ownership is not necessarily a bad thing, but we should not accept "temporary shut down" as Wall Street code for "backdoor layoffs." If it takes the state to require the disclosure of an employee protection plan as a condition for licensing a new casino operator, this is fine by me.
Many casino employees have told me stories of the days when casino owners would walk the floor of the properties and greet each employee by name. Aside from a tinge of nostalgia, there is a lesson to remember. Who better to sell your product and service than a person who feels appreciated? Who better to work hard to keep customers coming back time and again than someone who is happy to be at work?
Hospitality is a people-intensive industry. A change in attitude by ownership and management can set our resort apart. After all, if the industry is callous to its own people - many of whom have dedicated decades of their lives to the industry - how well can its customers expect to be treated?
Chris A. Brown, of Ventnor, is a Republican assemblyman representing Atlantic County.