One of the many harmful impacts of COVID-19 on casinos has been the difficulty of retaining and hiring enough workers, and the gaming industry is still struggling to find a solution, an Atlantic City casino executive has said.
“This is not a short-term problem,” Jacqueline Grace, senior vice president and general manager of Tropicana Atlantic City, told gaming industry professionals attending the first day of the 24th annual East Coast Gaming Congress.
“People are making choices about how to spend their time, and so I think first and foremost as an industry, we have to realize that that’s the case, and figure out collectively how to make these jobs more attractive,” Grace said.
Grace, a former Wall Street executive, said the industry should consider adopting a hybrid approach, using robots and other technological means to do jobs traditionally performed by humans.
Last December, Grace became only the second black woman to lead one of Atlantic City’s nine casinos.
The first, Melonie Johnson, became president and chief operating officer of Borgata, Atlantic City’s most successful casino, in December 2020.
During her appearance on Tuesday on a panel with three other gaming industry executives, Grace said the casino industry should prioritize the transition to cashless payments over cryptocurrency.
“Let’s get cashless to where it needs to be before we talk about crypto,” Grace said.
“People aren’t carrying around cash,” agreed Joe Lupo, president of Hard Rock in Atlantic City.
But Lupo expressed skepticism about the use of robots in casinos, especially in table games like blackjack where dealers frequently develop a rapport with card players.
“We need that social aspect,” Lupo said.
Live table games with a human dealer used to be available for a minimum bet of $5, $10, or $15, but increasingly the minimum wager is $25, according to Interblock CEO John Connelly.
“The gaming industry is becoming more like the airline industry where passengers check in on kiosks,” Connelly said.
Lupo also questioned the notion of casinos catering to millennials, many of whom make “less than $50,000” per year.
Without investing now in millennials, however, the gaming industry risks losing them, Grace said.
The panel’s discussion focused on the building of casino floors in the future, and Richard Meitzler, CEO of Novomatic Americas, said a casino recently reduced 40 percent of its floor size during the pandemic, but was still making the same money.
“The casino floor is different even though it may not look like it,” Lupo said.
Casinos are going to have to find a way to attract younger customers by bringing internet gambling into brick-and-mortar facilities, Connelly said.
“We see online exploding,” Connelly said. “I say there are so many people playing online, how am I going to get them to come to a casino? There are tens of thousands of people playing the same products online that we have in our casinos.”
Connelly said the industry cannot be thinking about slot machines and table games in the traditional sense. He urged the gaming industry to think a little more outside the box.
“We are learning every day the way we distribute our product … attracts different players,” Connelly said.
Grace said the industry needs to consider what appeals to a younger demographic. From a gaming perspective, she said, it is several things, from offering games of skill not games of chance and ease of access.
“This generation grew up with gaming consoles in their house,” Grace said. “They play anytime they want to. Our gaming doesn’t allow that. Optionality is going to be really important when you talk about the next generation.”
Grace noted that contrary to popular belief many younger players have discretionary income, but they are choosing not to spend it on traditional gaming. She added that for many younger customers it is about experiences, “they like to eat, they like to travel.”
“So, in order to think about shifting that demographic … we need to solve skill-based [games], provide an experience and give them optionality over who they play with and what they play with,” Grace said.
Although many younger players prefer gambling alone, others prefer to gamble with their friends.
“They are not a monolith,” Grace said.
Additional reporting by Chris Sieroty.