Casino Connection in Cumberland County?

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ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -

The buzz has continued to build around the Ocean Resort Casino Atlantic City and the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Atlantic City both pushing open their doors in dual openings on June 28.

The casinos have promised to hire more than a combined 6,200 people when they start accepting gamblers and tourists in Atlantic City. The two facilities have already created hundreds of construction jobs leading up to their arrival.

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But how many of those jobs will be nabbed by residents in Cumberland County and other surrounding communities in South Jersey outside of Atlantic City? Cumberland County officials have expressed a sense of optimism about the casino openings, but it’s not evident how substantial that impact will be.

Indeed, such an injection of employment and economic development are bound to have some impact after the Atlantic City tourism and gambling area appeared to hit rock bottom over a three-year stretch after the Great Recession of 2008.

The city saw the loss of five casinos over that time, including the billion-dollar Revel Casino Hotel and the Atlantic Club, which both closed in 2014; the Trump Taj Mahal shuttered in 2016.

The Hard Rock, which celebrated the hiring of its 3,000th employee recently—refilling the number of workers lost when the Taj Mahal closed—opens on the 17 acres the Taj once occupied. With more than 2,000 updated rooms, owners have promised to use its iconic Hard Rock brand to draw more than 300 top entertainment acts to the city over the year, opening with superstars Carrie Underwood and Pitbull on its inaugural weekend.

The 6.4 million-square-foot Ocean Resort, which promised another 3,200 jobs, recently announced its affiliation with Hyatt Hotels as it fills the spot of the former Revel, the tallest building in Atlantic City.

Ocean Resort touts its renovated 5,700-seat Ovation Hall, day and nightclubs and 70,000 square feet of retail space. Its restaurants include Wahlburgers, owned partly by actors Mark and Donnie Wahlberg and featured in the A&E Reality television show of the same name, led by chef Paul Wahlberg.

Kim Ayers, interim director of economic development of the Cumberland County Improvement Authority, said casino jobs once played a prominent role here in the past but times have changed—and so has the number of people who may want to travel to Atlantic City for those jobs.

“I certainly think it has potential,” Ayers said about the possible impact new casino hiring could have in Cumberland County and South Jersey generally. “At one time, I think the county had over 2,000 folks who were employed in the casino industry.

“So, there is certainly a potential, especially for some of the skill-level positions. I have not talked directly to the workforce folks about it to see if they’ve been asked to post jobs or seeing people applying for jobs there,” Ayers added.

Lori Yeager, the senior vice president of human resources for Ocean Resort Casino, said late last month that nearly 26 percent of its hires have been Atlantic City residents and that the casino has reached out to potential employees throughout South Jersey.

“We are reaching out to people via advertising in local media and online,” Yeager said. “In addition, we have partnered with local colleges and universities to offer credit to students who work with us in our Resort Ambassador program.

“This program offers great work experience and insight into the hospitality industry for college students. It is a full-time position that is responsible for welcoming guests and offering helpful guidance to questions they may have about Ocean Resort Casino,” Yeager said.

Ayers admitted that the job pool for the casino jobs in Cumberland County has dwindled. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Cumberland County jobless rate is at 7.7 percent, one of its lowest numbers since just before the Great Recession in 2008.

Back in 2014, during the first wave of casino closings in Atlantic City, the county’s jobless rate was 11.3 percent that January.

“Probably the biggest difference between that first and second wave of casino hiring and now is that we don’t have as many people looking for work,” Ayers said. “We are trying our best to fill positions that are coming up for our local industry and businesses. I think our job market has changed considerably since the casinos closed to now when they are opening.”

Gerard Velazquez, president/CEO of CCIA, said that he actually sees strong tourism opportunities coming from the new casinos as the facilities bring in new musical acts and family entertainment, along with existing casinos upping their game to compete with them.

“I definitely think [the casinos are] going to have a positive impact,” Velazquez said. “The good news is that as Atlantic City is recreating itself to become more of a destination location, and a family destination location, then that benefits Cumberland County.

“I certainly think it has potential,” Ayers said about the possible impact new casino hiring could have in Cumberland County and South Jersey generally. “At one time, I think the county had over 2,000 folks who were employed in the casino industry.

“If you’re a family coming down to Atlantic City, as opposed to a gambler coming down to Atlantic City, opportunities for families to come to Cumberland County—
and visit the Bayshore, visit the (East Point) lighthouse, visit the different opportunities that exist in Cumberland County—are much more prevalent. That creates a better opportunity for Cumberland County and our tourism and hospitality.”

Terrence Hardee, director of workforce, community and technical education at Cumberland County College, said that while he has not seen a buzz for casino job training there, he has seen e-mails from colleges in Atlantic County about a ramp up for attracting students 18 to 24 looking for careers in the tourism and hospitality business.

“I held on to that e-mail in case I ran into someone 18 to 24 who wanted to do some hospitality work,” Hardee said. “We haven’t gotten anything in our area that I know of.”

Ayers said there may be a chance for suppliers to take advantage of the opportunities that may arise as business starts to ramp up again in their neighboring county. “What I’m hoping for is that it will not only affect our workforce, but offer some potential for our businesses and open that market back up for some of our suppliers,” Ayers said.

“I think that’s where we can see more of an impact this go-around.”

Velazquez said, though, he was not sure if those supplier opportunities will be there immediately since the new casinos are merely replacing those who left in 2014 and 2016 and are not seeing a growth from those times.

“If you were providing services to Atlantic City, chances are you are still providing services to those casinos,” Velazquez said. “Since those casinos are replacing those casinos that closed, I haven’t seen an uptick in business here in relation to what’s going on there. I do see opportunities in tourism here.”

Yeager encouraged people interested in jobs at the Ocean Resort Casino to apply at careers.theoceanac.com

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