Andre Carrier, chief operating officer of Eureka Casinos, is optimistic by nature. Still, he doesn't think it's a stretch to project a strong rebound for the Southern Nevada gaming industry as it emerges from the pandemic.
He's already seeing signs of an upswing — the Eureka property in Mesquite has hosted more regulars returning in recent months, he said.
"I think Las Vegas will come back stronger than it's ever been," Carrier said. "I think we just have to accept that we're not in charge of the timing."
The Sun recently interviewed Carrier, who has been with Eureka for seven years after stints with the Golden Nugget and MGM Resorts International:
What's the mood these days within gaming industry circles as casinos continue to rebound from the pandemic?
It's much better than where we were a year ago. I was looking for a file recently and I opened the wrong PDF, which was a file about the food pantry that we had set up one year ago. It took me a second to snap back because I started thinking that one year ago, the most topical thing was making sure I communicated the operating hours of our drive-thru food pantry correctly.
We're in a remarkably different moment in business trajectory now. Week after week, numbers are getting better and better. There's still some fear and anxiety, which comes from being so closely connected in time to a moment when you had zero revenue. I do think the sales curve is longer on the hotel side than on the gaming side. That's still subject to group business and meetings, but we're in a better position than I could have conceived 12 months ago.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 213 million people have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Are you noticing customers now who perhaps had stayed away from the casino during the pandemic?
Yes, we're seeing more faces return, particularly in the past six weeks or so. That's likely a result of people getting the vaccines. We're seeing people come out who weren't coming out at all during the past year. One of the reasons why we're in a better place, businesswise, than in January or February is because of increased vaccination.
Eureka's flagship casino is in Mesquite. How is business in Mesquite these days?
The Mesquite market had perhaps a more V-shaped recovery than some of the other Nevada markets last summer after the reopening. That's partly because Mesquite doesn't have the same reliance on the out-of-market customer. That said, the out-of-market customer in Mesquite tends to often be the golfer.
As an outdoor sport, people were able to play golf during the pandemic. Golf was one of the sanctuaries of the quarantine, as people might recall. We got some golf groups and some individual golf business from the Colorado or Utah golfers driving in. We had a decent go of it in June and July of last year.
In Mesquite, summer occupancy is certainly affected by traffic to the national parks in one direction and Disneyland and Las Vegas in the other direction. People were, of course, hesitant to go on trips for a time. In March, though, we saw a real improvement.
Are most of Eureka's employees now back to work?
We simply don't have enough people right now. We're a market struggling to meet its employee needs. We're an employee-owned company and one of Fortune Magazine's top 100 companies to work for in America. We have a fully funded long-term retirement and best-in-class benefits, but it's still tough to get to full employment.
Some former hospitality workers are still collecting unemployment benefits, and some relocated or changed industries during the pandemic. Some just aren't returning to the workplace right now. In Mesquite, we're also trying to get to sufficient levels of workforce housing. I'll say this — this is a moment in time when you reflect on and appreciate your best people.
You came to Las Vegas in 1992 from Boston and have worked at different casino properties, including the Golden Nugget and Bellagio. You're plugged in to all things Las Vegas. Is this city going to fully recover from the pandemic?
Yes. I say this benefiting from an endless stream of conversations where people are telling me they're really looking forward to getting back to Las Vegas. People are hoping that meetings stay scheduled, and they're wanting to come to Las Vegas to celebrate different events in their life.
I think Las Vegas will come back stronger than it's ever been. I think we just have to accept that we're not in charge of the timing. International travel is, obviously, an important piece. Getting back to hero, from zero, will happen.
What's it like working for a smaller company like Eureka as compared to working for Mirage Resorts, which later turned into MGM Resorts International, or for a Tilman Fertitta (Golden Nugget owner)?
We're the only 100% employee-owned casino in America. It is decidedly different than working for some of those bigger companies, just in what we're able to do at a company with 500 employees, as opposed to 15,000 or more. There's a different feel. I do think I was fortunate to work for and be with some wonderful people like Mr. (Bobby) Baldwin, Mr. (Steve) Wynn, Scott Sibella and Tilman Fertitta, one of the most innovative people in the resort and restaurant business. Greg Lee, my great friend and our chairman and CEO, and the Lee family are also great people to work for.
Eureka, which has about 500 employees companywide, has a gaming property in New Hampshire, and a sport ranch resort in Mesquite. Would the company ever be interested in expanding in Southern Nevada?
We are absolutely looking for ways to make the employee-owned model have a greater impact on the service industry in Southern Nevada. So many people in the service industry struggle to fully fund their retirement, and we think employee ownership is a pathway for them to get there.
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