The Graton Resort & Casino is the Bay Area’s largest gambling hub, and one of Sonoma County’s largest employers.
But with a nationwide casino shutdown that’s lasted nearly two months, the casino-resort had to look into cutting costs to survive the economic downfall caused by COVID-19.
While the company was able to pay a majority of its workers and cover healthcare benefits through April, with the realization that it might be a few more weeks until casino doors everywhere can reopen again, they were forced into looking at would drastically help their business’ bottom line.
In an effort to massively reduce payroll costs, the Graton Resort & Casino furloughed a third of its employees last Friday.
Furloughs, Lay-Offs, and Management Cuts
The company’s latest move to financially protect its assets involved not only furloughs, but complete lay-offs to recent employees, and pay cuts to upper management members, says Greg Sarris, tribal chairman of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, owner of the casino property.
According to Sarris, recognizing that coronavirus restrictions on nonessential businesses would put off the casino reopening for weeks, it became time to look into ways to help save on payroll costs to prepare for being shut down even longer.
Workers who were with the casino property for less than 90 day were laid off, while top members of management received a 20% pay cut.
Sarris says that as the company watched the virus go from bad to worse, they started asking what they had to do to make up for lost revenue during these challenging times.
Casino Workers Likely Eligible for Unemployment Assistance
When casino workers began receiving federal checks, it started to become clear that these workers would also be eligible to receive unemployment assistance.
Realizing this made the hard decision to furlough three-quarters of the casino’s 2,000 workers a bit easier, because it gave upper management peace of mind that they would receive state unemployment assistance.
According to Graton’s general manager, Lana Rivera, 350 salaries workers remain employed currently. Another 150 workers also remain employed with the casinos, in roles ranging from casino security to cleaning crews and kitchen staff.
Impact on Sonoma County’s Hospitality Workforce
The Sonoma County hospitality workforce accounts for nearly 23,000 jobs.
According to the California Hotel & Lodging Association, over a third of the county’s hotel properties have been shut down. Countywide, there are 160 hotel properties, all of which have been impacted to varying degrees due to the coronavirus shut down.
Although pay for furlough workers has ceased, many of Sonoma county’s hotel properties continue to provide healthcare benefits for qualifying workers, according to the lodging association’s CEO, Lynn Mohrfeld.
Four-Step Plan to Reopening
Sarris says he foresees a “modest reopening” for early June, and mentioned Wynn Resorts’ prediction of a Memorial Day weekend reopening for its properties in Las Vegas.
To ease California Gov. Newsom’s concerns for the casinos reopening, Sarris has developed a four-step reopening plan.
“We will work very closely with him to reopen in phases, and it’ll look a lot like a ‘Brave New World’,” Sarris said. “Machines will be 6 feet apart and you cannot take off your mask unless you’re seated at a machine. Tables will be spaced apart and only three people allowed at a time, with the dealer heavily masked.”
The casino property’s four-stage reopening plan echoes the Governor’s four-stage plan for reopening the state’s economy. However, since the tribal casino is a sovereign nation, it isn’t tied down Newsom’s statewide order or the county’s shutdown.
Sarris says he agrees with the Governor’s data and science-based approach to dealing with the outbreak, and their property will adhere to all possible safety precautions should they reopen ahead of the governor and the county.
“I’ve never had the attitude of, ‘Well, we don’t have to do what you tell us’,” Sarris said. “We are good neighbors, and we live here, too.”
State Prepares to Reopen Retail Stores, And Restaurants in Rural Counties
This Friday, Gov. Newsom is allowing the shutdown restriction to be lifted for some retail sectors, including bookstores, clothing shops, sporting goods stores, and flower shops.
These specific retail businesses will be able to resume operations, so long as local officials give their approval, and make operational changes to support coronavirus safety measures, such as having workers wear masks and other protective equipment.
The Governor said many counties across the state are preparing to reopen retail for curbside pickup Friday, which will help maintain physical-distancing measures, which will in turn help to continue to fight the spread of COVID-19.
The reopening of these retail sectors are a part of Stage 2 of the Governor’s four-stage plan and includes the reopening of restaurants and hospitality in rural counties with approval from elected leaders and health officers.
With some of the restrictions being lifted in California by week’s end, it will provide some valuable insight into how well the state will fare once sectors begin reopening and should hopefully help determine when casinos in the state can open back up.
Currently, the state has 54,937 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 2,254 related deaths.
We hope that the Governor’s four-stage plan will help effectively prevent the further spread of COVID-19, but the fluid outbreak situation and phased reopening of sectors will need to be monitored closely before the next steps can be taken.
What do you think about California reopening retail businesses and restaurants in rural communities? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.