Meskwaki Casino Layoffs Highlight Need For Online Casino Games In Iowa

Written By Derek Helling on October 14, 2020

As the Hawkeye State continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, 100 more Iowans are temporarily out of work. According to casino officials, a round of layoffs at the Meskwaki Bingo Casino Hotel in Tama last week is the result of diminished revenues.

An unfortunate part of this story is those layoffs could have been avoidable. There is an action the state can take to try to prevent this result in the future.

Details of latest Meskwaki casino layoffs

The casino, operated by the Sac and Fox Tribe of the Mississippi, laid off 100 employees. Those workers served guests in the beverage and food departments.

General manager Dan Stromer said most of them were already furloughed. Stromer also stressed that the casino plans to bring as many staff members back as the budget allows and as soon as the casino resumes further operations.

The pandemic situation in the Tama community isn’t promising. Last month, the state fined the Iowa Premium meatpacking plant due to an outbreak of more than 300 positive COVID-19 tests.

Furthermore, indoor dining spaces still face capacity restrictions and distancing mandates. The tribe may not be able to restore most of these workers to their positions until after health mandates become a thing of the past.

Iowa tribal casinos don’t report their monthly revenue numbers to the state as commercial casinos do. For that reason, it’s difficult to ascertain how much of a financial hit the Meskwaki casino has experienced.

In the meantime, Iowa sportsbooks saw a record handle for September. The Meskwaki casino does not offer online or retail sports betting due to the terms of its compact. However, it could renegotiate. Iowa sports betting could provide an additional revenue stream for the casino.

Another expansion of Iowa casino gambling could have a similar effect on all IA casinos.

Online poker, slots and table games to the rescue

The Iowa Casino Association plans to pitch legalizing online gaming to state legislators early next year. While it’s not clear how much support it has, the situation in Tama is part of the argument in favor.

While casinos are operating with restrictions, online casino games could provide another revenue stream insulated from those effects like online sports betting. Only, iGaming can be much more lucrative.

Some state that the average online casino customer is worth seven times as much as an online sports bettor to a gambling company. The pandemic only positively affected those numbers in places such as New Jersey, where online casino revenue nearly doubled when brick-and-mortar casinos closed.

As much as it could be a supplemental revenue stream for casinos, it could provide the same for the state. Additionally, as it might help keep people working, it would drive the economy in IA that way.

The launch of legal online casino products in IA could be years off yet. Hopefully, the laid-off Meskwaki employees will be back to work before then.

Photo by / Andrii Yalanskyi
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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a lead writer for PlayUSA and the manager of BetHer. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.

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