ind Creek Hospitality, which owns and operates the casino property in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania is furloughing 2,100 employees as it remains closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jay Dorris, president and CEO of the Wind Creek Bethlehem parent company, said Friday another 400 employees are being retained once the furloughs begin June 1. Wind Creek will continue to pay for furloughed employees’ benefits, and they will be eligible for unemployment compensation during the time they’re unpaid. “They remain employed and that’s been critical to us,” Dorris told lehighvalleylive.com. "We want to keep our team intact."
The state’s 12 casinos were ordered shuttered under Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf’s order March 19 affecting non-life-sustaining businesses. All had already closed by March 17, while Wind Creek voluntarily closed its doors at 6 a.m. March 15.
The Bethlehem property’s drop in revenue for the March days it was open represented the steepest losses statewide, compared to March 2019. Wind Creek still paid the city of Bethlehem its $2.5 million host fee payment due last month, foregoing a state offer for casinos to defer their first quarter payments because of the shutdown.
State casino regulators last week unveiled a 10-page document outlining protocols for casinos to reopen, which can’t happen until counties transition to the green phase of the governor’s three-tiered plan to restart the economy. The Lehigh Valley remains in the most restricted red phase, but is expected to transition to the initial, yellow phase of reopening June 5, Wolf said Friday. Getting to the green phase requires maintaining new case counts outlined in the yellow phase for 14 days.
Kevin O'Toole, executive director of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, said last Wednesday the new operational requirements laid out for casinos are based on best-practices guidelines, along with various plans authored by gaming companies operating in Pennsylvania.
“While these guidelines for casino operations will be subject to amendment as we move closer to a time of reopening, we believe this plan will be effective in mitigating and reducing the risk of exposure to COVID-19 for all employees, patrons and other guests,” O’Toole said in a news release.
“Our focus is going to be on how we can present a plan that the government officials and public health officials in the commonwealth will find acceptable,” Dorris said.
The division of the Alabama-based Poarch Band of Creek Indians plans to reopen its Alabama casinos “very soon,” Dorris said, and is working with both a pulmonologist and epidemiologist in crafting plans to protect patrons and employees.
"We're being very conservative," Dorris said. "We want our customers to know when they come back, we've taken every possible step we can to mitigate the risk of catching COVID-19. And we also want to get back to having fund and providing an escape. "And that plan, we believe, the public health officials will look at very favorably."
Wind Creek Bethlehem in April lost a tables game supervisor to the coronavirus illness. Jonathan “Jonny” Shen was 31 and lived in Bethlehem.