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Hollywood Park Casino might lay off all 600 workers

February 20, 2013 |  5:38 pm

 

The California Gambling Control Commission is expected to vote Thursday on a license request for a new operator to take over Hollywood Park Casino in Inglewood, a move that might result in the layoffs of all 600 casino workers.

The employees received their termination notices several weeks ago after months of speculation, and have been holding occasional protests outside the Inglewood card club. 

“If I lose my job, then I lose my house,” said Tafere Haileselassie, 61, whose wife also works at the casino and received the same notice.  Haileselassie said he put his two children through college and bought a house in the Crenshaw district, all on his minimum-wage salary he earned as a porter at Hollywood Park casino.

Under new management, the retro-looking casino is scheduled for renovation, with upscale gaming and entertainment.

Since 2009, city officials have been touting a $2-billion revitalization plan that will transform the historic racetrack into a retail and residential complex. The new project, called Hollywood Park Tomorrow, will incorporate the existing Hollywood Park Casino. Horse racing will be replaced with a shopping and entertainment district. Additional plans call for a 25-acre park, including a lake and a waterfall.

“I’m excited about the opportunities this facility has to offer,” said Eric Swallow, who has applied to become the casino’s new operator. “It’s a diamond in the rough.”

Swallow said the final plan calls for adding jobs and hiring many workers from the local community. Although all the exisitng employees received layoff notices, Swallow said he hopes to “hire as many people as I can.”

But casino employees -- many of whom are older, immigrant workers – said his actions tell a different story.

Swallow has not yet signed an agreement pledging to keep the employees for a specific amount of time, an action he said is illegal since his bid to become the new operator has not been approved by the city and the gaming commission.

The Inglewood City Council was set to approve the license earlier this month, noting that rejecting the request could cause the casino to close temporarily and result in a reduction in city revenue. Inglewood expects to receive $3.8 million in fees from the card club this fiscal year.

But at the last minute, Mayor James Butts pulled the contentious item from the agenda to allow the union and Swallow time to iron out a deal before the California Gambling Control Commission votes on the license request on Thursday. Those talks have since reached a stalemate.

However, union leaders said that Swallow is already acting as the new manager and may be trying to cut costs by hiring part-time workers. He has started recruiting new employees, advertising job openings on Craigslist and holding career fairs at the nearby racetrack.

“It’s very clear to me that he is trying to string us along and fire all, if not most, of the employees,” said Tom Walsh, president of United Here, Local 11, the union for 150 of the hospitality workers. “This will have a devastating affect on local communities who survive on these jobs.”

The jobs at stake are not glamorous. Most are hospitality and cleaning positions, but the pay is decent. Workers can earn $8 to $11 an hour plus tips and a full benefits package.

On Monday, dozens of casino workers protested outside the Hollywood Park entrance gate, holding signs and chanting “save our jobs” as drivers honked their horns in support. Meanwhile, dozens of job hopefuls lined up outside the racetrack to apply for the same positions that the workers were fighting to keep.

“All transitions are difficult,” Swallow said. “I understand all the employees’ concerns.”

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-- Angel Jennings

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