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Ken Feinberg meets with casino industry reps following protest rally in Biloxi

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BILOXI, Miss. — Oil spill claims administrator Kenneth Feinberg reportedly agreed to take another look at the process as it relates to Coast casino workers after meeting with industry representatives Monday afternoon in Gulfport.

The meeting, which included Mississippi Casino Operators Association President Beverly Martin, followed a morning protest rally attended by about 70 casino workers along U.S. 90 in front of the Biloxi lighthouse.

At the event, which began at 10 and wound down in the early afternoon, casino employees spread the message that other people in the restaurant and tourism industries have received compensation, but the majority of casino workers have not.

casinos protest-crapConnie Penuel, one of the organizers, said the number of claims denied for casino worker tops 1,000, while fewer than 10 such claims have been approved.

Meanwhile, she said, people in industries from landscaping to big-box retail have been paid.

Employees from casinos from as far away as Louisiana attended the rally, she said.

Jeff Callister of Ocean Springs came with his wife, Annie, and their 1-year-old grandson Conner.

“We don’t blame the people who got paid, we just want to make the point that casino workers have been affected too,” Jeff Callister said.

The Callisters held signs reading “BP pay me,” and “BP discriminates against casino workers.”

The U.S. government’s Gulf Coast Claims Facility took over the claims process from BP on Aug. 23. The facility is being administered by Feinberg, a Washington, D.C.-based attorney.

A facility spokesperson could not be reached Monday, but Feinberg has said that each claim is reviewed on a case-by-case basis, and has denied discrimination allegations.

The Callisters said the casino industry was starting to make a comeback when BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig exploded off the coast of Louisiana.

The protesters said that tourists canceled trips to casinos, and they received fewer and smaller tips over the typically strong summer season.

“We get paid a base salary, but we rely on tips for the majority of our income,” Annie Callister said. “We’ve had trouble paying the rent and bills.”

Revenue at the 11 Coast casinos increased by $4.8 million to $467 million from May through September, according to the Mississippi Department of Revenue.

However, it fell by $6.5 million in July 2010 compared with July 2009. Revenue does not necessarily equate to profit since that depends on how much casinos are spending on marketing to attract customers. Figures exclude hotel and restaurant earnings.

Casinos and other venues increased their marketing budgets to continue to attract visitors in the wake of the disaster.

Spokespeople for the claims facility have said that casinos rely less on the beach and Gulf than other businesses do.

Mike Mendoza, a dealer who attended the protest, said that statement is true, but the perception was that the Gulf was covered in oil.

Said Annie Callister: “People want to make the most of their vacations, and I don’t blame them for canceling if there is even a possibly of the smell of oil in the air.”

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source: Ken Feinberg meets with casino industry reps following protest rally in Biloxi | gulflive.com

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