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Casino worker BP claims denied

Restaurant workers faring better

In late September, a man who lives on the Coast and works for a casino part-time and for a restaurant part-time went into the BP Claims Facility to submit his claim for lost wages as a result of the oil spill.
The man, who spoke to the Mississippi Business Journal on the condition his name not be used, was in the facility for five minutes and was never asked to provide any sort of identification.
“I had to go back and give all that to them, three different times,” he said.
His claim process saddled with all the vital information, including check stubs from 2009 and 2010 the man says prove his income was reduced by nearly $5,000 in the months after the spill, he waited and hoped for the best.
He waited some more until his claim was finally denied. In a letter from the Claims Facility, the man was told he could not prove a loss of income. He has since appealed.
His case is one of nearly 7,000 Mississippi claims BP says it is still reviewing, and one example of casino workers having their claims dismissed, he says.
“What it comes down to is there are a lot of people who work at casinos and should have gotten claims and they haven’t,” said the man, who wouldn’t tell the MBJ which casino he worked for because he had signed a confidentiality agreement not to speak publicly about his employer. To go with his job at a casino, he works for a company that owns franchise restaurants, and whose employees have been awarded spill claims, at least those who don’t also work for a casino. “What’s the difference between a restaurant across the street from the casino and the restaurant inside a casino? If they’re paying claims to one, they should pay claims to all. It’s almost like there’s a loophole through the logic.”
Rep. Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto, who serves as the chairman of the House Gaming Committee, is seeking the same answers.
After a meeting with officials on the Coast in mid-November, BP claims administrator Ken Feinberg said he planned to appoint somebody within his office to review claims submitted by casino workers.
Moak hopes to meet either with Feinberg or his casino claims appointee soon.
“Here’s what I think is happening,” Moak said. “Let’s say you have a waitress who works at one of the restaurants in a casino, and then at another restaurant across the road. There seems to be a lot of that.
“The person who doesn’t work at a casino is filing a claim and getting compensation. The person who works at the casino, it doesn’t appear that’s happening. I guess the blanket reason has been that it appears casino revenues are up, or were right after the oil spill. Therefore if casino revenues are up there’s no way an employee can be losing money.”
Statistics from the Mississippi Gaming Commission show that casino gaming revenue from April to May was up about $3.5 million before dropping nearly $10 million in June, to around $87 million. Revenues rebounded substantially in July and August, topping out at more than $101 million.
The fallacy in the argument that revenues being up means employees are not losing money, Moak said, is that gaming revenues are up because casinos spent more money than usual luring visitors.
“Especially during June, July and August they have comped large amounts of money (in things like hotel rooms and meals) to keep the gross gaming revenue number up,” he said. “So their bottom line might not be reflecting a winning season. The bottom line is shrinking. It’s not calculating that the waitresses, the valets, the housekeepers are not getting the amount of tips they normally get. It’s funny because those people can actually validate their tip income because they have to report it and/or they’re paid an hourly rate.
“Just because gaming revenue is up, they think everybody’s making money,” Moak continued. “That’s what we’re attempting to change. There’s a different way of looking at this. Right now I think it’s a misconception.”
This time last year, the casino worker’s work week was full. He had more work than he could handle. Now, he says, between his two jobs his work week averages 22 hours. He calculates his loss at nearly $5,000.
“I used to work five days a week,” he said. “Now I work two days a week. Sometimes I work three. It’s just not what it used to be.”

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About Clay Chandler