early 200 workers of closed casinos in New York rallied at the state Capitol on Thursday to urge Gov. Andrew Cuomo to let the facilities reopen, saying their livelihoods are at stake.
Cuomo has contended that there is still a risk in opening casinos because of COVID-19, saying last month that decisions on reopening are based on "an issue of density, the likelihood of compliance and the essential nature of the business," as reported by Democrat & Chronicle.
In New York, the four commercial casinos employ nearly 5,200 people. Most of the state's casino workers have been furloughed or temporarily laid off since March. Under the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act, if an employee is furloughed for six months, they will automatically be terminated, which would happen by October 1 in many cases.
Rivers Casino in Schenectady alone provides nearly a thousand jobs to the area. That property released its proposed reopening plan on Thursday, which includes how the casino will address crowd management, cleanliness and sanitation, air quality, and social distancing policies.
“Almost every other business in the state are able to reopen. Why can’t casinos open at this point?” said Mark Egan, President of the Capital Region Chamber, WRGB reports.
“It is unfair because casinos have the same structure - you’re just as close in a restaurant, a gym, a bowling alley, a mall as you are in a casino,” said Tom McOwen, Table Games Manager at Rivers Casino. “When he (Gov. Cuomo) says we’re not essential, it really puts a damper on the mood. I feel essential. I feel like what I do to stimulate the economy, to drive tax revenue, helps out everybody.”
In the same line, Robin Torr, a hotel front desk manager at Tioga Downs, said: "We are essential. We’re essential for our families and our communities and to the economy and our state. We need our casinos to be open."
Casino workers and local officials say the financial impact of casinos being closed reaches far beyond its employees. According to Egan, Rivers Casino generated $110 million dollars in the last fiscal year. "And of the $110 million, $57 million went back into taxes. Some of it going to education, but even locally about $3 million went into the city of Schenectady, $3 million to Schenectady County and the neighboring counties all received it,” said Egan. “The casino helps subsidize our property taxes so there is really a direct benefit to the communities.”
The governor has not issued any sort of reopening guidance when it comes to casinos, despite recently announcing that bowling alleys and gyms could start back up again. New York has been following the data on the coronavirus infection rate in New York and the latest science to re-open the economy safely, "and we are doing the same when it comes to casinos," said Freeman Klopott, spokesman for the state Budget Division. "Casinos remain closed along with similar activities across the state as they invite congregation among customers in proximity to each other while eating and drinking, activities that don’t allow for consistent mask-wearing."
Seven native American casinos in New York in central and western New York have reopened because they operate on sovereign land, and they are taking their own safety precautions, such as limiting attendance and ensuring social distancing. Casino workers are asking Governor Cuomo to use the reopening of tribal casinos as a case study.