N.J. casinos can reopen, but many workers still ‘waiting for the call’

Borgata casino

This June 26, 2013 photos shows the exterior of the Borgata casino in Atlantic City, N.J. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)

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Atlantic City casinos are cleared to open Thursday for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic took hold in New Jersey, but the fate of many workers is still uncertain.

The 25% capacity limit and other restrictions imposed by Gov. Phil Murphy means casinos — if they open at all — may not bring back all the workers who were laid off at the start of the outbreak.

“We’re ready to work,” said Mario E. Guzman, a food server at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa. “We’re just waiting for the call.”

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The Borgata announced earlier this week that it would not reopen Thursday as planned, after Murphy backtracked on a vow to allow indoor dining to begin on the same day. Murphy said virus spikes elsewhere in the country and reports of unmasked patrons at New Jersey eateries caused him to reverse course.

Casinos can still open, but they won’t be able to serve alcohol or let patrons smoke. They must also cap admittance at 25% of capacity.

Yet even as the Atlantic City tourism industry limps back into existence, many workers fear that the economic fallout will continue for them and their families.

“It just breaks my heart,” Guzman said.

For those who are back on the job, safety is a top priority.

Iris Sanchez, a housekeeper at Caesars Atlantic City Hotel & Casino, returned to work earlier this week to clean rooms in preparation for new guests. She said she was hoping for more comprehensive training on how to stay safe at work.

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“We want to make sure that our job is safe for us and for the guests. We want to be safe for everybody,” Sanchez said.

Many workers resorted to unemployment benefits to survive after they were laid off, and the Murphy administration announced Wednesday that it was offering an additional 20 weeks of financial aid to jobless residents who have exhausted their state and federal benefits.

But both Guzman and Sanchez noted that many workers also lost their health insurance after they were laid off, and they and their families could go without coverage even longer if they do not work enough hours to qualify for the benefit.

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