Four Winds, Gun Lake Employees Furloughed During Shutdown

Written By Matt Schoch on April 14, 2020
Gun Lake Best of the West

Employees from four tribal casinos on the state’s west side will join the long list of unemployed Michigan workers this week.

Employees from Gun Lake Casino in Wayland and three Four Winds Casinos in southwest Michigan were issued short-term furloughs after weeks of compensation from their employers during the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns.

Four Winds, which is operated by the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians, furloughed nearly 1,500 employees at three Michigan locations and one Indiana casino effective Monday.

This Friday, many of the 1,100 employees at Gun Lake, operated by the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi, will be furloughed after receiving four weeks of full pay.

Though the state’s tribal casinos are not under the direction of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, her latest executive order closes many public places through April 30.

Tribal casino furloughs

Four Winds has locations in Dowagiac, Hartford and New Buffalo, as well as South Bend, Ind.

Chief Operating Officer Frank Freedman wrote in a notification to the state of Michigan that the closure is temporary, the reopening date is unknown and that “all employees will be recalled once a date is determined.”

“Due to unforeseen business circumstances and natural disaster precipitating this closure, prior notice could not be provided,” the statement said.

Gun Lake will continue to provide benefit coverage for furloughed employees, according to an email to PlayMichigan from Alexis Bolo, community and public relations coordinator, and the company has applied for unemployment insurance for the workers.

“This benefit has been provided in hopes of reducing stress and to offer support while navigating the unemployment system during the pandemic,” Bolo wrote.

About 3,000 mid-Michigan casino workers furloughed

Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort in Mount Pleasant and Saganing Eagles Landing Casino & Hotel in Standish paid all employees for the first two weeks of the shutdown but “most” of its 2,800 workers are on temporary leave, CEO Mike Bean wrote in an email to PlayMichigan.

The Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe facilities are paying employee medical benefits through May 31, Bean said, adding there is no reopen date scheduled.

With more than 210,000 square feet of gaming space, Soaring Eagle is Michigan’s largest tribal casino.

Detroit casino workers already furloughed

The workers will join an estimated one-fourth of the state’s entire workforce without a job, a number that includes thousands of workers from Detroit’s three casinos, Greektown Casino-Hotel, MGM Grand Detroit and MotorCity Casino.

Those casinos paid employees for about two weeks after closing in mid-March, but temporarily laid off their workers around April 1. All three will pay benefits through June 30 with hopes of reopening by then.

In the state, according to The Associated Press, more than 800,000 filed initial claims over three weeks, second-most in the US.

Some tribal casinos still paying employees

Some tribal casinos have promised to continue paying employees during the shutdown, such as Turtle Creek Casino & Hotel in Williamsburg, Leelanau Sands Casino & Lodge in Peshawbestown and five Kewadin Casinos in the Upper Peninsula.

State unemployment pays out a maximum of $362 per week in Michigan, though the federal stimulus to combat the pandemic adds $600 per week to unemployed workers. Benefits were also extended to 39 weeks from 26 by the state.

On Tuesday, Michigan added 166 COVID-19 deaths and 1,366 new cases to its staggering totals, bringing the total count to 1,768 deaths and 27,001 cases.

In other news Monday, as part of Whitmer’s latest order, the state has offered relief to struggling bars and restaurants by buying back unopened alcohol purchased before March 16.

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Matt Schoch

A Michigan native, Matt has worked at newspapers in Michigan, Missouri and the Virgin Islands. A versatile sports reporter, Matt has covered sailing on the Great Lakes, cricket in the Caribbean, high school and pro playoffs, and the Olympics in Rio. He's also the former host of the Locked On Pistons Podcast and producer of a documentary on Emoni Bates. A former blackjack dealer, Matt has studied the industry from all sides.

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