Grand Falls Casino continues full pay for all employees
Tuesday 7th April 2020
Entertainment and hospitality companies all over the country are laying off thousands of employees due to the COVID-19 closures, but one large local employer in KELOLAND is working to keep its nearly 500 employees on the payroll.
For three weeks now, Grand Falls Casino and Golf Resort have been closed to the thousands of people who usually visit and the hundreds of people who work there. But even though they're not working, there's some good news for employees at the Larchwood, Iowa casino.
"We closed at 5:00 p.m. on March 16, we did that voluntarily and then the governor closed casinos a few hours later on March 17," Grand Falls General Manager Sharon Haselhoff said.
That closure instantly put hundreds of employees like dealer Teresa Akok out of work.
"It gave me fear because I've been here for three years, so I was kind of scared for a little bit but then we got the messages, we got the emails saying it was ok," Akok said.
"That first communication we did with our employees was to let them know that we were going to pay them through the end of March. Then the next communication was that we would pay them through April 14, then over the weekend we let them know that we would pay them through the end of April," Haselhoff said.
That's a total of three pay periods where the casino is fully closed, but their usual payroll is still going out; an expense of roughly $730,000 every two weeks.
"There are a lot of gaming companies across the country and even in the state of Iowa that are furloughing their employees and laying them off. I think the big difference is you know we're a local company and we have local representation on our board of directors. They literally see the impact these decisions make to their employees and to their community," Haselhoff said.
While the employees at Grand Falls are used to helping guests who visit right now they're glad for the help for their own families.
"It's an amazing place to work in, I love how they love us, its like a family here. We're still getting paid. We're not just getting our wages, we're getting tips like we would be getting if we were still working," Akok said.
That security comes at a time when Akok says she knows many people who are out of work, not getting paid and struggling to pay their bills.
"Grand Falls make us feel safe, like we're ok, besides this whole thing that's going on, we're safe," Akok said.
There's enough to worry about in this time, so knowing that you're getting paid is just a huge relief," Haselhoff said.
At Grand Falls Casino the total payroll price tag for these three pay periods of closures is roughly $2.2 million. Their owners, Elite Casino Resorts, are also paying all of the employees at their two other locations in Riverside and Davenport, Iowa as well.
Haselhoff said the company is looking to see if they can apply for any kind of federal aid, but know it may not be an option. Still, the company is committed to paying all employees through the end of April. As that deadline approaches, Haselhoff says the board of directors will likely meet again to discuss how to continuing moving forward.