Construction jobs one of the underrated benefits of casino industry growth

John L. Smith is an award-winning writer in the gaming industry.

Check almost any news source and you’ll find plenty to read about the rapidly changing state of American gaming.

Whether it’s the explosive growth of legalized sports betting, the remarkable evolution of tribal casinos, the complex politics of Internet-based gaming, or the appearance of yet another multibillion-dollar mega-resort from the heart of the Strip to a suburb of Boston, there’s a lot going on.

But one thing that’s never discussed enough, at least not from my perspective, are the good-paying construction jobs that are created when a casino project goes from the drawing board to the first shovel of dirt. There are thousands of them across the country, and in many communities those jobs play an important role in a healthy economy.

While that’s true of any industry experiencing a growth period, it’s an underrepresented fact in the casino business. There are reasons for this, namely that it’s still transitioning into acceptability in many areas of the country. And when there’s controversy in the gaming industry, it understandably makes a loud noise in the press.

Take, for instance, the tumult surrounding Wynn Resorts, which is about to open a shimmering $2.6 billion mega-resort in Everett outside Boston. I’m not suggesting for a moment that the company hasn’t earned every bruise and black eye it’s received in the fallout over sexual harassment allegations against its co-founder and former chairman Steve Wynn. When you cut a check for a $35 million fine it’s called a “wrist slap” in part of the Boston press.

But it’s also true that the project also put to work an estimated 5,000 members of the building trades at a time the economy in general was still recovering from the recession. That makes a huge impact on any community’s economy, even one as big as the Boston area.

In Florida, the Seminole Hard Rock Casino expansion is generating an estimated 2,000 construction jobs. In Illinois, a major expansion of casino gaming is expected to call for hundreds of skilled workers in Chicago, Rockford, and elsewhere. In Washington state, the Cowlitz Tribe’s Ilani Casino Resort will employ an estimated 2,500 during construction.

Successful construction in Indian Country is increasingly leading to tribal ownership and expansion. In Minnesota, for example, Indian-owned Gordon Construction built the Shooting Star Casino, and now has its sights set on Enbridge crude-oil pipeline. That will mean a more diverse economy and better-paying jobs for tribal and non-tribal members alike.

It’s that way across the country and especially true in Las Vegas, whose construction industry was hit with a haymaker during the recession. The better part of a generation of skilled craftsmen who had never been out of work found themselves applying for unemployment with prospects for future building years off.

Now there are arguably too many tourism investment projects staging at both ends of the state – 45 in all with an estimated total cost of $20.7 billion, according to the Nevada Resort Association’s 2019 Fact Book. Granted, not all of those deals will leave the drawing board – nor should they. The last thing the Strip needs is rusting construction steel.

Some of the bigger projects are already taking shape and contributing to the economy.

The two construction phases of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority’s expansion and renovation on the site of the old Riviera are expected to generate 14,000 jobs for the building trades. (It will also generate nearly 8,000 permanent jobs once the project is complete.)

While the $1.8 billion Las Vegas Stadium construction receives by far the most publicity, the behemoth Resorts World Las Vegas is listed as a $7 billion colossus.

That’s all good news for the blue-collar economy, which has been hit hard in recent years.

It’s also a success story that the gaming industry needs to do a better job of telling as it continues to expand and gain acceptance throughout the country.