Major gaming executives gathered to discuss how the industry adapted to Covid-19 and the lessons learned from the pandemic at the latest East Coast Gaming Congresswhich took place September 21-23 in Hard Rock Atlantic City, New Jersey. The event was held against the backdrop of protesting casino workers in Atlantic City outside Hard Rock, demanding a bill banning smoking from indoor casinos in the state.
As Covid forced most U.S. casinos to close for months, causing payrolls, earnings and revenues to plummet, casino managers at a panel Thursday discussed how they learned useful lessons from those dark times, some of which will continue even after the pandemic is completely over. is over . “We have learned lessons that cannot be unlearned,” said Thomas Reeg, CEO of Caesars Entertainment.
“It forced us and gave us the opportunity to tell our guests that things that used to be seen as a right may not need them as much as they thought they did,” added Jim Allen, president of Hard Rock International .as reported by Associated Press. “Do you need a sideboard? Do you have to have a buffet?” While Hard Rock Atlantic City still has a buffet, some Hard Rock-branded casinos in other states no longer have them.
Hard Rock's Jim Allen
According to David Cordish, president of the Cordish Companies, which operates casinos in Pennsylvania, Florida and Maryland, the pandemic presented his company with an opportunity “to tighten the ship.” The company hasn’t gone back to buffets, and while it was closed for months “terrible” to employees, Cordish says there were “a lot of lessons learned” among them. the need to introduce new health and safety measures at land-based casinos.
While the inclusion of security measures such as hand sanitizers and barriers between player positions in table games came at an additional cost, Cordish said the fees will be paid off once the casinos are allowed to reopen in mid-2020. “People were tired of being locked up and coming back to the casinos, especially when we were doing these things,” he noted, according to AP. “It’s been fantastic since the reopening.”
The pandemic also provided an opportunity for CEOs to find out which facilities were no longer needed. Eric Hausler, CEO of Greenwood Racing, owner of Parx Casino in Pennsylvania, gave an example of a restaurant that was open every day for lunch and “never made money,” which closed for good when the gambling location was back up and running.
However, as expected, the pandemic has also brought with it much of the negative impact, including smaller payrolls. This is attributed both to workers made redundant during or shortly after the closures and not rehired, as well as the ongoing difficulties in recruiting new workers in the gambling industry, congress executives stressed.
While some companies have used the pandemic to restructure their business model from the top down, with the aim of rebuilding margins and achieving a tighter structure, many top casino bosses shared a common concern that not all properties have returned to pre-pandemic levels.. This is the case for the congress host destination: the casinos in Atlantic City have yet to collectively recover 2019 revenues, especially for personal gambling, the segment that took the biggest hit.
Smoking in casinos still a controversial topic
While its fair share of pressing industry issues were addressed at the congress, one was noticeably absent from the keynote lineup: indoor smoking in casinos.. Atlantic City gaming facility workers have long pushed for a smoking ban in gambling dens, and although the issue was initially to be discussed at the meeting, a panel on the matter was canceled just days before the reunion after Mark Giannantonio, head of the Casino Association of New Jersey, pulled out last week.
Furious that the session to discuss the proposed smoking ban was scrapped, casino employees and customers who opposed smoking in arcades staged a protest outside the meeting on Thursday.. About 100 people gathered in the rain under a walkway outside Hard Rock AC, demanding that the state legislature act on a bill that has the support of more than half of state legislators and Governor Phil Murphy, but that has stalled it. has come without a Senate or Assembly committee hearing.
Thursday afternoon’s panel discussion on smoking in casinos was canceled due to the Atlantic City casinos’ longstanding opposition to a ban.. Giannantonio had previously stated that the CANJ has been “highly transparent” in its position that an immediate smoking ban would have “a significant adverse effect” on Atlantic City, ostensibly the reason the association decided not to participate in the panel session.
The move did not go down well with the casino employees. “The CANJ is running and hiding now,” said Peter Naccarelli, a dealer at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, Thursday. and a leader of an effort by casino workers to ban smoking in their workplaces. “They have no logical arguments,” he added, according to: Associated Press.
While Murphy, the state’s Democratic governor, has promised to sign the bill if it passes, he did not mention the proposal when addressing Thursday’s conference. The only mention of the problem came from Eric Hausler of Greenwood Racingwho said during an afternoon session that the introduction of a smoke-free policy at the Parx casino in Pennsylvania has been successful.
“So far, so good,” he said. Parx decided to remain smoke-free since reopening in 2020, following the first wave of the pandemic. “If you look at our market share figures, they hold up just fine,” the director noted, as per AP. “We want to stay that way. Our customers have gotten used to it.”