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It first started last month with hundreds of workers signing a petition, demanding their employer, Caesars Southern Indiana in Elizabeth, Indiana, to better enforce its mask policy.

But since then, workers didn’t see drastic improvements in closing the loopholes—guests would hold up their drinks or cigarettes so they won’t have to wear masks— and took their frustration to downtown New Albany, Indiana, Wednesday.

More than 40 casino employees gathered in the city downtown and held a car caravan demanding a change—prohibit indoor smoking and seek for better health insurance and wages—and asking for public support.

“It’s important that we’re going out into the community because I feel like this impacts the community,” said Anjila Gaudet, a slot attendant. “We have insurance in our workplace that is really ineffective and because of that a lot of the workers are not able to get the medical that we need. We either won’t go and get the doctor’s visit that we need or we won’t miss work when we need to.”

Related: Hundreds of Caesars Southern Indiana employees sign petition to demand safety changes

Gaudet said that 16 employees have tested positive for coronavirus since July 1, when the petition was submitted to the management. The Harrison County Health Department confirmed that the casino had 16 cases of COVID-19, four of whom were Harrison County residents.

While it’s difficult to correlate the confirmed cases to Caesars Southern Indiana protocols, workers believe a preventive measure would make them feel safe.

“The only word I can come up with for that is enraging,” Gaudet said.

The employees drove around the city downtown, mainly on State Street, bringing public awareness of their concerns. A few New Albany police officers were at the scene and asked them to be respectful. Many workers had signs on their cars such as “Don’t gamble with workers,” “fair wages,” “Mask more, smoke less,” among others.

“It’s an indoor park for grownups. Without the public support, the employees are hard to get the company to really pay attention,” said Elizabeth Colgan, a cocktail server. “Not only do we need the company to enforce the policies and to support us but we also need the public who goes on a regular basis to understand and support us.”

Colgan still hasn’t been able to return to work from a furlough and believes she won’t be able to until COVID-19 is much mitigated. Even if she returns now, she said she’d be afraid to go to work.

Farewell: Caesars riverboat ‘Glory of Rome’ sets sail for new home in Alabama

Some workers noted that the general mask enforcement have been better since they signed the petition. But the loopholes expose many workers to open air and potentially COVID-19. Caesars Entertainment and MGM Resorts announced in late June that guests in all of its properties must wear face coverings at all times unless they’re eating and drinking.

The guidelines released by Caesars Southern Indiana upon reopening states that “smoking at table games will not be permitted” but does not mention any other location.

“I do give the company credit on their actions on mask enforcement,” bartender David Butsch said. “My wife is in health care. I hear way too many stories of people who have had COVID, and it’s awful. Too many of our guests take advantage of the smoking loophole and are not wearing their masks while they’re smoking. They’ll hold a cigarette and use that as their excuse for not having a mask on.”

Gaudet said asking guests to put on a mask “is a joke” because they would simply point to their drinks or cigarettes. And because of poor health insurance, employees aren’t seeing their doctors out of financial concern. And the chain of concern continues.

“In the midst of the pandemic, this should concern our community,” she said. That should cause them to stop if they feel like it’s safe to go into the casino at this point. We want them to feel safe going there, but that’s a concern.”

David J. Kim: [email protected]; Twitter: @_DavidJKim. Support strong local journalism by subscribing today: 

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