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Some Las Vegas casino workers say jobs not safe as resorts reopen

Updated June 12, 2020 - 8:29 am

It’s been months since Shauna McQueen has worked at the Golden Nugget. After seeing videos and photos of crowded Las Vegas casinos with a heavy mix of unmasked visitors, the furloughed employee said she might never want to go back.

She has yet to be called back to work but said she might decline the offer when — and if — it comes.

“I don’t think I can do it. I don’t feel safe at all,” she said.

A spokesman for the Golden Nugget did not respond to a request for comment.

Despite the Nevada Gaming Control Board requiring every casino to operate with new health and safety protocols during the pandemic, some workers aren’t convinced the measures are enough to keep them safe — especially at a time when groups of visitors have been observed ignoring social distancing rules and not wearing masks.

‘Alarming’ action from visitors

Todd Henderson hasn’t been called back to work on the Strip, but he walked Las Vegas Boulevard with his wife during reopening weekend “just to get exercise and check things out.”

The furloughed Treasure Island sportsbook ticket writer said he was shocked by what he saw among the crowds.

“Not many people are really wearing masks, other than employees,” he said. “It was alarming. I thought more people would wear masks, but they weren’t.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website, face coverings “may slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others.”

Different interpretations of the new rules was another source of concern. Henderson said he was surprised to see the use of social distancing, plexiglass and the enforcement of masks at table games vary between properties.

Henderson would still be ready to work if called back — he said he’s next in line to return in his department — but said the crowds last weekend have made him more apprehensive.

His plan is to take his health into his own hands by washing and sanitizing them often, keeping his distance from others and not touching his face.

“We have so many people coming in from different parts of the country, some of them from hot spots. When you’re out and about and at work, you just have to watch out for yourself,” he said. “I just try to be as cautious as I can be. It’s all I can really do.”

Workers’ Plan B

While returning to work may be a risk, declining a callback has its own downsides.

According to the Department of Labor’s website, “voluntarily deciding to quit your job out of a general concern about exposure to COVID-19 does not make you eligible for (Pandemic Unemployment Assistance)” or traditional unemployment insurance.

McQueen — who is receiving unemployment benefits — isn’t sure what her next career move would be if she doesn’t return to casinos. Maybe a collection of odd jobs, or working at a restaurant — somewhere less crowded, she said.

With Las Vegas’ April unemployment rate at 33.5 percent, finding a job is “definitely a concern.” But working at a casino is even more worrisome, she said.

“Working front desk, you’re the first one interacting with people from all over the country. People are coming in with no mask, and you have to touch their stuff,” she said. “(The masks are) a guard for the workers. It’s really disrespectful to not wear one.”

While Nevada has kept its percentage of positive COVID-19 test results well below the national average, some of its neighboring states can’t say the same.

In Nevada, 3.6 percent of the daily number of virus tests were positive based on a seven-day moving average, according to Thursday data from Johns Hopkins University. California and Arizona — among the biggest sources of drive-in traffic to Nevada, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority — stand at 4.4 percent and 12.2 percent, while Utah is at 9.3 percent. The national average is 4.6 percent.

According to data from the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada, more than 15,600 vehicles entered Las Vegas from Arizona via Interstate 11 from June 5 to 7 — Nevada casinos’ reopening weekend.

Nearly 45,000 vehicles from Utah entered via Interstate 15 in that time frame, while more than 59,600 entered on I-15 from California.

Prioritizing safety

Caesars Entertainment Corp. spokesman Richard Broome said the company has implemented enhanced health and safety protocols, including mandatory masks for employees and social distancing initiatives, “to create a comfortable work and guest environment.”

“So far, we have had no employees decline to return to work, or tell us they’re uncomfortable being back at work, due to the number of visitors at our properties. In fact, we’ve noticed that employees are excited to be back at their jobs,” Broome said. “However, if we had an employee who expressed that kind of concern, we would work with them individually and explore a number of options, including a personal leave of absence.”

Boyd Gaming Corp. spokesman David Strow said the safety of its team members and guests is its “highest priority,” and the company’s safety protocols “demonstrate our commitment to the health and well-being of every person in our buildings.”

“As part of our mandatory safety training, we remind team members of the importance of strictly following our safety protocols, and we ask them to tell us immediately if they see that certain requirements are not being followed,” Strow said.

MGM Resorts International spokeswoman Callie Driehorst said the company is encouraged by guests’ response to its health and safety plan.

“We worked with medical experts on a multilayered comprehensive plan that puts health and safety at the center of everything we do,” she said.

A Station Casinos spokesperson said the company is “committed to providing the most safe and secure environment possible for both its team members and guests.”

Wynn Resorts Ltd. spokesman Michael Weaver declined to provide comment for this story, and representatives from Las Vegas Sands Corp. and Treasure Island did not return requests for comment.

The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson.

Contact Bailey Schulz at bschulz@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0233. Follow @bailey_schulz on Twitter.

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