Devin O'Connor

Posted on: June 21, 2021, 01:39h. 

Last updated on: June 21, 2021, 01:39h.

Atlantic City and Lake Charles, La., two towns with economies that heavily rely on its casino resorts, were devastated by COVID-19. But a new report shows just how bad the pandemic impacted those regions.

Atlantic City COVID-19 Lake Charles
The Atlantic City Boardwalk, typically packed with pedestrians, is seen empty in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. The casino town was one of the hardest-hit metros in America by the coronavirus. (Image: NJ Advance Media)

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics monitors employment numbers for 384 metropolitan areas across the country. And when it comes to year-over-year employment loss from 2019 to 2020, Lake Charles and Atlantic City were hit harder than all but one metro: the resort mecca of Kahului-Wailuku-Lahaina, Hi.

Lake Charles experienced a 15.9 percent drop in employment, and Atlantic City 15.8 percent. Only that Hawaii metro experienced a more devastating decline at 24.7 percent. 

Lake Charles saw its workforce tumble from 114,500 people with jobs, to 96,300 last year. Atlantic City saw more than 21,100 people be forced to go on unemployment. 

Las Vegas, which saw some 128,100 people forced off the job in 2020, didn’t fare much better. Sin City experienced a year-over-year employment rate decline of 12.3 percent, which ranked the nation’s casino capital No. 377 out of 384 metros. 

Will Casinos Bring Back Workers?

The William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton University recently released its summer 2021 issue of the South Jersey Economic Review (SJER). Editor Oliver Cooke, an associate professor of economics at the state school, says casinos will play a considerable role in the region’s recovery.

Perhaps most important to the regional economy’s near-term outlook (in late 2021 and 2022) will be the direction its casino industry takes,” Cooke explained. 

He pointed to the fact that while land-based gross gaming revenue (GGR) plunged 44 percent in 2020 due to lengthy state-mandated closures, iGaming and online sports betting flourished. iGaming more than doubled to $970 million, and sportsbooks won 35 percent more to $166 million.

“A key question that will loom over the regional economy as the national and regional recoveries play out over the remainder of 2021 and into 2022 is whether Atlantic City casino industry managers elect to return their physical properties’ personnel levels to pre-pandemic benchmarks or redirect resources to higher profit margin revenue streams which require far fewer brick-and-mortar workers,” Cooke stated.

Casino Employment Numbers

Casinos in Lake Charles and Atlantic City are no longer confined to most COVID-19 operating restrictions. But prior to the two states lifting capacity limits, unemployment rates in the gaming/hospitality sector in those two metros remained high.

In April — the latest data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics — Atlantic City reported an unemployment rate of 11 percent. The nationwide average was 5.7 percent. The leisure and hospitality segment has brought back 2,300 workers since January.

In Lake Charles, the area’s unemployment rate was better at 7.0 percent. Its leisure and hospitality total workforce has held steady since January at roughly 11,500 positions filled.

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