Iowa Lawmakers Cap Minimum Wage Increases for Commercial Casino Workers

Posted on: May 24, 2021, 01:23h. 

Last updated on: May 24, 2021, 02:27h.

Lawmakers in Iowa have passed an appropriations measure that overhauls minimum wage requirements for workers at the state’s 19 commercial casinos.

Iowa casino minimum wage
A worker at the Rhythm City Casino in Davenport, Ia., cleans a slot machine in 2020 during the pandemic. Iowa lawmakers are halting minimum wage increases for casino workers. (Image: Sioux City Journal)

Under current law, casino workers paid by the hour must receive 25 percent more than the federal minimum wage. With the federal minimum wage currently at $7.25 per hour, casino workers in Iowa must receive at least $9.06 per hour. 

But a bill that passed the Iowa Legislature unanimously last week amends that stipulation, and it’s not to the workers’ benefit. Senate File 615 makes the $9.06 minimum pay for gaming industry employees permanent. The bill also includes various odds and ends that didn’t make it into other pieces of legislation.

It is the intent of the general assembly that employees be paid at least twenty-five percent above the federal minimum wage level in effect on December 31, 2020,” SF 615 reads. 

The amendment alters “Division VII — Gambling” of the Iowa Code. 

Minimum Wage Could Hit $15

Earlier this year, Democrats in Congress introduced legislation — House Resolution 603 — to increase the federal minimum wage to $15 by 2025. Independent analysis conducted by the Economic Policy Institute found that HR 603 would increase wages for nearly 32 million Americans.

According to the US Department of Labor, if a worker is employed in a state that has its own minimum wage law, that person is entitled to the higher of the two minimum wages. Iowa’s minimum wage currently stands at $7.25. 

The appropriations provision on Iowa casino workers strips such employees from receiving the federal minimum wage should it increase, though HR 603 has stalled in the US House of Representatives.

If the appropriations measure had not passed the Iowa Legislature, casino workers would be entitled to 125 percent of the federal minimum wage. If the feds at some point increase the minimum wage to $15, that means Iowa gaming industry workers would have stood to collect a minimum of $18.75 per hour. 

Backers of passing the amendment say such a mandatory hourly rate hike would devastate casinos. The Iowa Gaming Association says prior to the pandemic, state casinos employed approximately 8,800 people, with an annual payroll of more than $293.6 million.

That number comes out to about $33,363 per person, per year. On a 40-hour workweek, that equates to roughly $16 an hour.

Little Opposition

During last week’s debate on the appropriations bill, only one lawmaker — Rep. Chris Hall (D-Sioux City) — expressed concern regarding the minimum pay cap. 

Maintaining a low base of wages for a significant number of people in the employment of casinos is sending the wrong signal,” Hall told KIWA Radio.

“The customer base that casinos attract and the challenges that these workers need to address at work on a daily basis can be pretty complex,” Hall added. “It is also the only environment that workers have to go in the state of Iowa in which they’re subjected to a workplace with tobacco smoke.”

Hall’s district includes where the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sioux City is located.