'It’s pretty much a ghost town': Caesars Windsor workers anxious for return to work

While there’s excitement over the sports betting legislation working its way through parliament, there are still many unknowns about when Caesars will be able to reap the benefits — or open its doors.

The casino has been closed for almost the entire pandemic, except for very limited numbers allowed to attend in the fall of 2020, and that’s made life tough on Mike and Heather O’Neil.

“It’s pretty much a ghost town,” says Mike O’Neil, who works in the maintenance division. After a two-week hiatus in March 2020, he’s been working non-stop maintaining the grounds along with a couple other workers.

“Get your temperature taken, fill out your paperwork, and I might not see another human until noon, so it’s definitely different from what normal life is around here,” O’Neil says.

Mike’s wife, Heather O’Neil is a table game dealer. She’s been out of her job the whole pandemic.

“We’re out the door. We haven’t been back,” she says. “We had no idea it would last this long. We thought a couple weeks. A month or so. But it’s tough, it’s tough being at home.”

Heather has collected the Canada Emergency Response Benefit and unemployment. But for many reasons, she’s anxious to return.

“It’s not just about missing a pay cheque, it’s missing your friends, your customers, and everything like that. It’s a comaraderie,” she says.

The pair is represented by Unifor local 444, along with 2,200 other unionized employees, who have continued to collect their benefits throughout the shutdown.

“I’m waiting. I need the call back,” Heather says.

Exactly when that will be and what it will look like is a bit of a mystery.

Under Ontario’s reopening plan, casinos will be able to reopen at a limited capacity in Step 3 — projected to be later in July.

The casino is waiting to receive further direction from the province on reopening capacity and restrictions under Step 3, according to Scott Jenkins, the spokesperson for Caesars Windsor.

“We are well prepared with our health and safety protocols in place, to provide our staff members with a safe and comfortable environment so they can continue to do what they do best – deliver the best service to our valued guests,” Jenkins says.

“We know it has been a long haul and we recognize how hard it has been on all of our valued staff and their families,” Jenkins writes. “We are hopeful that with the vaccination rates increasing and case counts declining daily, we will be able to reopen soon under Step 3 and we are excited to welcome them back.”

Jenkins adds there’s a lot of excitement over the passage of Bill C-218, which is now on its way to the final step of Royal Assent to become law.

“We are thrilled to be able to compete with Michigan and online in the single event sports arena.  This has been a long time coming and we are excited to bring an exciting sports betting option to our valued guests and give them another compelling reason to choose Caesars,” says Jenkins. “Single event sports betting is a competitive requirement to keep us on a level playing field with our competition.”

But for workers, there’s more anticipation about just getting back.

“With the case numbers being down so much, you just hope when we finally do open, things may progress quicker than what we think and who knows, maybe by the fall, we’ll be back to normal, 24/7,” says Mike O’Neil.

“That’s the hope anyway."