Macau’s Gilded Age: The Plight of Croupiers

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Macau casinos are raking in skyrocketing revenues. At the same time, croupiers face abuse and are more unhappy than ever. Will the industry take steps to better care for its employees?

Since deregulating in 2006 the casino industry in Macau has exploded. In 2013 the city’s casinos pulled in a collective $45 billion in revenue, dwarfing Las Vegas, Atlantic City, Singapore and Monte Carlo. International giants Wynn and Sands have built two of the city’s largest and most profitable casinos, attracting high rollers from across Asia and the Pacific.

While the rise of Macau has been astounding, it is finally starting to face some headwinds. Obstacles to continued growth don’t come in the form of stagnant demand, high costs or restrictive Macau gambling laws. Rather, it threatens to be constrained by the lack of available croupiers. Rapid growth in the casino industry has sapped the domestic labor supply. Firms making new investments, such as SJM Holdings, will struggle to find people to fill positions in their new casinos.

The plight of croupiers

According to official statistics, the industry employs at least 24,000 croupiers at any given time, accounting for 44 percent of total casino employees. This means that roughly one in twenty Macanese are employed as croupiers. Given the large amount of people already employed in the industry, there are few additional people willing to work at blackjack and baccarat tables or Macau poker rooms.

While casinos have struggled to find new croupiers, those currently employed are increasingly unhappy. A survey by the University of Macau found the profession to be among the least satisfying in the city. It is caused in large part by the daily abuse croupiers are forced to endure at the hands of high-rollers. Casinos are dependent on these wealthy gamblers to turn a profit, so pamper them as much as possible.

• While Macau’s casino industry has grown exponentially, further growth may be limited by a shortage of croupiers

• Forthcoming projects will require 12,600 new croupiers, with the existing pool of labor only able to provide one-fourth of that

• SJM Holdings and Wynn Macau are pushing for permission to hire migrants laborers as croupiers; they are facing opposition from domestic labor groups

This means letting drunken customers make sexual advances toward female casino staff and allowing losing players to verbally and sometimes physically abuse both male and female croupiers. From 2011 to 2013 municipal police registered 28 cases of physical assault against croupiers, none of them resulting in convictions. Macau also doesn’t have a smoking ban in its casinos, making staff vulnerable to health risks. Both casino managers and public officials put profitability before the well-being of employees, and those wealthy enough are handed carte blanche to behave as they wish.

In addition to terrible working conditions, few croupiers are given the opportunity to advance to management positions. The thankless nature of casino work does nothing to advertise the industry to job-seekers and pushes some croupiers out of the casino business altogether.

Demand remains high

While the supply of croupiers is stagnating, demand is only increasing. As revenue continues to rise firms have an eye on new investments, each of which require more labor. SJM Holdings recently began construction on the resort casino Lisboa Palace, a $3.9 billion project. Morgan Stanley estimate that the Lisboa Palace and other forthcoming developments will require 12,600 new croupiers, and that the local market can only supply about one-fourth of that. SJM is lobbying the government to allow them to hire migrant workers, but resistance from domestic croupiers and labor unions is strong.

While SJM is scrambling to find new employees, Wynn and Sands are struggling to keep the ones they have. Both firms recently increased the salaries of all employees by 5 percent, and Wynn will also provide bonuses worth one month’s salary. In addition, Steve Wynn announced a benefit plan giving shares in the company to each employee. While croupiers will remain dissatisfied with their jobs, such measures should ease that somewhat.

Migrant workers are still kept out

Despite being unhappy with their work, croupiers and labor unions are fighting hard to protect them. As previously mentioned, they have been active in fighting initiatives to allow migrants to work in Macau casinos. These individuals feel threatened by hints from SJM and Wynn that they want to use migrants to fill positions. Last month hundreds of people, mostly croupiers, demonstrated in the streets demanding a formal guarantee that foreign workers would be banned from working in casinos, as well as smoke-free gambling floors.

Legislator Jose Pereira Coutinho has taken up the cause of croupiers, calling for both job security and legal measures to protect employees from abusive gamblers. While it looks likely that migrants will eventually be allowed to work in casinos, the movement to protect croupiers is starting to pick up steam and is receiving heavy coverage in gambling news. Macau Gaming Enterprises Staff Association Secretary General Choi Kam Fu recently urged casinos to take employee complaints seriously. Given how in-demand their work is, croupiers should have enough clout to push for better conditions.

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