Casino workers are worried for their jobs while others are resigned to being laid off if it were to happen after Finance Minister Colm Imbert increased taxes on the gaming industry during Monday’s 2018 budget presentation.
Imbert announced the doubling of almost all taxes on gaming machines, devices and tables.
In response, Sherry Persad, president of the Trinidad and Tobago Private Members’ Club Association, said the industry had seen a significant decrease in customers over the past 18 months. This resulted in a reduction of staff and expenditure.
“What the increased taxes will do is to punish those who are complying with the authorities already. Currently there are tax laws and regulatory requirements in place yet these are not enforced and as such rogue elements exist and thrive,” Persad said.
The Amusement Gaming Association of TT also warned the increased taxes could lead to international casino operators pulling out of the country, the closure of small operators, and the downsizing of some large local casinos. All of those measures would lead to the termination of staff.
Sunday Newsday spoke to workers of casinos in and around Port-of-Spain and they expressed their concern.
A supervisor who had been working at a casino for 11 years said he did not have many CXC passes and, before getting a job in the gaming industry, he used to work at restaurants. He said the pay was much better than at a restaurant or grocery and so he was able to better care for his wife and child.
He said over the last year the number of customers had dropped considerably, and those who still patronised the establishment did not spend as much money as before because of their individual financial situations.
He said since the reading of the budget, the owner had cut back on the amount of alcohol they would usually order and advised staff members to “ration” the alcohol to customers. The owner also announced that advances on salaries and personal loans would be put on hold for a while. He said his boss was a caring person who owned several small casinos and if he had to close the other businesses, he would try to facilitate the workers at the ones that remain. That might mean less hours of work or even pay cuts for some employees while others may have to be let go.
“You would not believe the size of the stack of job applications in the office. The hard part is that this industry employs a lot of young people. In fact, we just hired a few and we may have to let them go.”
Another casino supervisor said as soon as she heard the budget she knew there would be lay-offs to come. “I have been working here for nine years and whenever anything happens to affect the bottom line, the company starts to downsize.
“They start with administration, then other monthly-paid staff because they get a bigger salary than the hourly paid, until it is a skeletal staff.” She predicted the casinos, gentlemen’s clubs and other gambling institutions would “increase the bets on the machines,” making it more difficult for customers to win so they could hold on to more cash. She said because it would be harder to win, fewer customers would play or even visit the casino, business would slow down even more, and they would lay off more staff.
A 27-year-old gaming machine technician said while he hoped he would not be left unemployed, either by the closing of the establishment where he worked or by being laid off, in the back of his mind he expected the worst.
“It’s the government’s decision so we have to go along with it. However things go, we have to live so we will move on with our lives whatever happens.”
However, things would not be as simple for one single mother of two. She started in the industry when she was 19 as a dealer and worked in various departments. She is now a bartender. Now, she is very worried about losing her job as it was how she cared for her eight-year-old and four-month-old children.
“It would be very difficult. It’s the only thing I know. I would be heartbroken to get sent home, especially with Christmas right there.”