Sold Out

Closing casinos down was the correct call, for not only the customers who would be at risk, but also employees, who would be at even greater risk.

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Sold Out

“A writer who’s afraid to tell people what they don’t want to hear has chosen the wrong trade.” —George Packer

To most of you politicians, gaming regulators, gaming educators and other various gaming experts out there, I want to talk to you about something you know little about, and that’s working on a casino floor.

I’ve spent a lot of my life hanging about in casinos, in all kinds of positions, but I want to talk about the eight years of my life when I dealt cards and dice.

Before continuing, I want to share about my last trip to the grocery store. I went to stock up for a two-week isolation period. I have a favorite employee at this market who scans the grocery items. She’s a black woman who’s probably in her mid-50s and somewhat frail. This day, she looked particularly tired and nervous. As she finished my transaction, she immediately reached into her uniform pocket and grabbed a small container of disinfectant, then nervously spread it across her hands. I told her how I sorry I was that she had to be there. She looked at me and said she had no choice, as she was alone in supporting a child and a parent.

One of the attributes of Covid-19 is that it’s relatively contagious. To anyone with a reasonable fluency in math, it should have been obvious, even early on, where the infection rate and body counts were heading. Another early understanding of the disease was that it could be passed on by touching surfaces containing the virus, and people were instructed to both wash and/or disinfect their hands after touching surfaces. What soon began to bother me was that state after state, and regulatory agency after regulatory agency, were being very silent with respect to closing the casinos across the United States, and I could not understand why.

When a person spends eight years of his life standing on a casino floor dealing, the thoughts and sensations don’t escape a person’s memory. In short, I haven’t forgotten where I came from. I could not imagine having to go to work and constantly exchange money, chips and cards with people in close proximity, hour after hour, and then go to the breakroom and see the news of this health disaster on the television. And unlike my friend at the grocery store, I wouldn’t have been able to disinfect my hands after each transaction. I also would not have been able to control how people sneezed, blew cigarette smoke about, or showed up beside me on the game to complete administrative transactions. Imagine what it would have been like to go home to the people I loved, risking their health while preparing to return to work again 16 hours later. Just thinking of these poor people being put in this position made my heart hurt.

There are some exceptions to the people who seemed indifferent to all this. Wynn in Nevada, a few tribes and some others just said they weren’t going to do this to their employees and guests. I applaud such terribly difficult and brave decisions—but they were the exceptions to the rule.

I’d really like to know the medical and health professionals who signed off on keeping casinos open. They allowed regulators and politicians to commit something approaching a crime, putting casino employees in the position of having to go into those environments to keep their jobs. It would be interesting to know who the Dr. Fauci was for the politicians and regulators. I’d like the different governors and regulatory entities to outline the health models they used, including all assumptions and variables. My concern is that models were not built or simulations run. My guess is they didn’t consult with data scientists and mathematicians. My guess is they made these decisions quantitatively blind and were driven by political concerns.

To use another example from Nevada, a target-rich environment, I found it incredible that the Nevada Gaming Commission changed its agenda to only include consent items, and postponed any items involving someone appearing before them. The NGC chairman is a medical doctor who appears to have protected his commission from risk by changing these meeting rules, but seemed cool with sending Nevadans into casinos to exchange cards, money and chips with a bunch of unknown people.

I guess I dream of the day when this commission will have the same concern for the employees of a casino as they have for themselves. And any serious health official that suggested that it was safe to allow just three people to a table game as they played with a common bank of chips, or suggested it was safe to play on every other slot machine, should not be a health official.

The next time the regulators and politicians allow casinos to stay open in the middle of a global pandemic, they need to be required to go hang out on the casino floors with the people they may be sentencing to death or turning into vectors of the disease. It seems to me that the people who can make and influence policy decisions on gambling should be required to understand risk and variance—and I can’t even believe that this needs to be said.

The point is, in many of our gaming states, there was little concern about the employees of the casinos. No one had their backs. Not the politicians, not the regulators, not the gaming academics, and certainly not the newspapers. Since I didn’t hear a peep out of any of these groups about the employees until after they closed the casinos, I suspect they were all cool with the treatment the employees received beforehand. Every one of these entities failed because they only saw this as a financial crisis, when a blind man could see it was actually a health crisis. My God, it was called a pandemic! That should have been a tell.

Many of these groups should clearly understand that the expression “gold standard” that so many jurisdictions like to use is rapidly becoming synonymous with the word “capture.” Your silence during this time probably will result in the deaths of some folks. These employees are important and they are human—and they deserved more from you.

Articles by Author: Richard Schuetz

Richard Schuetz started dealing blackjack for Bill Harrah 47 years ago, and has traveled the world as a casino executive, educator and regulator. He is sincerely appreciative of the help he received from his friends and colleagues throughout the gaming world in developing this article, understanding that any and all errors are his own.