Times are Tough for Casinos, Workers in Atlantic City


There was a time when Atlantic City was a serious hub for gambling. It was often viewed as the clear-cut No. 2 option in the country for those looking for an entertainment and gaming center, only behind Las Vegas. But times have changed quite a bit. The Prohibition era Atlantic City that was on display in HBO’s drama, Boardwalk Empire, is all but a forgotten memory as generations of people haven’t even visited. Once “The World’s Playground”, the modern era hasn’t been kind to the casinos in Atlantic City or its workers.

The casino workers union is getting ready to head into negotiations with the city, but Atlantic City hasn’t really boomed in a long time. It’s so bad that the state of New Jersey might have to take over the city and bankruptcy is being floated as option. It won’t be the big rich casino versus the little guys in this round of negotiations as the casinos themselves simply don’t have much money to negotiate with in the budget.

Casino workers are making only 80 cents more than they were over a decade ago, which is quite astonishing. Salaries across many fields have seen minimal growth over the last decade but Atlantic City casino workers’ pay has been at a virtual standstill. That’s not expected to change in this round of negotiations, and furthermore health benefits could also be on the chopping block. Beyond that, employee hours are going down as working 40-hour weeks are a rarity now as companies had to cut back on benefits and pensions just to keep the lights on. The Taj Mahal, for example, has already gotten rid of health benefits and pensions, as they try to recover from bankruptcy.

The casino workers union is claiming that casino profits have gone up since the last negotiations in 2011 and their costs are down, which is the leverage they are trying to use on their side of the table. The union’s research shows that the average salary of casino workers in Atlantic City is around $11.17 an hour, which is of course tough to raise a family on. Certain states across the country have mandated a $15 per hour minimum wage and that would be welcomed in Atlantic City. But even if a raise is forced down the casinos’ throats, it doesn’t seem they’ll be able to afford it.

Atlantic City needs a makeover, and absent of that it likely won’t be making a recovery any time soon. Of course, it was hit hard by Hurricane Sandy and a lot of damage was dealt to a beautiful boardwalk, but even before that Atlantic City had lost a lot of its lustre. Sure, there was a time when it was the spot for gamblers who didn’t want to make the trek to Las Vegas, but the allure isn’t there anymore. Vegas’ lights burn brighter than ever before with more forms of entertainment, pool parties, celebrities and gambling that Atlantic City simply doesn’t offer. And there’s also the growth of online gambling, which has further deterred players from making a visit. Lastly, casino rules have loosened up across the country and now there are many venues to play – not just Las Vegas and Atlantic City.

When you add it all up, it’s clear that Atlantic City is a relic. Absent of a redesign and a new marketing plan to revive it as a destination, the money simply isn’t going to be there for the casinos or the workers.