Execs: US casinos learned some useful lessons from pandemic

Sep 21, 2022, 9:54 PM | Updated: Sep 22, 2022, 2:49 pm
FILE - This May 3, 2021 file photo shows an intentionally disabled slot machine next to a woman pla...

FILE - This May 3, 2021 file photo shows an intentionally disabled slot machine next to a woman playing a different slot machine while wearing a face mask at the Hard Rock casino in Atlantic City, N.J. Participants in a major casino conference Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022 in Atlantic City said the pandemic and its months-long closures taught them some useful lessons that could continue even after the pandemic is a distant memory, including not offering things like buffets that used to be taken for granted by casino players. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry, File)

(AP Photo/Wayne Parry, File)

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — The COVID pandemic forced most U.S. casinos to close for months, causing payrolls, revenue and earnings to tumble.

But the forced shutdowns and highly regulated recoveries also taught the industry useful lessons that will endure even after the pandemic is a distant memory, panelists at a major casino conference said Thursday.

Speaking at the East Coast Gaming Congress, executives from major gambling companies said the changes they were forced to make because of the pandemic had some benefits.

“We learned lessons that can’t be unlearned,” said Thomas Reeg, CEO of Caesars Entertainment.

“It forced us and gave us the ability to say to our guests that things that used to be viewed as an entitlement, maybe they don’t need them as much as they thought they did,” added Jim Allen, chairman of Hard Rock International. “Do you need a buffet? Should you have a buffet?”

The conference was held in the Hard Rock casino in Atlantic City, whose buffet is still operating. Some of Hard Rock’s casinos in other states, including Florida, offer buffets while others do not.

David Cordish, chairman of the Cordish Companies, which operates casinos in Pennsylvania, Florida and Maryland, said the pandemic offered his business an opportunity “to tighten the ship.”

“We have not gone back to buffets,” he said. “It certainly wasn’t fun. Being closed for months was horrendous for employees. But there were a lot of lessons learned.

“What we did — and we may need to do it again — is when we were shut, we put in every possible type of health and safety screening you could do,” including hand sanitizers and barriers between player positions at table games, measures that were commonly adopted at casinos across the country.

Cordish said those expenses paid off handsomely once the casinos were allowed to reopen in mid 2020.

“People were fed up with being cooped up and came pouring back to the casinos, particularly when we did these things,” he said. “Since we reopened, business has been terrific.”

Eric Hausler, CEO of Greenwood Racing, which owns Pennsylvania’s Parx casino, said the pandemic opened his eyes to one particular liability.

“We had a restaurant that was open every day for lunch and never made any money,” he said. When the casino reopened after its pandemic-related closure, “We didn’t bring it back, and no one ever said a thing about it.”

Jeff Gural, who owns two racetrack casinos in upstate New York, had a similar experience.

“We had a Subway sandwich place that didn’t work,” he said. “Then we converted it to a pizza place and that didn’t work. Someone suggested converting it to a sushi place — and I don’t like sushi. And it succeeded.”

Gural also said closure helped him realize that spending big money on broadcast ads, billboards and car giveaways wasn’t bringing in the return he expected, making it easier to scale back spending on such things.

Daily housekeeping of casino hotel rooms has become another casualty of the pandemic in some places. In June, Atlantic City’s main casino workers’ union filed a complaint with the state that four casinos were failing to clean guest hotel rooms daily as required by law, and one admitted it did not have enough housekeepers to clean every room every day.

Hospitality industry leaders say the combination of a shortage of housekeeping workers and the reluctance of some guests to allow hotel workers into their rooms during their stay has led to the abandonment of a daily room cleaning standard in resorts across the country.

One lingering effect of the pandemic is smaller payrolls. This is due both to workers who were let go during or shortly after the closures and have not been rehired, and a continuing difficulty in attracting new workers across the gambling industry, as with many others.

Jayson Guyot, president and CEO of Connecticut’s Foxwoods Resort Casino, said he ordered a complete restructuring of the business from top to bottom during the closure– something that would have been difficult to do had it still been operating.

“It enabled us to rebuild our margins from 10 to 13% to 18 to 20% now,” he said.

But he also voiced a common concern: Foxwoods has not yet returned to its pre-pandemic business levels.

That is a major preoccupation for Atlantic City’s casinos, which collectively have yet to return to 2019 revenue and profit levels for in-person gambling.

Second-quarter earnings, released in August, show that five of Atlantic City’s nine casinos failed to exceed their pre-pandemic profit levels, and the resort as a whole saw a decrease in profits of nearly 1%.

Atlantic City has thousands less casino workers than it did before the pandemic struck. It, like virtually every other casino market, has struggled to attract new workers and retain existing ones.

Hard Rock recently made headlines by spending $100 million to give big raises to 10,000 non-tipped workers, most of them in the U.S. Other companies have given smaller raises recently. Foxwoods has raised its hourly minimum wage from $10.50 two years ago to $14.50 now, Guyot said.

___

Follow Wayne Parry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/WayneParryAC

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

FILE - A Republican election challenger at right watches over election inspectors as they examine a...
Associated Press

Election officials brace for confrontational poll watchers

GOLDSBORO, N.C. (AP) — The situation with the poll watcher had gotten so bad that Anne Risku, the election director in North Carolina’s Wayne County, had to intervene via speakerphone. “You need to back off!” Risku recalled hollering after the woman wedged herself between a voter and the machine where the voter was trying to […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Turkey says 23 Kurdish militants killed in Iraq airstrikes

ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkish warplanes “neutralized” 23 Kurdish militants in a raid 140 kilometers (90 miles) inside Iraq, the Turkish Defense Ministry said Sunday. The ministry usually refers to killed militants as “neutralized.” It said the number of casualties in the mission in the Asos region of northern Iraq, which is controlled by the autonomous […]
1 day ago
FILE - In this picture provided by Swedish Coast Guard, a small release from Nord Stream 2 is seen,...
Associated Press

Denmark says Nord Stream 1 pipelines stop leaking

HELSINKI (AP) — Authorities in Denmark said Sunday that the Nord Stream 1 natural gas pipelines have also stopped leaking, a day after officials said that the ruptured Nord Stream 2 pipelines also appeared to stop leaking. The Nord Stream AG company informed the Danish Energy Agency that a stable pressure now appears to have […]
1 day ago
Pope Francis, second window from right, reads a message during the Angelus noon prayer from the win...
Associated Press

Pope warns of nuclear war risk; appeals to Putin on Ukraine

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis on Sunday appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin for a cease-fire, imploring him to “stop this spiral of violence and death” in Ukraine and denouncing the “absurd” risk of the “uncontrollable” consequences of nuclear attack as tensions sharply escalate over the war. Francis uttered his strongest plea yet about […]
1 day ago
Mattresses lie on the floor in a holding cell at the basement of a police station which was used by...
Associated Press

10 torture sites in 1 town: Russia sowed pain, fear in Izium

IZIUM, Ukraine (AP) — The first time the Russian soldiers caught him, they tossed him bound and blindfolded into a trench covered with wooden boards for days on end. Then they beat him, over and over: Legs, arms, a hammer to the knees, all accompanied by furious diatribes against Ukraine. Before they let him go, […]
1 day ago
A protester takes down the Iranian flag on the ground of the Iranian embassy during the global prot...
Associated Press

Swiss police violently disperse anti-Iranian protests

BERLIN (AP) — Swiss police used rubber bullets to disperse protesters in front of the Iranian Embassy in Bern after two men climbed over the embassy’s fence and pulled down the Iranian flag from a flag pole in the yard. Police said late Saturday that nobody was injured and that the “large crowd” of protesters […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Work at Zum Services...

Seattle Public Schools announces three-year contract with Zum

Seattle Public Schools just announced a three-year contract with a brand-new company to the Pacific Northwest to assist with their student transportation: Zum.
Swedish Cyberknife 900x506...

June is Men’s Health Month: Here’s Why It’s Important To Speak About Your Health

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, men in the United States, on average, die five years earlier than women.
...

Anacortes – A Must Visit Summertime Destination

While Anacortes is certainly on the way to the San Juan Islands (SJI), it is not just a destination to get to the ferry… Anacortes is a destination in and of itself!
...

Ready for your 2022 Alaskan Adventure with Celebrity Cruises?

Celebrity Cruises SPONSORED — A round-trip Alaska cruise from Seattle is an amazing treat for you and a loved one. Not only are you able to see and explore some of the most incredible and visually appealing natural sights on the planet, but you’re also able to relax and re-energize while aboard a luxury cruise […]
Execs: US casinos learned some useful lessons from pandemic