Casino to pay employees for 90 days

Friday fire impacts workers, community
March 23, 2009 3:59:15 PM PDT
The Empress Casino remains closed after a huge fire burned through the complex. The city of Joliet has taken a big financial hit, losing $30,000 a day as long as the Empress remains closed.

The casino's general manager held a press conference on Monday afternoon. He's hopeful the casino can reopen within the next three months and he says that during that time employees will get paid.

With security blocking the entrance, employees are just about the only people allowed on the Empress Casino grounds. A temporary office has been set up in the R.V. parking lot to hand out paychecks, something employees were not able to get Friday when the fire broke out or over the weekend.

As for reopening, casino management is not sure when. But it says it will pay employees, at least for the short term.

"We will be paying our employees for up to 90 days with full pay and full benefits and for the tip folks, we're going to be paying them 50 percent of any of their reported tip income," said Frank Quigley, Empress Casino general manager.

The fire broke out at the Egyptian themed gambling bar last Friday. While the pavillion which houses restaurants and shops was destroyed, the money maker, the casino, emerged unscathed - good news not only for the Empress but for the city of Joliet as well.

"We get about $900,000 a month from the casino in gaming and $20,000 or $30,000 in other taxes," said Ken Michilich , City of Joliet.

The empress says every day it remains closed it loses $500,000 in revenue and nearby businesses like Sara's restaurant are also out of luck. Most of its customers are Empress workers.

"Definitely affects my tips, that's for sure. And as far as being busy, if she cuts hours or whatever, you know, if it doesn't pick up she might cut the hours.," said Marlena Venitez, Sara's Restaurant.

There is one business that's actually seen a benefit since the Empress has closed down. That is its competition, Harrah's in downtown Joliet. Harrah's tells ABC7 they saw a moderate increase in competition but it's not a big increase because the Empress is honoring some of their promotional offers at the Hollywood in Aurora.