Tunica casinos may have reopened in May, but the county and area businesses continue to struggle. Reports of increased unemployment rates for the month of August emphasize a larger problem affecting casino cities around the entire nation.
Tunica unemployment rates continue to increase
As of the month of August, Mississippi’s state-wide unemployment rate fell to 7.9%. Comparatively, the national average decreased to 8.4% from values that soared to 14.7% in April.
On a local scale, Tunica County’s August unemployment rate rose to 14.5%. Until businesses – and casinos specifically – are able to fully reopen with less restrictions in place, county officials expect the area to continue fighting an uphill battle.
Back in May, the Mississippi Gaming Commission granted casinos permission to reopen at 50% capacity in accordance with the state’s Phase One Casino Reopening Guidelines. This has resulted in a limited number of employees being able to return to work.
Multiple area casinos have experienced trouble rehiring workers due to employee concern of a secondary sweep of layoffs. In lieu of accepting the minimal hours offered, many employees opted to maintain their unemployment until more hours become available to them.
Additionally, many hotels located on casino properties have yet to reopen. There are currently not enough customers in order to make reopening hotels a profitable step for facilities.
Other Tunica County businesses continue to experience major reductions as well. Companies have been forced to cut back and operate under restricted guidelines, making job openings hard to come by. As a result, Tunica County grapples to regain momentum.
Restrictions have extended to county government positions as well. The county itself has furloughed close to 75 employees, according to the Tunica County Board of Supervisors.
Mississippi thrives on out-of-state tourism
Tourism has greatly decreased across the nation during the COVID-19 pandemic. Mississippi’s casino industry, one that thrives on tourism, has been significantly impacted.
Under normal circumstances, casinos in the state contribute nearly $1 billion annually to local governments and create more than $4 billion in overall economic impact. A lot of that comes from out-of-state gamblers.
The state of Tennessee prohibits casino gambling. As a result, many residents make the drive down to Mississippi to place their wagers.
Mississippi casino tourism may be even more affected once sports betting goes live in the state of Tennessee. Residents in the state will be able to bet on sports without getting off their couch, leaving them with one less reason to travel to a brick-and-mortar casino across the state border.
Tunica is one of the two gambling meccas of Mississippi, the other being Biloxi.
Memphis, Tennessee residents can reach any of the Tunica casino locations by driving as little as 42 miles. Alternatively, Memphis residents can take a short half-day drive and reach Biloxi in under six hours.
Casinos can’t hire more employees until attendance and tourism begin to increase. However, tourism will not increase until travel restrictions ease and gamblers have more expendable income. It creates quite the catch-22.
Coastal Mississippi casinos also had to negotiate Hurricane Sandy evacuations in mid-September that left them shut down.
Casinos continue to struggle throughout the nation
Cities around the US that once prospered on the economic impact of area casinos are noting a drastic decrease in tourism. Subsequently, these areas continue to bleed greater than the national average. Employment rates have likewise faltered.
While the Las Vegas area had an unemployment rate of 4.1% in August 2019, it spiked to 15.5% in August 2020. This was higher than Nevada’s overall state-wide unemployment rate, which was 13.2% this August.
Some casinos have even been forced to permanently close around the nation, leaving hundreds of employees without jobs.
DiamondJacks Casino & Hotel in Bossier, Louisiana officially closed its doors for good in May, citing circumstances brought on by the pandemic as the principal cause.
While many are struggling, some casino towns are beginning to make a slow shift back in the positive direction.
Atlantic City, New Jersey’s unemployment rate decreased to 18.5% in August, down from a 35.2% high in June.
Las Vegas added 5,900 jobs between July and August, while Reno, Nevada added 1,900 positions.
Let’s hope Tunica can soon trend in a similar direction.