Vegas looks like a hotbed of robot-fueled disruption

Illustration of a mechanical arm holding up a sign reading "Welcome to fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada"
Illustration:Rebecca Zisser/Axios

As waves of automation-fueled job losses crash against the labor market, one unexpected hotbed of disruption is Las Vegas, a city overflowing with low-wage, low-skill work.

Why it matters: The consensus among experts is that the next big zone to be decimated by robots is the service industry. The hundreds of thousands of jobs in Vegas, among them cooking, cleaning, selling and dealing cards, fall squarely into this vulnerable pocket.

The already-underway technological upheaval could send Sin City, which only a decade ago was clobbered by the financial crash, reeling once again.

By the numbers: Per a report from the University of Redlands' Institute of Spatial Economic Analysis, 65% of Vegas jobs have a high chance of being automated away. Compare that to 25% of all jobs in the U.S.

  • Nevada suffered an outsized impact from the Great Recession, with a jobless rate north of 14%, compared with a peak national rate of about 10%. Its vulnerability to job loss means unemployment could flare again.

As we reported last week, the effects of automation are projected to hit the center of the country hardest. But not just middle America is at risk. There are urban pockets with high concentrations of low-wage service jobs — and Vegas is atop that list.

The root of the danger in Las Vegas is the dominance of one industry: casinos.

  • "That's a blessing and a curse," says Jeffrey Brown, a researcher at the Bertelsmann Foundation and co-author of a new report on the future of work in Las Vegas.
  • It's a blessing because casinos buoy the city's economy; it's a curse because when they begin automating away jobs, workers will have little to fall back on.

The bottom line: Casinos are already installing fancy gaming machines and new equipment that allows blackjack dealers to accommodate dozens of gamers, where until now they have been able to deal only to a handful. Their hotels are targets for robotization, too, with automated check-in, room service, housekeeping and even robotic bartenders.