Casino workers take layoff concerns to lawmakers
By Matt Mikus firstname.lastname@example.org February 4, 2013 2:44PM
Updated: February 4, 2013 6:27PM
INDIANAPOLIS — Casino workers from Northwest Indiana will head to the Statehouse on Tuesday to ask lawmakers to ensure that casinos keep their promise of providing stable jobs in Indiana.
The General Assembly is considering Senate Bill 528 that could return as much as $235 million of state tax revenues to the casino operators. The bill would also lessen restrictions on new types of gambling.
But casino workers are worried the money will go back to the casino owners, instead of supporting jobs.
According to the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, state gaming industries employ 12,700 people, a decrease of about 1,200 jobs from five years ago and 3,300 jobs from 10 years ago.
Workers in Northwest Indiana felt the loss directly when the Majestic Star laid off about 80 workers in November, said Carly Karmel, a spokeswoman for the hospitality workers union, Unite Here Local 1. The casino cited increased competition, seasonal fluctuations, and the economy for the layoffs, yet did not provide advance notice.
The Majestic Star Casino is controlled by Wayzata Investment Partners, a Minnesota-based investment firm with around $7.5 billion in assets. The casino has 1,344 employees, with about 332 of them represented by the union.
Karmel said casinos owned by out-of-state companies promised to offer state revenues and secure jobs to Indiana in order to operate within the state.
“When you’re laying off workers,” Karmel said, “you’re not exactly keeping your promise to keep stable jobs in the state. The money they’re going to save could be shipped straight out of the state to their billionaire owners.”
Sen. Phil Boots, R-Crawfordsville, authored the bill, and said the intent was to keep casinos competitive.
“If this helps keep them in business,” he said, “then it will help them keep jobs. They can’t provide jobs if they have to close.”
Holding on to any funds they gain by reworking the tax structure on casinos won’t help them stay in business, said Sen. Jim Arnold, D-LaPorte, who also sponsors the bill.
“They won’t be competitive by putting the money in their pockets,” Arnold said. “They’ll remain competitive by expanding and making their location a more attractive destination.”
The bill was approved by the Public Policy committee, but must pass the Appropriations Committee before going for a vote on the Senate floor.