It is well known that there is a labor shortage nationwide.
Last week, I was walking in my neighborhood and stopped to talk to one of my neighbors. I have known him for over 40 years; during that time, he has always operated a restaurant. His restaurants are known for their quirky menus, free-spirited waitstaff, and esoteric décor. He told me that the restaurant business was the most challenging he has ever seen. “I cannot get enough help and then, when I do get someone and spend the time and effort to train them, they leave, and I have to start over.”
The Chicago Sun-Times published an article on August 20 by Rob Miech. The article was based on an interview with Jay Kornegay, vice president of sports at the Westgate casino in Las Vegas. The article covers Jay’s 35-year career in sports betting in Nevada. Kornegay started as a sportsbook ticket writer in 1987 at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe after college. He has experienced the growth of sports betting, including the dynamic changes after the Supreme Court decision in 2018. Like my neighbor, Jay said that these are very challenging times. According to Kornegay, it is very, very difficult to get employees and not just beginning level, but even higher levels of responsibility and pay. It is the worst hiring environment he has ever witnessed.
Kornegay said that he has heard of more than 5,000 vacant sportsbook jobs nationwide. His company has tried enticements and incentives.
“It’s very competitive,” Kornegay said, “so we’ve added a few incentives to attract some of these people. But it really hasn’t panned out so far.”
Of course, not just sportsbooks are struggling to find staff. Every casino department is in the same situation. And the same problem exists in every industry.
The severe labor shortage in the United States is not limited to this country or continent. It is a worldwide phenomenon.
A curious story from Cambodia illustrates some of the unique dynamics of the issue in Asia. Cambodia is one of the countries that has positioned itself to cater to high-rolling Chinese gamblers. Before the pandemic and the tightening of controls by China, casino gambling in Cambodia was exploding. The special gambling zone seemed to be set on a Macau-like path to riches. Today, it is still on a Macau-like trajectory, only now the path is toward casinos as empty as old western ghost towns. However, unlike Macau, the casinos in Cambodia are not trapped exclusively in a bubble created by travel restrictions in China.
While waiting for the Chinese to return, casino operators in Cambodia have put their marketing efforts into online gambling. Instead of waiting for gamblers to travel, they traveled to the gamblers via the internet. It has apparently worked; special enterprise zones in Laos, Myanmar, and Cambodia that had previously been focused on brick-and-mortar casinos have found customers and prosperity online.
The story, however, gets a little murky at this point. Most of the media coverage says the casino operators are Chinese gangsters displaced when China absorbed Macau and its gaming industry. Those gangsters have found homes on the fringes of China, in Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar. Each of those countries had special zones with casinos that catered to Chinese gamblers, but the pandemic and new anti-gambling policies by China has cut that business by as much as 90 percent. Rather than give up, the operators refocused to online operations. The success of those operations in Asia has also created a labor shortage.
The solution is slavery and apparently it is common across the region. Workers from China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, and other Asian nations have been targeted. Would-be employees are enticed to come to the special gambling areas in one of the fringe countries, such as in Cambodia. They are promised great jobs as dealers and told they can earn as much as $25,000 a month. When the eager candidates get to the casino, their passports and cell phones are confiscated and they are set to work conning Chinese gamblers into spending big bucks gambling online. They are not allowed out of a guarded compound and they receive no pay. The only escape is by ransom. The amounts vary between $1,000 and $10,000. There is only one other possible way out, a singular act of daring and desperation: running away.
A recent story reported by the press in Vietnam and Thailand tells the tale of a group of enslaved casino workers who escaped and swam across the river to Vietnam. Forty workers escaped, one was recaptured, one drowned, and the rest made it to safety in Vietnam. A video online shows the workers running wildly, chased by guards with clubs beating them until they reach the river. The Cambodian press called it a labor dispute over wages and work hours. The other media outlets called it an escape of casino slaves.
The story is not really about a labor shortage. It is, however, the story of the post-pandemic era where employees are hard to find and workers are eager for jobs that sound exotic and pay much more than anything in the pre-pandemic era. Fortunately, it could not happen here, but certainly some of us could be tempted. The offers of wealth, adventure, and romance are certainly more than Jay Kornegay, or my friend, could offer.