A lean Christmas for many laid-off casino workers

The Revel Casino Hotel in Atlantic City closed earlier this year after failing to find a buyer.
The Revel Casino Hotel in Atlantic City closed earlier this year after failing to find a buyer.
Published Dec. 24, 2014

ATLANTIC CITY — One got her Christmas dinner handed to her a week in advance in foil containers from a union food bank.

Another can no longer afford to buy gifts for anyone, instead baking cookies and cakes as presents, and thanking God for the family who donated gifts for her two young daughters to find under the tree on Christmas morning.

And a husband and wife are forgoing giving each other gifts to be able to afford presents for the kids.

This is a Christmas unlike any other for many of the 8,000 Atlantic City casino workers who have lost their jobs this year as four casinos shut down.

"It's definitely a tough Christmas this year," said Yomari Blanco, who was laid off in September from the housekeeping job she had at Trump Plaza for 18 years. Two weeks earlier, her husband lost his job when the Showboat Casino Hotel shut down, and he only recently found some sparse part-time work.

"When I was working, I'd go out and get gifts for people and not worry about it because I had my job to rely on," she said. "Now I don't.

Her daughters, ages 8 and 6, enthusiastically believe in Santa Claus, leaving cookies and milk on a table near the tree, and a carrot for the reindeer. But if it weren't for the kindness of a family whose children go to school with Blanco's daughters, there would not have been much under the tree for the girls this year.

"I thank God for their generosity," Blanco said. "Now the girls will have a Christmas. I haven't done any Christmas shopping this year. I'm baking cookies and cakes and giving those to people as my gifts.

"Paying the bills and making sure the roof stays over your head is the first priority," she said. "I was always the one to be giving to people at Christmas, and this year I'm the one who's getting from others, and it's a shock to the system."

The Atlantic Club, Showboat, Trump Plaza and Revel all shut down this year, and the Trump Taj Mahal very nearly joined them until a last-minute financial deal kept it open. But work is scarce in the remaining eight casinos, particularly in the slow winter months, and many who lost jobs over the summer have been without work ever since.

Chris Ireland and his wife both worked behind the bar at the Showboat, and both are still looking for new jobs. They're not getting each other anything this Christmas, marshaling their resources to give their 9-year-old daughter the best Christmas possible. That includes not talking about jobs or money concerns around her, and keeping smiles plastered on even when no one feels particularly cheery.

"You try to put a brave face on, but you can't help but be concerned," he said.

Theresa Volpe, who served drinks to gamblers at Trump Plaza for 26 of its 30 years, got her Christmas dinner from a union hall that was handing out hams or turkeys, with all the fixings, to newly jobless casino workers.

"It's a tough, tight Christmas, that's for sure," said Volpe, who remains jobless. "A lot of people are cutting back, waiting until after Christmas when things are on sale to get their kids what they need at lower prices."

Being without a job does, however, bring one benefit for her family, Volpe said.

"This is the first time in 25 years they'll have me home for Christmas," she said.