Upstate casino looks far and wide for workers

Thursday 10th December 2020

Folks around Central New York shouldn't be surprised if they notice an unusual number of Florida and Nevada license plates on their roads in the coming months.

That's because the Oneida Indian Nation is recruiting laid-off gaming and hospitality workers in Orlando, Fla. and Las Vegas for their Turning Stone casino and resort complex.

Turning Stone is looking to fill 250 openings ranging from card dealers to shop managers and restaurant workers to name a few, according to ads they have placed online.

That's in contrast to other casinos including Rivers Casino and Resort in Schenectady, that have furloughed or laid off workers since the COVID-19 pandemic began in the spring.

Unlike casinos licensed by New York State, Turning Stone is on sovereign Oneida territory. They don't have to adhere to the capacity restrictions that casinos like Rivers has to. The state casinos are currently at 25 percent capacity. Nor do they have to close at 10 p.m. due to COVID restrictions, like the other casinos

Spokesman Joel Barkin stressed that they are voluntarily following COVID precautions including mandatory masks and 6-foot distancing. Their restaurants are at 50 percent capacity and their night club entertainment and shows are shut down.

But they are still hiring.

Their initial recruitment is targeting Central New York and Orlando, where thousands of Disney World employees have lost their jobs due to the pandemic.

But they have also reached out to people from Buffalo and the Capital Region, Barkin said. And they plan to target people in New York City and Atlantic City - two places where the pandemic has tanked the tourism-entertainment industries.

"Since launching the campaign we have 71 accepted offers - 30 from Orlando and 41 from Central New York," Barkin said in an email.

One challenge that casinos may face is that some may not want to work for fear of getting COVID themselves, noted Alan Woinski, who runs the Gaming USA Corp., a casino consulting firm and newsletter.

"It may just be that people don't want to work, that they are afraid to work," he said.

He said he wasn't sure why the casino was reaching out to Florida given the distance from upstate New York and the number of unemployed people in the state.

At Rivers casino, about 1,000 of the facility's employees went off the payroll when they shut down earlier in the year. They have since reopened at limited capacity and currently have 731 people on staff, said spokesman Al Roney.

They also have about a dozen current openings ranging from card dealers, to room cleaners to accountants.

In the Orlando area, about 18,000 Disney World employees have been let go, of about 77,000 people at the company's theme parks.

Certainly, gambling establishments are feeling the pandemic pinch, like other entertainment venues.

The Vernon Downs harness track and Video Lottery Terminal facility or racino, about 10 minutes from Turning Stone, recently extended through January the furlough of about 60 food service workers.

"The amount of customers is still down dramatically," said Gaming USA's Woinski.

Still, if one wants to find experienced hospitality workers, Orlando would be a good place to start, said Mike Kane, president and executive director of the New York Gaming Association, which represents harness track/racinos.

"It's a buyers' market," he said of those jobs.

Turning Stone was and will continue as county's largest employer, with nearly 5,000 people pre-COVID, noted Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente, who has been working with the tribe to get local people back to work as well.

And if they can bring in people from Las Vegas or Florida, it could help reverse, in a small way, what has been a years-long exodus of people from upstate New York including Oneida County, which also includes the city of Utica.

"If people are looking for looking a change, it's a great place to come," Picente said of his county.

Source
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