Indiana Casino Workers Demand Better Health Protections

Posted on July 8, 2020 - Last Updated on July 7, 2020

Employees at Caesars Southern Indiana are demanding a better health policy.

The casino reopened its doors on June 15 with a slew of state-required safety measures in place to help limit the spread of COVID-19.

However, many of the casino’s workers don’t think that those precautions go far enough.

Over 300 employees have signed a petition asking for new safety measures, and they delivered that petition to management last week.

Caesars mask policy causes friction

Under the reopening rules that the Indiana Gaming Commission gave casinos, gamblers only have to wear masks if they’re playing table games.

Caesars took that a step further by announcing a new company-wide mask policy. Now every gambler inside a Caesars casino has to wear a mask.

But even with that extra policy, there’s still a loophole for gamblers.

You don’t have to wear a mask if you’re drinking or smoking inside of Caesars Southern Indiana. Since some customers don’t like that policy, they just keep a drink or a cigarette nearby for the sake of not having to wear a mask.

That loophole is what has the casino’s employees concerned.

Jackie Gibson, a housekeeper at the casino, says that the close contact workers have with gamblers is a big part of the problem.

“As long as they’re smoking at the machines, they take their masks off. When you got the mask off, we don’t feel safe. We have to have close contact with them. This stuff is deadly. It’s not something to play with.”

The employees say that the loophole creates a dangerous work environment.

Many of the workers also rely on tips for a large chunk of their income.

When they have to ask gamblers taking advantage of the system over and over again to put on their masks, those gamblers get frustrated. That, in turn, leads to lower tips for the workers. It’s a cycle that the employees are looking to avoid altogether.

Casino workers gather for protests

The petition at Caesars Southern Indiana isn’t the first time recently that casino workers have taken a stand for their health.

On May 15, casino workers gathered in downtown Indianapolis for a drive-by protest. Those workers came from the following casinos:

  • Ameristar East Chicago
  • Blue Chip Casino
  • Caesars Southern Indiana
  • Indiana Grand Casino

The workers are members of the UNITE HERE Local 23 union, which, at the time, was arguing that Indiana was recklessly reopening casinos for the tax revenue.

Terri Mitchell, a bartender at Indiana Grand, is scared that she’ll have to choose between working in an unsafe environment, or quitting her job and losing her insurance.

“I have COPD, diabetes and fibromyalgia, which weakens my immune system. I already struggle to get the health care I need because my health insurance has a $2,800 deductible. I’m terrified that if this virus gets me, I won’t get to see my grandbabies grow up.”

The state announced that casinos would be reopening on June 15, just a few days after the protests in Indy.

The union considers the mask requirement from Caesars to be a win, but it’s still working for more changes. Some of the group’s members are among the petition signers at Caesars Southern Indiana.

Mounting fears of more casino shutdowns

Although some casino workers aren’t happy, they still have to work.

Those employees are worried that rising COVID-19 cases around the country could prompt another round of shutdowns.

Casinos placed thousands of workers on furlough when Indiana originally shut things down in March.

Eventually, those workers lost their health benefits. And Boyd Gaming had to permanently lay off a large chunk of the staff at Blue Chip Casino and Belterra.

If another round of shutdowns is on the horizon, casino employees around the state could end up in a tight spot.

Since Indiana doesn’t have online casinos, sports betting is the industry’s only source of income in Indiana when casinos are not open.

The huge cost of keeping casinos closed could lead to more permanent layoffs if things shut down again.

New safety measures could go a long way toward avoiding those shutdowns.

As long as there aren’t a ton of confirmed COVID-19 cases at the state’s casinos, the Indiana Gaming Commission will likely keep things up and running.

In the meantime, employees at Caesars Southern Indiana and other casinos around the state will continue to push for more changes.

 

Jake Garza Avatar
Written by
Jake Garza

Jake Garza is a sports writer based in Indianapolis, IN. He's an Indiana University graduate who's spent time as a sports reporter covering teams at the prep, collegiate and professional levels.

View all posts by Jake Garza