The “House” takes a hit with Americans forced to stay at home

The Beau Rivage in Biloxi, MS is closed until further notice because of the coronavirus...
The Beau Rivage in Biloxi, MS is closed until further notice because of the coronavirus outbreak. (Source: WLOX)(GRAYDC)
Published: Apr. 30, 2020 at 9:55 AM EDT
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With communities across the nation all-in on shelter at home orders, COVID-19 is taking a toll on the proverbial House. With most casinos and other gaming properties in the U.S. closed for the time being workers are looking for some luck.

“It kind of creates a lot of anxiety, really,” said Matt Kennon, a server at the Beau Rivage Resort and Casino in Biloxi, MS since 2005.

“I’m filing for unemployment every week,” said Kennon.

Kennon finds himself in the unemployment line because he has not been paid in a month. A company policy called for two weeks’ pay for employees after doors shut before being furloughed.

“You kind of felt like after spending so many years dedicating yourself to the company they would look out for their employees,” said Kennon.

Kennon says paying his mortgage is still possible because of relief funding from the federal government combined with unemployment insurance from the state of Mississippi, though he says the amount he gets from the state is not nearly enough. He says he is not forced to use the food stamp program at this time, but he has coworkers who are.

“(They) left us to fend for ourselves, having to depend on the government for just making sure we get food through food stamps or having to go through unemployment just to pay our bills,” said Kennon.

A spokesperson from MGM, Beau Rivage’s parent company says, “We have no higher priority than the health and well-being of our employees, their families and our guests, and we will continue to do what we can to support them and the communities where we operate during this health crisis.”

MGM says in addition to two weeks of pay for furloughed full-time employees and part-time hourly employees, they are providing full health benefits for employees on an MGM Resorts health plan through June 30.

The industry giant says it is helping to facilitate employment with other large companies for furloughed workers. MGM also set up an Emergency Grant Fund that provides help to employees with urgent needs.

Kennon does not yet qualify for that fund, but he says he is struggling, and he views the June 30 health plan cutoff as a ticking time bomb. He believes the company is in a position to keep employees on payroll for this difficult time.

“When (Hurricane) Katrina hit Mississippi, the company paid the employees for a few months after the storm hit. With the COVID-19 pandemic they only gave us a two-week pay and that was it,” said Kennon.

Business decisions are being made by every large corporation in the U.S. as most industries are suffering losses. While gamblers can turn to online gaming, the American Gaming Association (AGA) says the toll on brick and mortar doors shutting is catastrophic.

“We’re an industry that is just short of the airline industry in seeing the most significant disruption in our business,” said Casey Clark, senior vice president of strategic communications at the AGA.

Casey Clark says he understands the safety needs during this pandemic. But the AGA says closures at all 989 commercial and tribal casino properties in the U.S. are putting at risk $74 billion in annual wages, $43.5 billion in economic activity, and $41 billion in tax revenue.

Clark says relief from a Congressionally-crafted funding package was welcomed by the gaming industry. But Clark would like to see chips on tables soon, he says so the 1.8 million workers like Kennon can get back to work.

“We are looking for opportunities to help stabilize the economy and get our employees back to work as soon as it’s safe for them to do so,” said Clark.

For Kennon he looks forward to his own financial stabilization...and seeing coworkers he calls family.

“(We) look out for each other,” said Kennon.

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