The Robot Invasion Takes another Beach By Ken Adams, CDC Gaming Reports July 13, 2018 at 6:01 pm Vdara Hotel & Spa is a 1,495 all-suite hotel within the $8.5 billion CityCenter complex in Las Vegas. It opened in 2009, intent on being very modern and luxurious. Everything is top of the line and as contemporary as an iPhone X. On July 9th, the property announced it had added two robots to its staff, becoming the second property in Las Vegas to use robots; 70 hotels around the world use robots. The Vdara robots are working in room service, delivering morning coffee, a croissant and the day’s news paper to charmed guests who find them, oh, so cute. There are also robots pouring drinks in Las Vegas and an Indian casino in California is using robots as security guards. It is a national trend, not just in hotels, but also in middle class houses everywhere. The best known and most popular is the automated vacuum device Roomba. It is an unpaid maid cleaning floors whenever it is told to clean, never tired, it doesn’t talk back, demand any compensation or forget to vacuum under the furniture. It seems logical that one day, a version of Roomba will be employed in most hotels. New technologies are also being used in other areas in hotels and casinos, such as hotel kiosks to check-in and out without the aid of a front desk clerk. On the casino floor slot machines no longer require cash, eliminating a legend of employees to count, distribute and sell change. Additionally, traditional casino games like blackjack, roulette and craps are being dealt electronically; live dealer dealt games remain, but their realm is shrinking. Live poker games still exist in Nevada casinos, but the vast major of poker played in the state is played on a slot machine. Robots and automatons are being introduced all across the hospitality industry and the trend is certain to increase. The reason is simple, it is cheaper than hiring a live person. Todd Prince writing in the Las Vegas Review-Journal said the Vdara was renting the robots for $2000 a month, while the average member of the culinary union in Las Vegas costs the hotel about $16,500 a month, including unemployment and benefits. Vdara says no employees are being replaced and the robots will only free the employees to do more complicated tasks than the robots can do. While that may be true today, it will not be true in ten years. Besides the utility and economic viability of robots, they have another major advantage; they don’t strike for higher wages. The major unions in Las Vegas have an estimated 57,000 members working in the casinos on the Strip and elsewhere in the city. Each of the major gaming corporations has a separate contract. In June many of those contracts expired. Since then some new contracts have been negotiated and ratified by the unions and other contracts are still being negotiated. All of the negotiations take place under the shadow of the usual sworn rattling of union officials. The threat of a strike in Las Vegas is a very powerful weapon. None of the casinos wants to revisit the 67-day 1984 strike. A strike is very expensive for the hotel-casinos involved and for the city of Las Vegas. Las Vegas Casinos do not close during a strike, but it becomes very difficult to deliver service to the customers and many people refuse to cross picket lines. During the recent negotiations, demonstrating union members proudly shouted out: “Las Vegas is a union town!” The power of the unions and the growing effectiveness of robotics are on a collision course. Employee costs are among the largest expenses a casino-hotel has; the category is also more controllable than other categories such as debt and interest payments, utilities and taxes. The driving force in the acceptance by casino management of slot technology was its use in reducing cash handling and the people needed for it. So, far robot bartenders, security guards and room service waiters are more of a novelty than a practical replacement for a human employee. However, the time is coming when those devices and others like them will be as cost efficient and effective as the ticket-in, ticket-out technology on a slot machine. When that happens, the battle between the robots and the unions will begin in earnest. Watching Roomba take over the routine cleaning of the American households, I think it may not be that far in the future.