ATLANTIC CITY, NJ (AP) – The COVID pandemic has forced most US cas*nos to close for months, causing wages, revenues and earnings to decline.

But forced shutdowns and highly regulated recoveries have also taught the industry some useful lessons that will survive even after a pandemic that is a distant memory, panellists at a major cas*no conference said Thursday.

Speaking at the East Coast Gaming Congress, directors of several major regional g*mbling companies and one of the largest in the world said the changes they were forced to do by the pandemic had brought some benefits.

“It forced us and gave us the opportunity to tell our visitors that things that were once viewed as entitlement may not need them as much as they thought,” said Jim Allen, president of Hard Rock International. “Do you need a buffet? Should you eat the buffet? “

The conference was held at the Hard Rock Casino in Atlantic City, whose buffet is still open. Some Hard Rock cas*nos in other states, including Florida, offer buffets while others do not. The states have different health rules and guidelines that the company follows, Allen said.

David Cordish, president of the Cordish Companies, which runs cas*nos in Pennsylvania, Florida and Maryland, said the pandemic has given his company a chance to “aggravate the situation.”

“We didn’t go back to the buffets,” he said. “It was definitely not funny. The monthly shutdown was appalling for the staff. But many lessons have been learned from this.

“What we did – and we may have to do it again – was when we got locked in, we put in place every kind of health and safety check that could be done” including hand sanitizers and barriers between players’ positions in table games. measures that have been widely adopted in cas*nos across the country.

Cordish said these expenses paid off handsomely when the cas*nos were allowed to reopen in mid-2020.

“People were fed up with being locked in and going back to cas*nos, especially when we were doing these things,” he said. “Ever since we reopened, the business has been great.”

The daily cleaning of hotel rooms in cas*nos has become another victim of the pandemic in some places. In June, Atlantic City’s major cas*no workers union filed a complaint with state officials that four cas*nos did not clean guest hotel rooms daily as required by law, and one admitted that there were not enough housewives to clean every room daily.

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

One of the lingering effects of the pandemic is lower wages. This is due to both employees who were made redundant during or shortly after closure and were not re-hired, and the continued difficulties in attracting new hires to the g*mbling industry, as is the case with many others.

Jayson Guyot, president and CEO of Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut, said during the shutdown he ordered a complete top-down restructuring of the company – something that would have been difficult to do if it had continued to operate.

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

But he also expressed a shared concern: Foxwoods has not yet returned to pre-pandemic levels.

This is the main activity of Atlantic City cas*nos, which collectively have not yet returned to levels of revenue and profit for 2019 from g*mbling per capita.

The second-quarter earnings, released in August, show that five of Atlantic City’s nine cas*nos did not exceed their pre-pandemic profit levels, with the entire resort experiencing a nearly 1% drop in profits.

Atlantic City has thousands of fewer workers than it did before the pandemic broke out. Like virtually every other cas*no market, it has a hard time attracting new employees and retaining existing ones.

Hard Rock recently made headlines spending $ 100 million on large increases for 10,000 workers without tips, most of them in the United States. Other companies have recently passed smaller increases. Foxwoods raised its minimum hourly wage from $ 10.50 two years ago to $ 14.50 now, Guyot said.

But forced weight loss has allowed many cas*nos to learn to deal with fewer employees, whether by choice or not.

“We took as many workers as we could (during closure), but you can’t do 100% forever,” Cordish said.

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