ATLANTIC CITY — Being laid off for a few weeks due to the COVID-19 pandemic was OK at first, Morgan Bagwell said Thursday morning.
But now, almost two months in, she said she’s ready to get back to work as a guest satisfaction specialist at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City.
“It almost feels like a summer vacation without an end,” said Bagwell, 24, of Brigantine. “It was nice, at first, but we’re definitely ready to get back to work.”
Bagwell was one of hundreds of table game dealers, sportsbook workers and other employees who drove around Hard Rock’s valet Thursday morning to pick up a pandemic gift bag that contained a pair of drumsticks, a surgical mask and a grocery store gift card. Some employees stood with handmade signs that read “One team, One fight,” “Love all, Serve all” and “Stay Safe,” while others waved foam hands as drivers honked their horns.
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Between Thursday and Friday, casino officials plan to distribute 3,000 ShopRite gift cards, each worth $100, to employees as a way to help them through the pandemic.
Those who qualify include all salaried, hourly and on-call employees who earn less than $50,000 per year, according to Hard Rock officials.
Hard Rock and the rest of the city’s casinos closed March 16 on orders from Gov. Phil Murphy intended to mitigate the spread of the new coronavirus. By the end of that month, most of the resort’s casinos had sent temporary layoff notices to employees.
Hard Rock allowed eligible employees to use accumulated paid time off plus an additional two weeks’ worth of borrowed PTO, meaning some workers were covered through most of April without having to file for unemployment.
About 3,400 employees are currently out of work from the shuttered casino, about a quarter of whom are Atlantic City residents, casino President Joe Lupo said.
“I really think a company shows its true colors at times of difficulty, and I’m just very proud that our ownership took this as a priority and was so caring about our employees,” Lupo said. “The employees are the difference-makers in our business. It’s such a unique and unprecedented time.”
Cars started lining up outside the casino just after 7 a.m. Thursday, so the event started about 45 minutes early, according to a spokeswoman for the casino. By 10:30 a.m., they had handed hundreds of gift bags through car windows.
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Bagwell said the gift cards are “huge” for employees laid off due to the pandemic, and the unexpected gesture will be a help over the next few weeks.
“I’ve been lucky,” Bagwell said. “I have some savings, and I’m on unemployment, but that will only last so long. If this goes on for longer, it could be kind of scary.”
The event was not only an opportunity to help employees in a time of need, it was a chance for everyone to see each other, many said.
“The unemployment, stimulus checks, they’ve all been a help to those who received them, but not to those who haven’t,” Lupo said. “It’s really nice to say hello and just see people.”
Geno Cantell, who works in the casino’s sportsbook, said he’s still waiting on unemployment as he pulled the drumsticks and mask out of the bag, adding the gift card will come in handy.
“It was so nice,” said Cantell, 28, of Ventnor. “Everyone waving hello to us.”
Elena Detulleo, 26, of Brigantine, a single mother who works as a table game supervisor at the casino, had her son, 7-year-old Roman, in the back seat of her car as she drove through to pick up her bag.
“We’re very grateful,” Detulleo said. “In times like this, you’ve got to stay strong. We’ve got to stay strong and hope for the best. This gesture is amazing, and it’s an amazing feeling that they do care, and it’s just great to be part of the team.”