by Caroline Bottger
Casino curfews and reduced capacity measures are hitting gaming workers especially hard as the holidays approach. Though these have become standard measures for protecting customers and hospitality staff since casinos reopened in June and July, the nature of the casino business has already resulted in furloughs and layoffs.
As coronavirus cases rise once again, states are taking measures to protect customers — which have a chilling effect for workers. In Las Vegas, new directives from the governor lower casino capacity from 50 percent to 25 percent. Foxwoods Hotel Casino, the legendary Connecticut casino establishment, is already closing parts of its business due to the state’s coronavirus guidelines — and furloughing 130 workers in the process. In New Jersey, 10 p.m. curfews cut prime money-making hours to the bone. More worryingly, CARES Act benefits are set to expire the day after Christmas. Even before Thanksgiving, casino workers in Las Vegas were depending on food pantries to feed their families. (Feeding America, a national anti-hunger organization, reports that it has seen a 60 percent average increase in food bank visitors, and 4 in 10 are first-timers.)
Looming Grinch-like in the background is December 31, the day the CARES Act is set to expire. The Act includes an extra $600 per week for individuals already drawing unemployment from their state, and adds 13 more weeks of unemployment coverage. In addition, the CDC’s eviction moratorium will expire on December 31. With fewer than 30 days to go, Congress is still stalled on the details of a renewed CARES Act, which will be rolled up into the 2021 stimulus.
The stress for workers is due in part to the nature of the casino business. While most restaurants and bars close by 1 a.m., the party is only just beginning for casinos. 24-hour gambling, supported by bar and food service, plus performances, slot machines and other activities mean that guests stay longer, and the money (and tips) keeps flowing. But casino curfews cut the hours that food and drink are served, so many folks end up going home, taking their money with them. “Especially being in a casino, people dine later in the evening,” said Charlie Mulson, general manager of the Cuba Libre casino. Now, in Atlantic City, bars, including those in casinos, must close at the saintly hour of 10 p.m.
But before many of these measures were put in place, casino workers were frequently not protected. In May, union leaders and workers across the country called for a range of protections from employers. These included tests, protective equipment, new cleaning policies, and social distancing policies. In August, the Nevada state legislature passed Senate Bill 4, which established minimum standards for cleaning casino properties. This bill came only after hospitalizations of workers increased by 1,380 percent. Dubbed the Adolfo Hernandez Bill, it covers all hospitality workers in Las Vegas and Reno, including union and non-union workers. (Adolfo Hernandez was a porter at Caesars Palace who died of COVID in late June after contracting it at work.) In another concerning statistic, one percent of Pennsylvania’s casino workers have contracted COVID-19 since casinos reopened in June.