Regulator's annual review

Iowa casinos struggle to find employees amid nationwide labor shortage situation

Brian Ohorilko, Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission administrator.
2022-04-19
United States
Reading time 2:33 min

Iowa casinos are struggling to find employees, according to the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission. The regulator, which has recently completed its annual review of financial audits of all casinos operating in the state, has pointed out the problem, which has been described as common to most businesses.

“We did hear some common themes during presentations that many of the facilities had noted that they’re having a very difficult time finding employees in all segments of their operations,” Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission administrator Brian Ohorilko said, according to Radio Iowa. On the good side, audits did not turn up any issues.

The commission administrator explained that, given the difficulties faced when seeking new employees, businesses in the state have found themselves forced to adapt to the circumstances and to the lack of staff.

“Inability to find employees has caused situations where maybe restaurants would be closed on certain days or may be closed earlier than they would like, and so we’re still seeing a lot of issues from an employment standpoint,” he said.


Iowa Racing Commission

However, Ohorilko pointed out there are areas where businesses can’t cut back. “It does put a strain on positions like security and in other areas where compliance is and so those are things that that commission continues to monitor and the industry is really still doing a good job given the circumstances,” he added, according to the cited source.

Iowa’s casino industry is not the only one facing a labor shortage. Last month, North Carolina’s Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians officials said the tribe was considering dormitory-style employee housing in an effort to bring in foreign workers on temporary H2B visas.

The plan comes as the labor shortage at Harrah’s Cherokee Casinos in Cherokee and Murphy, North Carolina, continues to worsen. “We have to do what’s necessary to support the one enterprise that’s paying all the bills for everything,” Principal Chief Richard Sneed told Tribal Council in March.


Harrah's Cherokee Hotel and Casino, North Carolina

In fact, the serious shortage of casino employees is not an issue affecting individual states, but the US industry at large. This is, in turn, opening opportunities to current casino workers, as venues across the nation compete to add staff with experience in a number of industries, such as hotels, restaurants and tourism.

Townsend, a newly hired dealer in Atlantic City, said circumstances are coming together nicely for her. "I wanted to move up and improve my situation," she told Associated Press. "These places have to compete with everybody else for workers now, and there's money to be had." But the industry doesn’t see it like that.

"Gaming is facing the same labor issues that we see across the broader economy," said Casey Clark, senior vice president of the American Gaming Association, according to AP. "In our recent CEO survey, the labor shortage is a top concern across the country.”


Casey Clark, senior vice president of AGA

"Competition for talent is a huge impediment for growth, and we're also experiencing an expansion of gaming with customer demand increasing," he added. "Those things are problematic when they happen together."

The situation has led to casinos launching new tactics, such as the use of virtual reality goggles at MGM Resorts International job fairs, which lets applicants experience what the job will be like. Meanwhile, Atlantic City casinos are talking with state government agencies about funding transit options to get people to jobs from farther-out places.

In Clark County, more than 40,000 jobs have gone unfilled since Nevada’s casinos reopened, while in Atlantic City, it is estimated the overall workforce of 22,000 is down from 49,000 in 2003. The Covid pandemic and its restrictions have taken their toll on casinos, and the situation has yet to improve.

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