Casino workers’ oil-spill claims to get fresh look


The Gulf Coast Claims Facility is requesting information from casino operators that could lead to payments for hundreds of casino employees whose claims were previously denied, said Beverly Martin, executive director of the Coast Casino Operators Association.

Martin talked Thursday with Bill Mulvey, a Washington attorney appointed GCCF’s liaison to the casinos.

“He told me he realized the frustration level the casino employees are at and (GCCF) welcomes the opportunity to make things right,” Martin said. Residents and businesses who have filed emergency claims with GCCF, including casino employees, should be receiving letters over the next week that outline their options. To have their claims considered, Martin said, they will need to fill out a form that comes with the letter.

State Rep. Bobby Moak, who has taken up the cause of casino employees, also said he talked to Mulvey for about 20 minutes Thursday. Moak said he also believes GCCF has changed its attitude about casino workers’ claims.

“He assured me that they were now going to go back and look at the claims in a different light,” Moak said.

At Mulvey’s request, Martin said, she will ask casino operators to come up with standards to show what tips would have been without the oil catastrophe. Those standards would then be used to adjust the employee claims.

Attorney Kenneth Feinberg, who heads the GCCF claims process, said each claim, including those from casinos, was examined on its merits. But casino employees, Attorney General Jim Hood, Moak and others believe the employee claims were rejected because casino revenue generally was up while oil gushed into the Gulf. At one point, Feinberg said through his public relations firm he did not believe casinos rely as heavily on the Gulf for business as other industries do.

In fact, GCCF denied hundreds of claims for casino workers but paid residents with similar jobs in non-casino establishments.

Martin, Moak and casino employees have worked to convince Feinberg that casino revenue does not necessarily track with the tips relied on by bartenders, waitresses, bell hops, valets, dealers and other casino employees. The employees say day-trippers and BP cleanup workers who tipped poorly replaced their customary clientele, who stayed away because they feared air and water pollution from the oil.

Feinberg appointed Mulvey to serve as casino liaison after meeting in November with Martin and others in Gulfport to discuss problems with claims.

The deadline to file emergency claims has passed. GCCF is considering interim, or quarterly, claims and final claims payments. Like emergency claims, interim claims are for losses already suffered. Claimants do not waive any right to sue by accepting them.

Final claims are for future losses; claimants who accept them waive the right to sue BP and other potentially liable parties. Feinberg’s public relations firm in Washington, Point>Blank Public Affairs, sent the following comment from Feinberg: “We are glad to consider casino workers’ claims. As we have said all along, casino workers are eligible, but they need to document their damages. We will work with the casino workers to fill out their documentation in order to show their economic harm.”

GCCF has not authorized Mulvey to speak with the media.

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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