The neon lights of the Vegas Strip have gone dark.
In a city and state made up of so many bars, restaurants, clubs, and casinos, the people who keep the good times rolling are now hitting some seriously hard times. The heart of Nevada, the Las Vegas economy is centered around tourism and now for hundreds of thousands of service workers and service professionals, the situation is unprecedented and grim.
If this pandemic has shown us anything it’s that tourism and leisure are deemed non-essential and have been some of the first to suffer the consequences of the shutdown and subsequent economic downturn.
The question now is: what will happen to all those casino employees who are unable to work?
The sweeping closures around the country have hit millions of Americans extremely hard but maybe none so hard as the tourism-reliant Las Vegas. The entire city is run 24-hours a day by food servers, card dealers, bartenders, housekeepers, and all of the other service employees that keep Vegas’s 40 million yearly visitors having a swinging good time.
When the governor’s order went into effect, the formerly bright and welcoming casinos were barricaded, lights and games were turned off, and cash machines were emptied. The city has never been closed or deserted like this before.
The last time Las Vegas was shut down was in 1963 during President Kennedy’s funeral — and even then, it was only for 15 hours. The city didn’t even close its doors after the 9/11 attacks and aftermath. So, it’s really beyond the scope of imagining to know what a 30-day closure might portend.
According to the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation, the state seems to be one of the hardest hit in the nation. Across the state of Nevada, an estimated 355,300 people, nearly 25% of the state’s total labor market, worked in leisure and hospitality as of January 2020.
The record was set for the most unemployment claims ever in the state’s history when over 92,000 were filed just the week after the shutdown. It’s unsurprising then to see predictions like the one from the Economic Policy Institute, forecasting a US unemployment rate of 19.7% by summer 2020.
Thousands of establishments have furloughed, laid-off, or otherwise dismissed employees from a range of businesses around the state. There is no rhyme or reason to how things are going down, but some workers have had better luck than others.
For example, Caesars Entertainment has lost 3,200 jobs due to coronavirus and furloughed other employees without pay. After furloughing its workers, the MGM Resorts said it could only pay them for two weeks and after that, no one knows.
The Bright Side
Despite the rough times that many Nevada employees now face, there was some good news from some of the top names on the Vegas Strip. The Las Vegas Sands, who owns The Venetian and the Palazzo, has said it will pay its workers without putting a time limit on how long.
Another bit of good news was from Matt Maddox, CEO of Wynn Resorts, who was the first to close his casinos, even before the state-wide order was handed down by the governor. He pledged to pay all of his workers, including tipped and hourly workers, their full-time wage for 30 days during the closure.
In an encouraging and practical statement, he said that he would rather keep his loyal, knowledgeable, and experienced staff, instead of having to go out and re-interview and re-hire 13,000 new employees when the crisis had passed. It was a lesson he learned from the 2008 financial crisis, that it pays off to retain good employees, even if it costs the company in the short term.
The future of Nevada, as well as the rest of the country, is extremely uncertain and starting to look bleak. But not all industries are as tied to tourism or even interaction with humans. With everyone home, practicing social distancing, the economy’s online sector is booming.
Online everything has taken over as the main form of entertainment, education, and even socializing with friends and family. It may be that when the dust settles from this financial and health disaster, the safest place to be will be online.
Hard Times for Sin City
Just over 10 years after the Great Recession of 2008, Las Vegas was just beginning to make a financial comeback. Small business owners and service employees were starting to feel confident for the first time in a long time.
And then the pandemic hit.
In a city and state full of service workers, it’s not hard to see why Nevada might just be one of the hardest hit by this crisis in the nation. The most commonly heard phrase throughout all this is that “no one knows what’s going to happen” and ain’t that the truth.
With no historical precedent to go by and no hints as to when this critical situation will deescalate, it’s hard to know how long anxious employees will have to wait for answers or help.