Jobs and employment are always hot topics when election season rolls around, but never in all my years of politics has the issue been more critical than it is today. As voters in Maryland head to the polls to decide, among other things, a question related to the expansion of gambling, here are a few things they should keep in mind.
Throughout the economic turmoil of the past several years, the gaming entertainment industry has been a reliable source of employment. We don't just provide jobs; these are quality jobs. Our industry has a proven track record of hiring locally, providing jobs with upward mobility, and committing to a diverse work force. In the typical back-and-forth of campaign-year politics, we're bound to hear competing narratives. But this is the reality.
The gaming entertainment industry offers strong wages. Last year alone, commercial casino companies provided 339,098 jobs with wages (including benefits and tips) totaling $12.9 billion. (Taking into consideration indirect jobs provided by gaming, such as suppliers and manufacturers, the industry accounts for around 820,000 jobs and nearly 1 percent of this country's GDP.)
According to a 2010 national study, the average annual salary and benefits to employees in the commercial casino industry totaled almost $42,000, and estimates range well over $50,000 in areas with a higher cost of living. These numbers are even more impressive when compared to similar businesses: In the broader recreation sector (including businesses such as spectator sports, zoos, parks and museums), salaries average about $37,000 per year. Average salary and benefits provided by the commercial casino industry also are higher than those paid by retail industries such as food and beverage, clothing and gasoline. Their average, when taken together, is about $29,000.
Hiring locally and providing competitive salaries and benefits are just two facets of the equation. We are also committed to hiring a richly diverse family of employees. According to the most recent research, the commercial casino industry employs 20.6 percent more minority workers than the overall U.S. workforce. And casinos employ nearly 10 percent more minorities than other businesses in the arts, entertainment, recreation, accommodation and food services sectors. The same research shows that in 2007, casinos purchased more than $267 million in products and services from minority-owned businesses.
Despite today's economic uncertainty, it's also important that we offer not only jobs but careers. The magnitude and complexity of the typical casino's operation require a significant diversity of skills at every level of the organization: A 2002 study on casinos showed that there were a total of 19 distinct departments and 827 unique job titles — from architecture and engineering to retail and security — at the properties they surveyed. This shows an industry that offers substantial potential for growth and upward mobility amongst its employees. In the years since this data were last collected, there is no doubt the diversity of careers has expanded even more as the industry has continued to evolve.
Finally, I would be remiss not to point out that our industry consistently experiences extremely high (over 85 percent) employee satisfaction ratings. It also boasts impressive retention rates: A recent study showed the median tenure within the casino gaming industry to be seven years, with 42 percent of employees having worked in the industry for more than 10 years. Not only that, an industry survey of community leaders living in counties with commercial or racetrack casinos showed 83 percent of them agree that casinos have had a positive impact on the community. More than three-quarters (76 percent) say that casinos have done more to help than hurt the other businesses in their communities."
I've always felt that the future looks bright for the gaming entertainment industry. As quality jobs continue to be in short supply in our economy, I feel even more strongly that the opportunities offered by our businesses can help us climb out of this mess.
The American Gaming Association is neutral on expansion issues, and voters have the right to make their own decision about whether to support gambling expansion in Maryland. But they deserve to have all the facts when they do so. And the fact that our industry provides stable, quality career opportunities is undisputable.
Frank J. Fahrenkopf is president & CEO of the American Gaming Association. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun