Mass unemployment filing starts for thousands of laid-off Atlantic City casino workers

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Opened in 2012, Revel was supposed to breathe new life into Atlantic City's stagnant economy, but instead the casino, along with two others, is closing, leaving many to question what's next for the city once known as America's playground. (Sept. 2)

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Former Revel Hotel Casino employees, Fatuma Kamara holds her 11-month-old baby Mussa as she gets help from Kristanna Brown as she files for unemployment benefits Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014, in Atlantic City, N.J. Thousands of newly laid-off casino workers turned out at the Atlantic City Convention Center for a mass unemployment filing. The session Wednesday morning comes after a brutal weekend that saw more than 5,000 employees at the Showboat and Revel lose their jobs. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)


People sign up for unemployment and other benefits Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014, in Atlantic City, N.J. Thousands of newly laid-off casino workers turned out at the Atlantic City Convention Center for a mass unemployment filing. The session Wednesday morning comes after a brutal weekend that saw more than 5,000 employees at the Showboat and Revel lose their jobs. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)


People sign up for unemployment and other benefits Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014, in Atlantic City, N.J. Thousands of newly laid-off casino workers turned out at the Atlantic City Convention Center for a mass unemployment filing. The session Wednesday morning comes after a brutal weekend that saw more than 5,000 employees at the Showboat and Revel lose their jobs. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)


Former Revel Hotel Casino employees, Jignasha Shah, center, 45, and Ranjitsinh Rana, right, 56, get help from John McCaffery, as they file for unemployment benefits Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014, in Atlantic City, N.J. Thousands of newly laid-off casino workers turned out at the Atlantic City Convention Center for a mass unemployment filing. The session Wednesday morning comes after a brutal weekend that saw more than 5,000 employees at the Showboat and Revel lose their jobs. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)


Ruth Ann Joyce pauses as she addresses a gathering during an unemployment sign up event Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014, in Atlantic City, N.J. Thousands of newly laid-off casino workers turned out at the Atlantic City Convention Center for a mass unemployment filing. The session Wednesday morning comes after a weekend that saw more than 5,000 employees at the Showboat and Revel lose their jobs. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)


People wait to enter a room to sign up for unemployment at the Atlantic City Convention Center in Atlantic City, N.J. on Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014. Thousands of newly laid-off casino workers turned out for a mass unemployment filing. The Wednesday morning session comes after a weekend that saw more than 5,000 employees at the Showboat and Revel lose their jobs. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)


People wait in line to sign up for unemployment Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014, in Atlantic City, N.J. Thousands of newly laid-off casino workers turned out at the Atlantic City Convention Center for a mass unemployment filing. The session Wednesday morning comes after a brutal weekend that saw more than 5,000 employees at the Showboat and Revel lose their jobs. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)


People wait to enter a room to sign up for unemployment at the Atlantic City Convention Center in Atlantic City, N.J. on Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014. Thousands of newly laid-off casino workers turned out for a mass unemployment filing. The Wednesday morning session comes after a weekend that saw more than 5,000 employees at the Showboat and Revel lose their jobs. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)


People signing up for unemployment fill a room at the Atlantic City Convention Center in Atlantic City, N.J. on Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014. Thousands of newly laid-off casino workers turned out for a mass unemployment filing. The Wednesday morning session comes after a weekend that saw more than 5,000 employees at the Showboat and Revel lose their jobs. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)


People wait in line to sign up for unemployment Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014, in Atlantic City, N.J. Thousands of newly laid-off casino workers turned out at the Atlantic City Convention Center for a mass unemployment filing. The session Wednesday morning comes after a brutal weekend that saw more than 5,000 employees at the Showboat and Revel lose their jobs. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)


The Trump Plaza Hotel Casino is illuminated at night early Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014, in Atlantic City, N.J. Trump Plaza received final state approval Tuesday to close on Sept. 16, 2014. Atlantic City, which started the year with 12 casinos, will have eight by mid-September. Revel, which closed Tuesday, was the second Atlantic City casino to shut down over Labor Day weekend, joining the Showboat, which closed its doors Sunday. The Atlantic Club closed in January. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)


The Showboat Casino Hotel, which closed Sunday, is seen next to the Revel Casino Hotel, right, Monday, Sept. 1, 2014, in Atlantic City, N.J. The most spectacular and costly failure in Atlantic City's 36-year history of casino gambling began to play out Monday when the $2.4 billion Revel Casino Hotel emptied its hotel. Its casino will close early Tuesday morning. Revel is shutting down a little over two years after opening with high hopes of revitalizing Atlantic City's struggling gambling market. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)


ATLANTIC CITY, New Jersey — Carrying identification documents and bitterness over their sudden joblessness, hundreds of ex-casino workers began filing for unemployment Wednesday morning, the first attendees at an assistance center that expects to process 5,000 newly laid-off workers over the next three days.

The session at the Atlantic City Convention Center came after a brutal weekend that saw two casinos, the Showboat and Revel, close. Officials from the state Department of Labor and the main casino workers' union, Local 54 of Unite-HERE, helped displaced workers file for unemployment and gave them information on signing up for health insurance and other benefits.

By mid-September, Atlantic City, which started the year with 12 casinos, will be down to eight, and almost 8,000 people will be out of work. Trump Plaza is closing Sept. 16, and the Atlantic Club shut down in January.

About 300 workers were lined up when the doors opened at 9 a.m.; by early afternoon more than 750 had been processed.

"It's really depressing," said Dale Browne, who worked as a housekeeper at Showboat for 14 years. "People have mortgages, kids in school. We're afraid the crime rate is going to go up. I want to say we'll be all right down the road, but right now, it's rough."

Ruth Ann Joyce and her husband, Michael, were hired together as bartenders at Showboat when it opened in March 1987, and they raised a family on their casino jobs.

"We made good money. We had great benefits. We worked hard and we were rewarded for it," she said. "For the past 27 years, we had the American dream. This closing is a tragedy, and it didn't have to happen."

The state Department of Labor had 40 workers helping applicants register for unemployment and connect with job search resources. Other social service agencies helped enroll them for health insurance and food assistance.

"They don't want to collect unemployment," said Bob McDevitt, Local 54's president. "They just want to get to their next job."

Helpers assisted people in English, Spanish, Gujarati, Bangla, Hindi, Mandarin and Cantonese Chinese, Vietnamese and Creole.

A union volunteer helped a laid-off Revel dealer navigate the computer application for unemployment, verifying his personal information and work history, his eligibility status and calculating how much he made between salary and tips on his last few days at work. The dealer opted to have his unemployment benefits taxed from each check rather than paying a lump sum tax himself in April.

Other workers discussed the possibility of early retirements with counselors. In a separate room, others signed up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. Tables offered help with food stamps, too.

The casino consolidation buffeting Atlantic City is a reaction to the ever-increasing competition from casinos in neighboring states, including Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland and Connecticut. Atlantic City's casino revenue has fallen from a high of $5.2 billion in 2006, when the first Pennsylvania casino opened, to $2.86 billion last year.

Casino analysts and industry executives say the closings are a needed correction to an oversaturated market and predict that the remaining eight casinos will do better financially with less competition.

But big-picture economics was not on the minds of those who turned out for the unemployment session Wednesday. Ronnie Downing, a laid-off Revel worker, said he and his co-workers were shocked when it closed.

"Many of us, myself included, haven't figured out what we're going to do next," he said.


Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC

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