Past Events

The Casino Economy

May 12, 2017

In their book on Atlantic City’s casino industry, economists Ellen Mutari and Deborah Figart tell a familiar story: financialization and the push for profits have left workers with less pay and more stress.

On October 27, 2015, Mutari and Figart presented their research in the seminar series hosted by SCEPA and The New School’s Department of Economics. Mutari and Figart both teach at Richard Stockton College, just outside of Atlantic City in New Jersey.

A combination of industrial research and in-depth interviews with current and former casino workers let Mutari and Figart paint a comprehensive picture of the modern gaming industry. In the early days, casinos provided good stable jobs to tens of thousands of people in Atlantic City. But recently, as casinos are increasingly owned by private equity firms and hedge funds, job quality has plummeted.

Mutari and Figart describe three dimensions for evaluating job quality: pay and benefits, ability to foster a sense of well-being, and the provision of dignity and meaning. Their interviews with casino workers revealed that all three have eroded. One particular trend is “de-skilling,” where jobs are routinized to make workers replaceable. Shuffling machines, for example, are displacing dealers, which was once a skilled occupation whose workers took pride in the finesse and showmanship their work required.

This is not just an expose of the casino industry, but a metaphor for the economy. The same trends that have devastated workers in Atlantic City are playing out in cities and towns across the country. When financial firms make bets on companies and workers’ livelihoods are left to chance, the economy itself becomes more and more like a casino.