ATLANTIC CITY — “Fifty-seven, No. 57 for unemployment,” a voice boomed Monday at the union hall of UNITE-HERE Local 54.
Just hours after Atlantic Club Casino Hotel shut its doors for the final time, hundreds of former casino employees filled the union’s headquarters on Atlantic Avenue. The local brought together several agencies helping to coordinate unemployment sign-ups and help from the local food bank, among other aid. The services were in high demand as a line to sign up for unemployment stretched dozens long.
Many workers detailed the same concerns: finding new jobs in Atlantic City’s already-sleepy winter season.
Cocktail server Janice Kaukeano was in uniform the day the property opened as the Golden Nugget in 1981, and she remained until its last day. Now, the Chelsea Heights resident said her biggest concerns are signing up for unemployment, keeping health benefits and “basically just getting a job and surviving in a town that’s not doing so well.”
“It just doesn’t seem real,” Kaukeano said. “This is the first day I didn’t have to get dressed for work in 33 years. Today, I had here to come to. Tomorrow is going to be different.”
Ben Begleiter, a spokesman for Local 54, said the union arranged Monday’s event with many of the same groups that it worked with when workers were laid off following Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Some employees may have applied for unemployment previously and been given usernames and pass codes that have been forgotten, he said. Staff on hand were expected to help with that obstacle.
Atlantic City Electric also was available to talk to employees about assistance programs available to help pay for utilities through the winter. The union also was prepared to help with language barriers. Translators were on hand to help those speaking Spanish and Chinese. Local 54 represents roughly 750 of the 1,600 workers who were laid off when the casino was shuttered early Monday morning.
“It’s heartbreaking. You want to do whatever you can for the workers here,” Begleiter said.
Among the workers seeking help was Ivette Bates, an Atlantic Club cashier who for 22 years traveled on two buses each day to get to work from her Minotola home an hour away. With no new job on the horizon, Bates said she remained optimistic she’ll find work eventually. She praised the union for providing help to the employees.
“God puts you in the place where you’re supposed to be, you know?” Bates said. “We’re going to be OK.”
Atlantic Club quietly shut its doors at midnight amid little fanfare. Only a small crowd of loyal patrons remained, who counted down the casino’s final moment.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the Atlantic Club is officially closed,” one employee said over a loudspeaker as long-time employees began hugging.
By late Monday morning, the entrances to the casino had been locked, but there were no signs on the building indicating it would not reopen. Curious passers-by peered into the darkened hallways as piles of chairs were wrapped in plastic and moved from one room to another.
Patrick Gaines, of Pleasantville, worked in maintenance at the casino for 26 years. On Monday, he said he wasn’t sure what would come next for him.
“I really don’t like what’s happening but what happens, that’s what I have to deal with,” Gaines said. “I’m just trying to move on with my life.”
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