Tidelands Fight Irritates Casino Workers

The employee lunch menu at the Palace Casino now includes canned pears.

"That's not bad," one worker said after swallowing a bite. And then he laughed, "I wish it wasn't light."

But that's what you eat when your casino is teetering in water, and its future is up in the air.

"It keeps us in limbo," another maintenance worker said. "Even though we are fortunate enough to still have our jobs right now, we don't know what the future is going to hold for us. So we just take things day by day."

In a way, very little at work has changed for the 60 casino employees who are cleaning up the Palace hotel.

Clayton Williams described his situation this way, "I'm real fortunate. Very, very blessed."

Ralph Trisotto had a similar explanation. "We're lucky because we're both still working," he said.

Trisotto is still painting walls, just like he did before Katrina. The lobby walls went up after soaked storm debris was tossed out.

"It gives us some hope," he said. "We suffered a lot. It gives us some kind of normalcy."

Life is anything but normal for Trisotto. The hurricane destroyed just about everything he owned.

"I lost my truck. My house," he said.

So did so many others with ties to the casino industry. Most of the nearly 15,000 workers won't return to casinos until the governor signs on shore gaming legislation. And that's not possible while the house and senate haggle over casino tidelands payments.

"It's been aggravating, frustrating," said a maintenance worker.

But at least the maintenance staff was at work.

"Everybody's here," said Trisotto. "We all work hard. We just want to keep our jobs and keep going."

So how does a casino like the Palace accomplish that? It adds a fresh coat of paint to hurricane damaged hotel hallways. And next week, it invites its construction workers to stay there. That way, the hotel is partially open while the casino and its future remain partially submerged in water.

According to one casino general manager, the Senate tidelands bill makes no sense for Mississippi. Here's why. When casinos reopen, their executives expect gamblers to trickle back to their resorts. Gross revenues could be significantly less than they were pre-Katrina. So initially, tidelands fees could fall below the $7 million a year casinos currently pay.