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No BP Funds for Oil Spill Blackjack Dealers

Dec 27, 2010

gulfcoastblackjacktipscasinodealersreleifbpoilspill No BP Funds for Oil Spill Blackjack Dealers
No compensation

Casino gambling along the Gulf Coast has seen a dramatic decline in the wake of this year’s British Petrol oil spill, but dealers are not getting restitution.

Casino dealers at casinos along the Gulf have taken a hit this year. Croupiers who work craps tables and blackjack card games rely heavily on tips, but since the British Petrol oil disaster scared away many of area’s regular gamblers, dealers are suffering.

Brad McDonald, who works for the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi, is one such dealer who has seen a drop in blackjack tips since the spill. He applied for compensation through the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, which has been set up to distribute $20 million of BP’s compensation funds to victims of the disaster. His application was turned down, along with those of hundreds of other casino workers from the region, including dealers, bartenders, waitresses, bellhops.

“Everybody who had the word ‘casino’ in their claims had their claims denied,” says McDonald. “It’s been extremely frustrating.”

Beverly Martin, executive director of the Mississippi Casino Operators Association, says that of the 11,000 casino workers along the Mississippi coast, about a third of them work for tips. She says that she has already received 500 e-mails from casino employees who have been denied compensation.

Attorneys for the Claims Facility insist that no applicants are being turned down just because they work at a casino, but instead he says that workers are simply not documenting their claims well enough. Applicants must supply proof of lost revenue to be accepted. But one dealer from the Beau Rivage turned in paycheck stubs and tax records to show he’d lost $7,000 in revenue this summer, and even his claim was denied.

The deadline to apply for emergency payments was last month, but blackjack dealers and other casino workers who were turned down may be able to reapply for interim payments.

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  • Shine

    I read somewhere that even restraunts within or attached to casinos are having problems with their claims.

  • Shine

    I read somewhere that even restraunts within or attached to casinos are having problems with their claims.

  • Anonymous

    This is messed up. I hope a little bad publicity can help put some pressure on the people in charge! Just because someone works at a casino doesn’t make them any less deserving than anyone else…

  • Anonymous

    This is messed up. I hope a little bad publicity can help put some pressure on the people in charge! Just because someone works at a casino doesn’t make them any less deserving than anyone else…

  • Ronald R. Benjamin

    Ken Feinberg says the first phase in administering the $20 billion fund is over, which is shorthand for no emergency payments will be made to anyone under any circumstances. He announced a $5,000.00 bonus for victims who agree to sign off on whatever plans they have with a $25,000.00 bonus for businesses who do the same. On the heels of that announcement comes a notice from the attorney generals of the states of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi advising victims to get a lawyer before signing any release. There is precious little available to make a rational choice about who to believe. More importantly, it would appear that with the creation of MDL 2179 the stage is set for victims of the Deepwater Horizon Spill to join thousands of victims of other mass disasters who have watched lawyers get filthy rich while they walk away with a pittance, if anything the end of the day.

    Exxon Valdez is the closest model available and one can see a pattern taking hold beginning with the public proclamations by Tony Howard that BP will make it right, which are reminiscent of the statements by Lee Raymond Exxon CEO who proclaimed to the citizens of Prince William Sound “we will make you whole”. Fast forward some 20 years and Exxon is breaking all corporate earnings records for American corporations while the residents of Prince William Sound have seen their way of life ruined, evidenced by broken families, alcoholism, increased incidence of domestic violence and suicides. The victims are lost in the shuffle because the collusion and neglect of the agencies designed to regulate the tortfeasors are caught up in the finger-pointing contest that take center stage as the disaster moves off the front pages toward oblivion. The end is quite predictable. There is a settlement. The defendants get out cheap, the lawyers get rich, and judges who have functioned as Lord of the Manor are praised from all sides for their wisdom and fairness in bringing about the result.

    The common feature has been the absence of the victims in the process, at the bargaining table, and at the time the settlement is announced. To be sure organizing as victims is an arduous process and as the 9/11 victims learned, when they did protest it was only at the end and too late to overcome the history of the litigation, the depiction of the victims as greedy with both lawyers and the judge telling them this is the best you are going to do. The Vioxx victims never made it that far and more than a third of them walked away with absolutely nothing, a result approved by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which unfortunately is the same court that will ultimately decide whether the result reached in the Deepwater Horizon litigation will be upheld.

    Ken Feinberg says” Every single claimant will have a choice”, he goes on to say, “they ought to fit the choice of their own situation”. It is hard to reconcile this statement with the fact that out of 466,944 claims that have been filed as of December 18, 2010, 293,711 were considered ineligible for any type of emergency relief. Since he acknowledges 2,000 or less of the claims filed may have an element of fraud what is the basis for denying the other 291,711 victims emergency relief? His answer at the end of the day is that these claims were either too tenuous or were insufficiently documented to satisfy whatever criteria he is employing as a prerequisite for payment. This is a nonsense argument but may well carry the day without vigorous and aggressive advocacy for victims, which is not going to happen in the MDL anytime soon if ever.

    Cordova is a small fishing village with a population of about 2,200 people and was 45 miles from where the Exxon Valdez crashed into Blight Reef. Although not a drop of oil came near the town which was dependent upon the herring fishing, which was its life-support, that came to an abrupt halt. The herring population never returned to numbers sufficient for commercial fishing. Cordova has never been the same. Mike Webber, a fisherman from Cordova carved out what he called a “shame pole”. The 7 foot piece of Cedar depicts former long-term chief executive Lee Raymond with dollar-sign eyes and a Pinocchio-like nose. An oil slick spews forth from Raymond’s mouth along with the words uttered by a top Exxon official soon after the spill, “We will make you whole”.

    When one considers the fact that the population along Prince William Sound is just below 40,000, with the population along the Gulf Coast between 4 to 6,000,000 people it is a fair question to ask how many Cordovas there are along the coast. Feinberg is undoubtedly aware casino employees can hardly come in and provide concrete proof of tips never received any more than shrimpers can count up the shrimp never caught. Yet the same damages can be readily projected through various models. Instead of employing the same he announces a $5,000 sign up bonus to people who have seen their incomes devastated which may not be a whole lot different than dangling a canteen of water in the middle of the desert.

    Although the Feinberg sign up plan triggered warnings from the attorneys generals to get a lawyer that advice is both naïve and disingenuous because the only lawyering that is going to be done will be in the MDL which will swallow up all the lawsuits being filed regardless of where or when. These lawyers have already been selected by the judge presiding over the MDL and they will join the lawyers hired by BP and company. Together they will generate millions of documents and even more millions of words, engage in a duet that will conclude with a settlement that will surely include hundreds of millions in attorneys fees, accolades about the Herculean efforts of all concerned, while victims along the Gulf Coast will likely fare no better than those in Cordova.

    To be sure many victims have already obtained lawyers, and those who follow the advice of the attorneys generals and consult a lawyer are going to be told what? As a practical matter not much beyond the advertisements and lobbying efforts by firms seeking to recruit as many clients as possible with the traditional we will blah, blah, blah. Yet the reality is they are going to be sitting back waiting for the MDL to take its course, perhaps periodically sending you letters apprising you of the numerous depositions taken and the heroic efforts being made to hold the tortfeasors accountable, but that is about it. There is one exception however and that is what you can expect if you have a claim pending either with Feinberg or by way of a lawsuit, and that is to be victimized all over again by having the defendants propound fact sheets that contain questions about every single part of your life so they can find some nook or cranny to justify denying your claim.

    The stress that accompanies the financial losses suffered by most victims is compounded by well trained vultures who will use the fact that you had a parking ticket in the past to show you are unworthy of belief, or you suffered a common cold or any of the illnesses that accompany life will be used as evidence of an inability to work. Historically these tactics have resulted in all too many victims just giving up. By the time the whole process is over even those who had the intestinal fortitude to hang in and go through the embarrassment and humiliation suffered in the litigation, and especially, depositions, are told by the lawyers that they are lucky to get whatever
    pittance they end up with.

    It is early enough in this litigation to try to head off the inevitable result. A disaster this large has obvious political repercussions and that is best reflected by the fact that there is already a $20 billion fund in place. Keeping the heat on in the political arena is one end of the spectrum. The other is to hold the lawyers who are supposed to be representing the victims accountable for each and every step they take by justifying both the time they are devoting and the end result they are looking to obtain. This is not going to happen by simply isolated demonstrations or protests but only if the victims, from the shrimpers who have seen their incomes evaporate as the mortgages on their boats become due, to the tourism industries which have seen their incomes decimated by the spill.

    The lawyers are not the only ones who can hold conferences to develop strategies. Unless the victims through their respective associations, and more informal groups come together they are unlikely to have the muscle to assert rights they are supposed to have in the first place. The client is supposed to have the final decision on whether or not to accept a settlement. Yet, the MDL’s inevitably result is a take it or leave it proposition with large numbers of victims excluded or reduced to settling for a pittance while the lawyers reap in millions. The recent Vioxx settlement approved by the Fifth Circuit can give you a glimpse of what to expect from the courts.

    Vioxx was promoted as a painkiller for arthritis but ended up causing heart attacks and strokes to thousands upon thousands, many of whom died. An MDL was formed and a settlement of $4,850,000,000.00 was negotiated by Merck and a small group of lawyers appointed by the MDL judge. This agreement limited compensation to people who had ischemic strokes or heart attacks even though many other cardiovascular diseases were caused by Vioxx. At lease one third of the victims received no compensation while others received a fraction of the value of their claims. In addition, the agreement provided that any client who turned down the settlement would find themselves without a lawyer because their own lawyers had to withdraw from representing them any further. Efforts to secure some help from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals went nowhere.

    The bottom line is that you can expect little help if any from the courts, and even less from the executive branch absent the political muscle to bring to the forefront the logic and reason that would compel the conclusion that where liability is a no-brainer what is left but to compensate victims in a manner that is consistent with their losses? Although there are a wide range of victims over a fairly large geographic area there is common ground upon which to develop an organized base from which to act as a unified force with one end of the spectrum in the political arena, with the other holding the lawyers accountable for their every action and ensuring transparency along the way.

    In short, there may not be a whole lot if yes or no answers but absent a movement to become significantly more proactive, victims in the Gulf will be joining the victims in Cordova.

    Dated: December 22, 2010 Ronald R. Benjamin