Help wanted sign by brizzle born and bred on Flickr Creative Commons License
By Alex McGuire and Steven Ruiz
Capital News Service
He works Wednesday through Sunday from 4 p.m. to midnight at a casino bar, a standard full-time gig of 40 hours a week. He makes $8.33 an hour, above the state’s minimum wage. He enjoys the non-stop hustle of the Friday nights and the easy flow of the Wednesday nights. Sometimes he joins his co-workers for a couple of drinks after finishing up his shift.
As a high school graduate who had only worked at restaurants, he plans on staying at the casino for a while.
“I never gambled before and wasn’t really into the whole casino scene,” said Griffin, an Arbutus resident who is one of more than 2,800 employees at Maryland Live! “The management treats everyone well and they believe that everything runs more efficiently if the workers enjoy their work.”
Horseshoe hiring 1,700
Now, Maryland’s fifth casino, the Horseshoe Casino, is hiring 1,700 workers as it prepares for its opening in Baltimore Aug. 26. And thousands of people have been showing up at jobs fairs to apply.
At M&T Bank Stadium one day in May, hundreds of job seekers jammed an upstairs lounge, waiting their turns to speak with recruiters. Some of the applicants were in business attire, some in shorts and T-shirts.
Joseph Fortune, 37, who lives in East Baltimore and works at Advance Auto Parts, was one of the people who arrived ready to apply for work.
He said he is willing to do any kind of job. “I’m just getting by,” Fortune said. His salary “is not cutting it anymore. I’m just looking for a better job at this point.”
Danielle Jones, 24, of Pikesville, came looking for a job as cocktail waitress. Lanayah Bell, 26, of East Baltimore, said she wasn’t concerned with the type of work she got. She came “just to get a job.”
Wide range of skills needed
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has been promoting casino jobs for months. Baltimore has rarely seen an employer hiring so many workers in such a short time. And these are jobs that span a wide range of skill levels — from valet parkers to restaurant workers to dealers.
Baltimore needs the jobs. The city has an unemployment rate of 8.3 percent, compared to 5.5 percent for the state. In many neighborhoods, the rate is far higher.
Brice Freeman, a spokesman for the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development, said, “We have a lot of people that are unemployed – job seekers in need of not just jobs but opportunities for careers.
“These jobs could be the starts of careers, and that’s exactly how Horseshoe and Caesars operates,” Freeman said. “That’s what they’ve been pitching from the very beginning: That these are not just dead-end jobs. They have the ability to build careers.”
Typically not great jobs, some say
But some view the quality of casino jobs differently.
Jason Perkins-Cohen is executive director of the Maryland Job Opportunities Task Force, a nonprofit that promotes the creation of more jobs and better jobs for low-income and low-skilled workers. He said the casino would create work for the unemployed but was skeptical about quality of the jobs there.
“Presumably, the casino is hiring people that weren’t working before or were working in a worse job before,” Perkins-Cohen said.
But, he said, “the reason to be less enthusiastic about them is that they’re typically not great jobs. Most of the jobs aren’t paying what’s considered living wages. And most of the jobs don’t offer a pathway to get to a career – or at least not a clear one.”
The jobs, Perkins-Cohen said, would be most beneficial to the city if they were seen as gateways to better things rather than lifesavers.
“They can be a benefit to the city if we, as a greater community, think of them as a stepping stone, so that someone gets employed and they get an income and they get some money,” he said. “That’s really important. But then we got to help them find other opportunities to go beyond that.”
Clyde Barrow, a political science and public policy professor at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, said the average annual salary for casino industry employees in the United States is about $36,000.
“The attractiveness of the industry from an employment perspective is that this is one of the few areas that pays a living wage for people with high school diplomas,” Barrow said. “When casinos are hiring, they deal with a skill mix that runs from low educational attainment to specialized skill sets.”
Most casino employees nationally work as drink servers and bartenders for below minimum wage. Some employees can become blackjack or poker dealers, who can make between $60,000 and $90,000 a year, Barrow said.
All of the employees at Maryland Live! are paid above minimum wage, said Howard Weinstein, senior vice president and general counsel there.
A push for Baltimoreans
Michael Lahr, a professor at Rutgers University, has studied the impact of Atlantic City casinos on New Jersey’s economy.
In a 2010 report he researched for the Casino Association of New Jersey, Lahr found that in 2008, “the casino resort industry supported nearly 101,500 jobs…[and] generates over $11.8 billion annually in spending and $4.2 billion in payroll for the state.”
In Maryland, Lahr said, “1,700 jobs is a lot of jobs. It’s always a political win for a mayor to create jobs, whether the jobs are really new jobs or just substitution jobs. It might really just be reducing 15 jobs at bars nearby that are mom-and-pop bars — and those mom-and-pop bars are going to suffer — but those 1,700 jobs are going to shine.”
At the press conference announcing the city’s hiring campaign in January, Rawlings-Blake stressed that she wants the Horseshoe casino jobs filled by Baltimoreans.
“We want to give Baltimore City residents an edge as we’re creating these opportunities,” the mayor said.
“I want all 1,700 [casino employees] to come from Baltimore.”
Criminal records restrict hiring
But many applicants at casinos around the state have been held back by criminal records.
The law prohibits anyone convicted of “crimes of moral turpitude” from working in a Maryland casino for seven years. Until the legislature made a change last year, anyone convicted of such crimes would have been banned from casino employment for life. By state law, applicants also must pass a drug test.
At a stadium jobs fair in Baltimore, Randy Goldman, the casino’s director of hospitality management, said his company is simply looking for good employees, no matter where they live.
“We’re equal opportunity employers,” he said. “If you’re from the city, great. If you’re not and you’re living in a commutable distance, and this is a place you’d like to work, then great.”