With their future and gov’t millions in play, casino owners, employees demand reopening

By The Star Staff

The owners, operators and employees of some 15 of Puerto Rico’s casinos held a virtual press conference on Tuesday requesting that the government immediately reopen hotel casinos so more than 3,000 workers can return to their jobs.

Since March 16 and after briefly operating in July without any incidents of infection from the coronavirus, hotel casinos were ordered to shut down through an executive order.

Hotel casinos have been paralyzed, resulting in a devastating blow to the more than 3,000 direct employees and the more than 80,000 tourism industry employees who likewise have been affected, casino officials said.

The outlook looms even more bleakly in light of the reality that many of these people who had to be laid off in March and again in July have not received their unemployment benefits, thus lacking income to support their families, industry spokespeople said.

The decisions to close casino operations have come to be seen as unfounded and not based on an evaluation of all the rigorous and strict measures taken by the casino industry, participants in the virtual conference said.

“It’s time now for the closures to be done using empirical evidence. This closure has been nefarious and affects day by day the physical and mental health of thousands of Puerto Rican families,” the groups said in a statement. “Many of these families are led by women who have been unable to pay for housing, buy food and school supplies, or have a health plan for their children and family.”

The closure also directly affects the economy and government of Puerto Rico since the casinos contribute nearly $150 million to the budget of the University of Puerto Rico, the Tourism Co. and the General Fund, the groups added.

This hurts teachers and students,” they said.

Before being ordered to close, casinos implemented numerous measures in consideration of employees, customers and suppliers to avoid the spread of the coronavirus.They invested in and implemented without reservation protocols, rigorous cleaning and disinfection, mandatory use of masks, taking of temperatures, occupancy reduction and physical distancing, the group said. They also conducted monitoring through cameras and security guards to ensure that protocols were followed.

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