LV casino workers tell of making 1,000 calls to file jobless claims

Friday 10th April 2020

Others describe the process of filing for unemployment 'virtually impossible'

Desperate Las Vegas casino workers have made as many as 1,000 calls in a single day trying to file jobless claims, yet are still unable to get through, as states are struggling to keep up with an increase of claims due to the coronavirus crisis.

New nationwide figures from this week recorded 6.3 million new jobless claims, on top of 6.6 million from the week before, bringing the country's unemployment figure to 16.8 million.

But states' systems are being overwhelmed with out-of-work people trying to submit jobless claims, suggesting the official unemployment number is being drastically undercounted.

In Las Vegas, all but a few thousand of the city's 206,000 casino workers have been furloughed, but Nevada is only reporting 244,105 jobless claims for the entire state over the past three weeks.

One casino worker told DailyMail.com it took them more than two weeks and 1,000 calls a day to finally get through and file for unemployment, as others describe the process as 'virtually impossible'.

Desperate Las Vegas casino workers have made as many as 1,000 calls in a single day trying to file jobless claims, with several waiting up to three weeks, as states are struggling to keep up with an increase of claims due to the coronavirus crisis

New nationwide figures from this week recorded 6.3 million new jobless claims, on top of 6.6 million from the week before, bringing the country's unemployment figure to 16.8 million

Many states have been hit by warnings that outdated systems cannot cope with the surging amount of jobless people, suggesting the U.S. is already well above 10 percent real unemployment.

In Florida, over four days at the end of March, out of 864,313 calls to its state unemployment center, 771,605 went unanswered, News4Jax.com reported. The state has now set up a new website and started allowing paper applications.

In New Jersey, the governor appealed for help from retired computer programers who know the outdated language the unemployment system uses, and in Texas, the state Workforce Commission received 130 times the normal number of calls in one 24-hour period, the Texas Observer reported.

In Las Vegas furloughed casino workers told DailyMail.com how it was impossible to actually make an unemployment claim and how they had been waiting up to three weeks to file.

One Treasure Island worker told of making up to 1,000 calls in just eight hours in an attempt to file and said she currently has $300 to see her through the next five weeks, when casino owners have set an ideal re-opening date.

Others, including employees at Caesars Palace, Planet Hollywood and Paris Las Vegas say they have spent nine hours a day on the phone and have found it 'virtually impossible' to get hold of cash.

In Nevada, claims are administered by the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation DETR.

Filing is a two-step process - an initial application detailing work history and circumstances and then, once the claim is reviewed and accepted, it must be re-filed each week.

Marcy Taylor, 56, (pictured) worked in reservations at Treasure Island until being furloughed on March 20 when she was handed her final weekly paycheck of $300. Now she says she is relying on friends and family to get by until she gets her first unemployment payment in three weeks' time. She said: 'My hotel is privately owned and he furloughed us so we can collect unemployment. The problem with that is I have filed for unemployment but it took me over two weeks and over a thousand calls every day to finally get through'

Under normal circumstances, filing a claim can take up to a week and be done in person, online or by phone.

But Nevada has ordered its physical offices closed - leading to overwhelmed phonelines and a website that crashes repeatedly; despite efforts by the DETR to hire extra staff to cope with the surge in demand.

For the newly unemployed or furloughed, Covid-19 has created a perfect storm with some being forced to make their final paycheck stretch for weeks.

Marcy Taylor, 56, worked in reservations at Treasure Island until being furloughed on March 20 when she was handed her final weekly paycheck of $300.

In Las Vegas, all but a few thousand of the city's 206,000 casino workers have been furloughed, but Nevada is only reporting 244,105 jobless claims for the entire state over the past three weeks

Now she says she is relying on friends and family to get by until she gets her first unemployment payment in three weeks' time.

She said: 'My hotel is privately owned and he furloughed us so we can collect unemployment. The problem with that is I have filed for unemployment but it took me over two weeks and over a thousand calls every day to finally get through.

'It's going to be a long time until I get my check. They said it could be three weeks or longer. I last got paid two weeks ago - it was for $300. I've got that to live on for five weeks.'

Thanks to its reliance on gaming and hospitality, Las Vegas is the US city most likely to suffer the worst from the economic effects of the Covid-19 shutdown.

A recent report by the Brookings Institute put the number of jobs at risk from the crisis in the city at 342,050 - with the city reporting more unemployment claims in the last three weeks than in the whole of 2019.

The vast majority of the city's employees work for the casinos or associated industries such as restaurants with 77,000 working for MGM International alone.

Caesars Entertainment isn't far behind with 65,000 while Las Vegas Sands and Wynn Resorts have 50,500 and 25,200 staff members, respectively.

Now all of the casinos are boarded up, their neon lights shut off and the famous Las Vegas Strip eerily quiet but for the odd security guard.

Thanks to its reliance on gaming and hospitality, Las Vegas is the US city most likely to suffer badly from the economic effects of the Covid-19 shutdown

A recent report by the Brookings Institute put the number of jobs at risk from the crisis in the city at 342,050 - with the city reporting more unemployment claims in the last three weeks than in the whole of 2019

In February, the casinos racked up more than $596 million in gambling revenues alone and welcomed 3.3 million visitors, according to the tourist bureau. In April, there are none.

Although some casinos, including the MGM and the Venetian, have said they will continue to pay furloughed staff, others such as Caesars and Boyd Gaming, which owns the Fremont Hotel and Casino among others, will not.

For their employees, it means filing for unemployment - in some cases, for the first time in their entire working lives.

David Johnson, 65, has worked as a craps dealer at Caesars Palace for 42 years. Although his official hourly salary is $8.23, with tips, he makes up to $90,000 a year.

Now he will be living on a $423 weekly unemployment check for the duration of the crisis and said, although he will be okay, many of his colleagues are struggling.

Johnson said: 'I just got my last paycheck and I filed for unemployment for the first time in my life, which I never thought I'd have to do.

'For a lot of people, unfortunately they live paycheck to paycheck so they're going to be losing their homes or apartments and won't be able to buy food. There's a lot going on.

'Certainly, I know in the gaming industry, there's 220,000 people and then there's all the ancillary businesses that supply them - liquor, [food supplier] Sysco and all of that kind of stuff. So in this town, it's at least a half a million or more out of work.'

David Johnson, 65, has worked as a craps dealer at Caesar's Palace for 42 years. Although his official hourly salary is $8.23, with tips, he makes up to $90,000 a year. Now he will be living on a $423 weekly unemployment check for the duration of the crisis and said, although he will be okay, many of his colleagues are struggling

Now all of the casinos are boarded up, their neon lights shut off and the famous Las Vegas Strip eerily quiet but for the odd security

The misery has been compounded by the logjams at DETR. Since the physical premises were ordered to close last week, phonelines have been.

And although more staff have been hired and the hours expanded, most of the newly unemployed spoken to by DailyMail.com say it isn't enough.

Johnson says he spent a day speed dialing DETR on two phones, only to receive a call back on Saturday morning when it had closed.

He eventually got through and is still going through the process of applying, including having to get his doctor fax information.

With so many out of work, Las Vegas PD has seen an uptick in crime - recording a five percent increase in domestic abuse last week, compared to the same week of 2019.

Police statistics show that aggravated assault has also climbed by 13.1 percent, knife attacks by 31.6 percent and beatings by 38.9 percent.

For most, the struggle to apply for unemployment is all consuming.

Cyara Neel, 36, has been 'placed on hold' from her job at the Las Vegas Mini Grand Prix and, after battling to file her own claim, set up a Facebook group for frustrated would-be filers called Unemployment Nevada Information and Help.

Cyara Neel, 36, has been 'placed on hold' from her job at the Las Vegas Mini Grand Prix and, after battling to file her own claim, set up a Facebook group for frustrated would-be filers called Unemployment Nevada Information and Help. Neel told DailyMail.com: 'My experience was three weeks and I see a whole lot of people on my page saying the same thing - three weeks, four weeks'

The group now has almost 7,000 members - many of whom have been complaining about the lengthy wait to file for unemployment.

Neel told DailyMail.com: 'My experience was three weeks and I see a whole lot of people on my page saying the same thing - three weeks, four weeks.

'Several weeks on the phone every day trying to call them, trying to get on a call back list. To talk to somebody, an actual person, is three to four weeks. It's a long wait.

'The normal wait time was a week, maybe two at the very most. You could just call in and get hold of someone immediately. That's not happening at all.'

For Taylor and Johnson, their hope is now that the Covid-19 crisis passes as quickly as possible and allows them back to work.

Taylor said: 'I have family who are helping me. Then I'll just have to work on paying people back as I go. It makes it hard.

'If unemployment comes through then everything won't be ok but it'll doable. I think if we can just get back to work and it's definitely clean and safe, then we can all work on getting through this [crisis].'

Johnson, who hopes to return to his work at Caesar's Palace when the casinos reopen, added: 'Las Vegas is pretty resilient. Everybody loves coming here. I think over time, things will get back to normal.'

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