Rising Star Using PPP Loan to Bring Back Workers as Indiana Casino Prepares for Possible Mid-June Reopening

Posted on: May 23, 2020, 12:46h. 

Last updated on: May 25, 2020, 09:08h.

UPDATE (8:45 pm PT, May 25) – This article has been updated to clarify any confusion about the term “laid off,” which typically represents a permanent reduction, as opposed to a furlough, which is a temporary reduction. it also adds a line to clarify that previous Rising Star Casino Resort employees will need to reapply.

However, in a statement Monday to Casino.org, Rising Star General Manager Ben Douglass, reaffirmed the company’s plan to rehire as many previous workers as possible:

“We absolutely are looking to rehire our laid-off team members prior to posting the positions for new hires,” he said. “In some cases, team members have moved on to other opportunities or decided to enter retirement at this time, for those positions we will look to hire a new team member. I would imagine our rehired team members will account for well over 90 percent of our total number once we are fully staffed again.”

The Rising Star Casino Resort has received approval from the Indiana Gaming Commission (IGC) to bring staff back on site as needed, General Manager Ben Douglass told Casino.org on Friday.

Rising Star PPP casino
The Rising Star Casino in Rising Sun, Ind., plans to bring back nearly a quarter of its workforce next week to help the Full House Resorts-owned venue to prepare for a tentative mid-June reopening. The casino received a Paycheck Protection Program loan to help return laid-off employees to work. (Image: Rising Star Casino Resort)

The Rising Sun-based casino is one of two Full House Resorts properties to receive Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans. The federal program established in the CARES Act passed two months ago allows small businesses and other qualified companies to receive loans that can be forgivable if the recipient spends at least 75 percent of the proceeds to keep or bring back employees on the payroll within eight weeks of receipt.

By the end of the month we will have about 100 employees working full time, plus the PPP loan will give us the ability to be fully staffed for an anticipated opening date of June 14, pending IGC approval,” Douglass told Casino.org in an email. “Staff will be deep cleaning, repairing, and renovating in anticipation of COVID-19 needs, as well as overall property improvements.”

The casino, the largest employer in Indiana’s smallest county, notified 407 of its 443 workers they were “terminated,” or laid off, at the end of March, according to a notice posted with the Indiana Department of Workforce Development. In the letter to the state, the company said it anticipated having positions available for which most current employees may apply if the casino were to reopen.

Rising Star and the 11 other state-licensed casinos and racinos closed on March 16 because of the coronavirus emergency in the state. For now, state gaming officials anticipate casinos reopening sometime after the beginning of the fourth stage of the state’s COVID-19 recovery plan.

The fourth stage is expected to begin on June 14.

On Thursday, Full House announced that its Silver Slipper Casino and Hotel in Mississippi reopened. The Silver Slipper is the Las Vegas-based company’s flagship casino, generating 44 percent of the company’s revenue last year.

Indiana Casinos Bringing Back Workers

Last week, the commission released its guidelines that casinos must address in order to reopen. In order to control the spread of the coronavirus, casinos, among other things, must reduce the number of seats at table games and enforce social distancing in slot machine areas. Capacity will be limited to no more than 50 percent.

Jenny Reske, IGC deputy director, told Casino.org Friday that most casinos in the state were starting to bring back staff to get ready for reopening, although the commission does not know if others are ramping up at the same scale as the Rising Star.

No Conflict with Loan

Full House is a publicly traded company, and Dan Lee, Full House’s CEO, is married to US Rep. Susie Lee (D-Nevada).

The CARES Act does contain language that precludes senior administration officials and members of Congress, as well as their immediate family members, from receiving funds from some emergency relief programs. But it only applies to companies where an official or their family member has a 20 percent or greater stake in the company. According to SEC filings, Dan Lee holds a 7.6 percent stake in the gaming company.

The provision also applies only for emergency funding programs managed by the Treasury Department or Federal Reserve, like the Main Street Lending Program. PPP loans are administered by the Small Business Administration.

In a call to discuss the company’s quarterly earnings earlier this month, Lee touted the company as a “prime candidate” for the program, since the money was being used to put employees back to work at Rising Star and Bronco Billy’s, a Colorado casino that received a $2.2 million PPP loan.