weather icon Mostly Clear
RJ App
Vegas News, Alerts, ePaper

Some Las Vegas Strip workers fear no job to return to

Joseph Guerrero is done with the Las Vegas hospitality industry.

The furloughed resort worker has been working in hotels for nearly seven years, including the last four at an MGM Resorts International property. He loves his job, but he said seeing so many layoffs and furloughs across resort-casinos in Las Vegas was the last straw.

Guerrero and his boyfriend are looking for work out of state. They plan to move as soon as they can.

“After seeing how these companies (treat workers), it’s encouraging me to get out of the hospitality industry and Las Vegas in general,” he said. “We’ve been applying for anything.”

Guerrero has a degree in business office administration and is considering returning to that field. But other hospitality workers are stuck waiting for their resort jobs to come back.

Experts aren’t sure when, or if, that will happen for the thousands of tourism-related workers in Nevada who have lost their jobs during the statewide casino shutdown.

“Some employees will need to find a way to shift to either a different occupation in hospitality or a different industry altogether,” said Jeremy Aguero, an economist with Las Vegas-based Applied Analysis.

Casinos looking ‘do more with less’

About 276,300 people work in the state’s tourism industry, according to the Nevada Resort Association.

But after the state shut down nonessential businesses, a number of casino operators — including both Strip operators like Caesars Entertainment Corp. and regional operators like Boyd Gaming Corp. — laid off or furloughed thousands of workers.

As of April 17, 330,174 initial unemployment claims had been filed in Nevada this year, more than in any full calendar year in state history.

Companies have yet to confirm when they will be able to bring back furloughed employees, or how many, as the timeline for ending the state shutdown remains hazy.

Caesars spokesman Richard Broome said the company, which furloughed 90 percent of its U.S. workers, would not be able to comment on how many workers it would bring back because it was still working on its plans. Boyd spokesman David Strow also had no comment.

When asked in what capacity MGM plans to bring back its Las Vegas employees, spokesman Brian Ahern referred to a Thursday filing from the company, which said it expects a phased reopening of its Strip properties “in order to effectively manage resources in light of demand needs.”

Wynn Resorts Ltd. and Las Vegas Sands Corp. have not furloughed or laid off any employees. Station Casinos did not confirm whether it has furloughed or laid off employees.

Even when Gov. Steve Sisolak’s orders are lifted, operators will likely take a phased approach to reopening instead of bringing back all properties at once.

That means certain employees will have to wait longer to return to work or will be forced to find jobs elsewhere as casino operators make budget cuts after burning millions of dollars during the shutdown.

“Employers are going to take a hard look at all types of positions. Are we going to be able to do more with less?” Aguero said. “They’re going to be looking at (artificial intelligence) in some places.”

Josh Swissman, founding partner of The Strategy Organization, a Las Vegas gaming and hospitality consulting firm, said a phased reopening would make it easier for operators to match supply with demand, since tourists’ willingness to travel will likely take time to ramp up.

“At this point, it is impossible to predict exactly what that visitation volume curve will look like,” Swissman said. “A gradual growth curve is more realistic. … Staffing levels may change.”

Las Vegas consultant John Restrepo, founder of RCG Economics, said he has a “hard time” believing all the hospitality and gaming jobs will return.

It will be difficult to bring back all the jobs “for a variety of reasons,” including emerging technology and a changing economy, Restrepo said. The jobs hinge on when consumers will want to spend their money on Las Vegas again, he said.

“The casinos won’t rehire people unless there’s demand,” he said. “This is a challenge when you have a discretionary-based economy.”

There is one glimmer of hope, according to Stephen Miller, director of UNLV’s Center for Business and Economic Research.

He believes when the industry gets up and running again, the addition of projects like Resorts World Las Vegas (set to open in summer 2021) and Circa in downtown Las Vegas (scheduled to open in December) will help some displaced workers find jobs.

“Even if you have a small reduction of (jobs) per room” after the outbreak, “you’re adding rooms,” he said.

Lack of diversified skills

According to a March report from the Brookings Institution, the Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise metropolitan area ranks fourth in the U.S. with more than 342,000 jobs in industries that are “high risk” from COVID-19.

Those industries include leisure and hospitality, which employs about 29 percent of workers in the Las Vegas metropolitan area, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

This lack of diversification could be detrimental to workers who have found themselves jobless in recent weeks, especially for those who cannot easily jump to another field.

“If you’re 55 and out of work, you may be in a bad situation because your skill set will not qualify you for the jobs that do exist,” Miller said. “Retraining at that (age) is not something you want to do.”

No backup plan

While there are other options for hospitality workers, many — like former Aria employee Tommy Carothers — are holding out hope that their jobs will be reinstated.

He plans to return to work at MGM once resorts and casinos start to reopen, even if it’s in a different department within the company. As of now, he said, there is no plan B.

Carothers sits right in the middle of the seniority rankings in his department, and he is set to wait longer than about half of his colleagues before he can return to his full-time job.

Though he got a teaching degree years ago, he said getting recertified would cost him thousands of dollars and take at least a year. For now, he plans to wait for his old job to return and keep an eye out for open positions at MGM.

“I’m at age 50 now, so I’ve kind of made my bed (with this job),” he said.

Jeff Waddoups, chair of UNLV’s department of economics, said it will be easier for some in the tourism industry to find work than others if they find themselves without a job.

“Eventually, people will find their way into other areas. Retail, Amazon, fulfillment centers, delivery for online orders,” he said. “Some of these industries are growing … (and) some of the jobs don’t require a lot of skills.”

Todd Henderson, a furloughed Treasure Island sportsbook ticket writer, said he plans to wait for his job to come back and make due with unemployment insurance in the meantime.

While he has experience in other fields like information technology, he would rather continue working for sportsbooks, even if that means being unemployed for months as he waits for sports and casinos to return.

“(I know) they’re not going to bring back everybody. They can’t. There won’t be enough guests,” Henderson said. “But I’m just going to wait it out and go back when they ask me to.”

Bright future

Other hospitality workers are beginning to branch out amid the crisis.

Furloughed Aria dealer Matthew Miller is looking for temporary work as a delivery driver, but he hopes to return to his old job soon.

“Gaming is my career,” he said. “I hope I go back, I truly do, but it is what it is. … I’m not going to hold my breath.”

Waddoups said the coronavirus crisis is unlike anything Las Vegas’ workforce has seen before. And unlike the hit construction workers took in the 2008 financial downturn, it won’t be as easy for hotel or casino workers to pack their bags and find work elsewhere.

During the last downturn, “those workers had these skills. … They went on the road,” he said. “But there’s no place for people to go in leisure and hospitality. It’s going to be the same (loss of jobs) everywhere.”

While some may be able to find jobs elsewhere, Waddoups said he expects many will drop out of the labor market altogether.

He pointed to trends shown after the Great Recession: Not all U.S. labor market indicators returned to their pre-recession levels, and the number of long-term unemployed — especially those who had been jobless for a year or more — remained elevated, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But experts are confident that tourism will bounce back in Las Vegas and that many workers will have a chance to return to the industry.

It just might take some time.

“Tourists are going to be coming back, but they’re going to have to be convinced that it is safe to come,” Miller said. “I think the future is bright.”

The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson.

Contact Bailey Schulz at bschulz@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0233. Follow @bailey_schulz on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.