NY Commercial Casino Employees Organize Rally To Push For Reopening

Posted on August 19, 2020 - Last Updated on August 24, 2020

With commercial gambling facilities in the Empire State still closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, thousands remain furloughed. A rally organized by New York casino workers aims to bring attention to that issue.

The gathering, organized by employees of three New York commercial casinos, will take place in Albany on Thursday. Whether it will convince Gov. Andrew Cuomo to reconsider his stance is really the only thing that matters.

The story behind the New York casino workers rally

While tribal casinos on sovereign lands in New York have reopened, commercial casinos await approval from Gov. Cuomo to do the same. Tribes who operate casinos on reservations are self-governing and not subject to state regulation.

Passing five months of closure, New York remains one of the last states to keep its casinos completely shuttered. Most other states with brick-and-mortar casinos have allowed those businesses to reopen at reduced capacities and with other safety precautions in place.

Casino workers in New York say they’re ready to do the same thing. That’s why they’ve staged a protest for 11 a.m. ET outside the state capitol building on Thursday.

The rally, according to organizers, will follow all health and safety protocols like “encouraged social distancing” and hand sanitizing stations.

So far, there is no indication of how many of the estimated 5,200 casino workers currently laid off will show up at the rally. So far, all pleas have fallen on deaf ears, as Cuomo has maintained that casinos aren’t essential.

Employees are working against the clock

Time is running short for these casino employees. Casinos have sent out mandatory WARN notices, stating that employees will lose their jobs on Oct. 1 if the casinos aren’t operating again by then.

The workers want to get the message across that they too are essential, and they want to get back to work and off of unemployment.

Greg Mallette, cage operations manager and assistant hotel manager for Vernon Downs, stated:

“When you are putting us in a position where we just have no guidance, we have no idea whatsoever. We don’t know if it’s going to be next week, if it’s going to be two weeks or if we are going to get to Oct. 1 and we’re all going to be laid off. That’s the worst part of it.”

They aren’t alone in their push for action from Cuomo, however. Casino operators in the state, especially Resorts World Catskills, are also putting pressure on Cuomo to end the shutdown.

Casinos already have a plan for returning to business

One possible small silver lining from the duration of the New York shutdown is that it has enabled casino operators to learn from their counterparts in other states. Using that gleaned wisdom, Resorts World Catskills formulated a reopening plan.

The casino has already put that plan into action in some ways. That includes installing plexiglass barriers, setting up hand sanitization stations, and spacing out seating areas.

There are still components the operators can’t make plans for, because they don’t know under what specifications  Cuomo will allow them to reopen. Lingering questions include:

  • What capacity can casinos reopen at?
  • Will poker and table games be an option?
  • Will indoor dining continue to see restrictions?
  • What will be the new hours of operation?

Resorts World Catskills maintains it’s ready to meet and exceed whatever standards the state places upon it. Right now, it just wants the chance to do so.

The organizers of the rally echo that cry. On the other hand, Cuomo argues that the benefit of reopening casinos isn’t worth the risk of undoing the progress that the state has made in controlling the virus.

If Cuomo doesn’t respond satisfactorily after Thursday’s rally, the workers plan to stage other protests at casino properties until he issues an order for casinos to reopen.

Cuomo’s response will dictate the immediate futures of thousands of casino workers around the state. After Thursday, he won’t be able to say that he is ignorant of their wishes.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a freelance journalist who resides in Kansas City, Mo. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.

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