Ellen Mutari and Deborah Figart are labor economists fascinated by how people earn a living.
In their book “Just One More Hand – Life in the Casino Economy,” the two academics examine the struggles of Atlantic City casino workers.
They also explore the realities of an industry that has seen better days.
The recession, Superstorm Sandy and competition from neighboring states have forced four casinos to close. With those closures came thousands of layoffs.
"In many ways, casinos are emblematic of the new economy that emerged in the last couple of decades in the United States," Mutari said. "Where instead of producing things we produce experiences and we brand experiences."
Mutari said casinos, like in many industries, are switching to more and more part-time jobs. She also said workers are being required to cover more tables, clean more rooms, and serve more customers.
"A lot of the trends that we talk about in casinos are very much trends that are happening everywhere in America," Mutari said.
Figart said they talked extensively with people who worked in the casino industry and found hard working folks that are often not getting the recognition they deserve.
"We learned that the jobs are very, very difficult jobs, highly skilled jobs and perhaps under appreciated and not respected as much as they could be," she said.
She said from cocktail servers to card dealers there are physical and emotional strains. Dealers, for example, cannot make a mistake.
"There is a tremendous amount of stress on the job," Figart said. "You can not make an error. It could cost millions of dollars, if you make an error."
She also pointed to the emotional stress of dealing with people who are down on their luck or worse addicted to gambling and unable to stop.
But they both belief changes in the industry have made what workers loved about their job difficult to find, namely interacting with regular customers.
And Mutari believes that lack of interaction hurts the overall customer experience.
One of the changes they believe has impacted the industry negatively is the change of ownership to financial interests like privately equality firms.
Mutari gave the example of a job fair at the Golden Nugget, where more than a thousand people showed up for just 50 jobs and after standing in line for hours were told that the jobs weren't necessarily in Atlantic City and weren't open currently.
"That, I think, shows the tension between local management and the increasingly corporate management in the industry," she said.
Mutari went on to say that many employees felt the private equity firms had the most Draconian policies.
Figart said in an ironic twist the success of Las Vegas and Atlantic City has legitimized owning a casino for major entertainment companies and financial institutions.
"So you don't see these managers who have worked their way up from the casino floor rather you see 'corporate' or 'financial interest' part of the financialization of the U.S. economy," she said.
Ellen Mutari professor of economics, Stockton University; Deborah Figart professor of education and economics, Stockton University
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