Casino workers protest outside Capitol Thursday over lack of reopening guidance

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ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — It’s been close to six months since casinos closed and workers across New York were furloughed or laid off. Now that their unemployment is running out, they’re starting to get desperate.

“I gotta be honest with you, I’ve heard many people say they’re leaving New York. They just cannot make it here anymore,” says protest co-organizer Valerie McIntyre, a table games supervisor at del Lago Resort and Casino.

Dozens of workers from some of the largest state-sanctioned casinos — del Lago, Resorts World Catskills, Rivers Schenectady, Vernon Downs, and Tioga Downs — all rallied in front of the Capitol Thursday. Tom McOwen, a former table games manager at Rivers Schenectady, says they don’t know how much longer they can wait without reopening guidance.

“They have overhead, they might decide to just say hey we can’t do this anymore and pull out,” he shares of his worries with NEWS10’s Mikhaela Singleton.

Governor Cuomo had previously said casinos are by their nature large gathering venues and can be “problematic” with how much people touch machines and cycle through tables. Protesters say the Governor’s stance doesn’t sit well with them.

“You don’t need a casino to maintain survival,” Cuomo said during a phone press briefing. “I understand people in the casinos need jobs, but people in Broadway theaters need jobs, people in movie theaters need jobs. People in casinos need jobs, people in restaurants need jobs, people in bars need jobs, people in bowling alleys need jobs, people in gyms need jobs right? So it’s the essential nature and then the risk posed by the business.”

“Well communities may not need it to survive, but what about the community workers? What about Finger Lakes wineries that we support? What about local farmers?” asks McIntyre.

“You don’t work in this business. If you did, you would know it was essential if it was your paycheck and your families hurting,” says McOwen.

Rivers Schenectady released a statement saying it already has a comprehensive health and safety plan set up, which reads:

While Rivers Casino & Resort Schenectady was not involved in the planning of the rally, we certainly understand and appreciate the concerns of the casino workers.  We are prepared to reopen as soon as the state grants us permission.  Rivers Casino has developed a comprehensive reopening plan that addresses crowd management, cleanliness and disinfection, air quality and circulation, monitoring, isolation, and social distancing to provide the safest environment possible for guests and team members.

Rivers Casino & Resort Schenectady

“We’ve been taking all the measures ourselves on what we’ve got to do. Guidance from the government is what we’re supposed to have right?” McOwen adds.

McIntyre says a casino reopening petition has more than 3000 supporters and attention from state senators. She says they hope their united cries are loud enough to make it up to Governor Cuomo’s ears.

“We are one and we are pleading to please give us back our jobs. Give us that right to support our families,” she says.

A statement from the Division of the Budget on behalf of Governor Cuomo’s office responded with a statement following the rally. It reads:

New York State has been following the data and latest science on the virus to re-open the economy safely and we are doing the same when it comes to casinos. 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. Nationwide, states are delaying re-opening plans and rolling them back as COVID cases spike. We’ve already seen casinos in California, Arizona and Miami re-open and then close due to COVID. In New York, we will continue to track the data, the science and activity at casinos around the country, and will make a decision on re-opening them here when health experts determine it is safe to do so.

Freeman Klopott, New York State Division of the Budget Spokesman

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