BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - The man in charge of doling out oil spill claim money is coming back to South Mississippi. WLOX has learned claims Administrator Kenneth Feinberg will meet with tourism officials in a private meeting next week. That meeting may provide answers for thousands of casino workers still wondering why their oil compensation claims were denied.
Some people who work in the casino industry say they depend on summertime tips to make it through slower times the rest of the year. They say although fallout from the BP oil spill shrank their paychecks, BP isn't paying their claims. WLOX spoke with two casino restaurant workers outside the claims office in St. Martin who didn't want to be identified.
"They made an umbrella denial of anyone who works in casino restaurants," said one worker. "Even though casino revenues are up, it doesn't matter if someone goes and sits at a blackjack table and loses $5,000. It doesn't mean they're going to come into a restaurant and eat a steak. That's not what it means. It just means they [the casinos] made more revenue, but we haven't made more money as restaurant workers."
The restaurant workers say adding to their frustration is that BP is paying employees at small independent businesses.
"Income just went down drastically for me and my kids," a second worker said. "It's just not right that we're denied for where we work when other restaurants aren't making money and they're getting compensated for it."
Next week, a meeting is scheduled between Kenneth Feinberg and local tourism officials. Officials tell WLOX part of that discussion will include how compensation claims for casino workers are being handled.
Mississippi Casino Operators Association Executive Director Beverly Martin said she has three questions for Feinberg.
- Why are some service workers at non-casino properties being paid while people in similar jobs at casino properties are denied?
- Is casino gross revenue income as a factor in the denial?
- Are tip reliant employees like valets, dealers and housekeepers being compensated and if not, why?
The restaurant workers say they're optimistic.
One worker told WLOX, "Once Mr. Feinberg realizes that we're not numbers, that we're people, that we have lives and we have families, I think he'll have a change of heart. At least I hope so."
The director of the Mississippi Hotel and Lodging Association says she and some local hotel owners also plan to be at the meeting with Kenneth Feinberg.