SCHENECTADY — Laurie Masi stood outside Rivers Casino & Resort Thursday morning as she and over 25 other demonstrators were drenched by rain.
The group, mainly consisting of Rivers employees, was rallying for the state to reopen Rivers and other casinos throughout New York. But not everyone in attendance was an employee.
Masi was there in support of her fiance, who has been out of work since March when the casino shut down due to COVID-19. Now, she’s leaving New York for Atlantic City after her future husband found a job in an area where casinos are open and “doing well.”
“It’s been tough,” Masi said. “Not only financially, but emotionally. This is what he’s done for 25 years. It’s just not a good thing all over. I think Gov. Cuomo really needs to take the time and look at what other casinos are doing.”
While casino employees are not considered “essential workers” by the state, many reiterated Masi’s sentiment that they are “essential” in providing for their families. The Thursday demonstration lasted just over an hour, as the employees and supporters lined up with signs reading “We want to work” and “Reopen NY casinos.” Numerous cars honked in support throughout, as a massive downpour of rain didn’t stop them from voicing their concerns.
Cuomo on July 30 said casinos will remain closed after deeming them “nonessential.”
“You don’t need a casino to maintain survival,” Cuomo said then.
On Thursday during a conference call with reporters Cuomo said the state was “monitoring the situation.”
Those participating in Thursday’s rally, such as table games dealer Gale Brown, disagreed on the “essential” nature of casinos. Brown said her community is struggling, the workers’ families are struggling and that Rivers employees are “essential to feeding their families.”
“Our families rely on us,” Brown said. “Our children rely on us. Without employment, we can barely afford to support them. We’re all struggling right now to survive.”
Brown said it was never a question to stop the rally due to the weather. She even made sure her sign had plastic poles in case of lightning.
“Rain, sun, storm, if it was hailing out here, it doesn’t matter … Everybody at Rivers is like family. We haven’t seen each other in six months now and it feels like we’re lost inside.”
“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,” Rivers said in a released statement following the Aug. 20 rally. “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’ plan includes sanitizing every machine in the facility, the use of plexiglass barriers between machines, table games being limited to three players at a time, guests having temperatures taken before entering the casino, and other safety measures.
Brown and others said they hope Cuomo will give Rivers guidance soon on how to safely reopen. LaChelle Rick, an organizer for the event, said she hopes to “hear the phone call” telling her to be ready to work. And with the number of cars that honked in support of their cause Thursday, she’s hopeful that’ll happen soon.
“The community support means everything,” Rick said. “Without the community support, we wouldn’t be here in the first place. Community is what brought Rivers to Schenectady.”
Tom McOwen, table games manager, said the message he hopes the demonstration can leave passers-by is very simple.
“We’re family and we want to get back to work. We want to provide for our families.”