Las Vegas is, without a doubt, one of the planet’s cities most reliant on the hospitality industry. There are around 150,000 hotel rooms across the metropolis and each of the guests staying in them requires what can only be described as an army of maids, butlers, bartenders, and croupiers to attend to their every need.
However, a recent technological innovation is threatening the livelihood of many of these workers. Enter – the robot butler!
Robot Butlers Took Our Jobs!
No, this isn’t a plot to an early episode of The Jetsons or the title of a dodgy ’80s B-Movie. Hotels on the Las Vegas strip are really introducing machines to do the jobs of many of the workers that have kept Sin City spinning since the mid-1930s. The first form of these robotic butlers is simplistic enough but still threatens the livelihoods of many Vegas employees.
The robots themselves are around three feet tall and will provide in-room delivery services for the guests of the hotels using them. Whether it’s a morning coffee, a late-night gin and tonic, or some indulgent treats from the dessert stand, the robotic staff will navigate themselves through the often-maze-like hotels of the strip right to the guest’s door. Once there, they will even call the phone of the hungry or thirsty inhabitant to announce their arrival. After successfully delivering their wares, they promptly take themselves back down to their charging stations to await further duties.
Of course, the robot butlers aren’t entirely autonomous – yet. They still need loading up with items by their human attendants and there have been some incidents of malfunction. To help prevent this and to help their robotic colleagues if something should go wrong, the hotel staff are on hand to monitor the cyborg servants. One hotel manager recounted a tale in which one of the robots did fail in the line of duty. Mary Guiliano of Vdara Hotel and Spa explains:
“I mean, we did have one incident where the robot was trying to get into the elevator and guests were trying to hold the elevator and he actually got stuck in the doors of the elevator.”
Such malfunction is to be expected with an early stage tech innovation like this and they also ensure that the robots’ human overlords have not been made entirely redundant. However, the same member of staff can oversee many of the room service units for an entire shift and it’s likely the same person who will take care of the loading duties too.
Compare this with how many human staff it would take to perform the same tasks themselves and you can clearly see a potential for job cuts. It’s also believed that as technology advances, the robots will be programmed to perform additional duties. This could extend as far as room cleaning and even interacting with the guests.
That said, an expert in travel and hospitality from Skift.com, Deanna Ting, was careful to note that it was unlikely that the penetration of robotic staff would lead to entirely human-less hotels on the strip:
“Nothing really replaces the genuine human hospitality that you experience at a hotel. That’s why you go to a hotel, that’s what you expect when you go into a hotel — a person who can intuit how you’re really feeling and anticipate your needs and make you feel at home when you’re on the road.”
Workers Take To The Streets
Such developments are rattling hospitality workers in Sin City, however. A day of industrial action has been planned to protest automation in the hotel and casino industry, as well as stagnant wages over the last few years. A massive 99% of the Culinary Union (a 57,000-strong group of housekeepers, bartenders, food servers, porters, and kitchen staff) voted in favor of the action, although a date is still to be confirmed.
Evidently, casino executives haven’t managed to completely rely on automated replacements yet as the threat of a city-wide strike forced MGM Resorts International to come to an agreement with a large portion of the disgruntled workers planning action. However, such agreements still haven’t been made with many of the strip’s smaller casinos and it’s likely that a smaller strike will still go ahead.
It’s hardly surprising that such threats were met with eventual reconciliation. Casino bosses will certainly have feared a repeat performance of the 1984 city-wide strike in which angry workers put down tools and took to the streets. The action cost the entire Las Vegas economy over $3 million a day. Thanks to the growth of Vegas since this former protest, it’s thought that a modern-day equivalent would exceed $10 million in lost revenue. And this is not all that Vegas employees will have to contend with. There is the inevitable move to online everything. Regulation will eventually make online casinos a dominant force changing the landscape of Vegas forever. As John Holmes from NoDepositHero has stated:
“The winds of change are blowing very strong and the number of states that are regulating online gambling will only grow. As soon as interstate agreements are formalized, Vegas as we know it will change.”
A Bitter Irony?
It’s unfortunate to note but such a course of industrial action by workers in the wake of threats to their job security from robotic replacements will likely serve to encourage casino bosses to pursue the initiative further. Of course, machines don’t request pay rises. They also don’t take to the streets to protest changes to the business model they serve. Although backed into a corner, with little other actionable strategies to take, the workers themselves are likely encouraging their own demise. Time will tell how all this plays out.
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