Woodland’s Lucky 21 Casino is no more with more than 100 employees out of work.
The abrupt closure happened at 6 a.m. April 8 and was a surprise to most of the business’ staff. Employees who spoke to The Reflector noted they learned a few hours after the official closing, in some cases before their scheduled shifts that day.
The closure of the casino portion of what was more generally known as the Oak Tree followed an earlier closure of the main restaurant business after Thanksgiving 2018. Lucky 21 General Manager Rich Lemieux explained management had contemplated closing the casino in November but decided against it. He said that the business was losing on average $150,000 monthly in the past 12 months, only breaking even for two.
Lemieux said that during a promotion beginning in April the business was losing money “hand over fist” which led to the abrupt closure. He said he was talking with the casino owner until 2:30 a.m. April 8 before ultimately the decision to close at 6 a.m. was made.
Lemieux refuted any claims that the plan to close last week was premeditated, mentioning he had made a $6,000 purchase of gaming cards only a few days before the closure to illustrate management was doing business as usual.
“Nobody knows that they are going to lose everything they have in one week,” Lemieux remarked.
Due to the hemorrhaging of money, Lucky 21 was unable to make payroll scheduled to be paid out right before the closure, resulting in three weeks-worth of hourly wages not paid out to employees. What little left for any payroll payments would be decided by lawyers during the liquidation process, Lemieux explained.
As far as the future of the building, Lemieux said the owner has been in talks with a restaurateur to bring a food establishment into the former Oak Tree, something he felt would be “a much better fit for the community overall.”
“As far as casinos go, there will never be another casino in there ever again,” Lemieux asserted. “To (start) a casino from scratch in an area that has been proven you cannot have a viable cardroom … we’re the third group to go in there and fail.”
On April 12 dozens of employees gathered in order to collect checks for tipped wages, something protected from the business going bankrupt. Former Lucky 21 Lead Bartender Shannon Kenney wasn’t aware of the imminent closure when she closed out her shift 3 a.m. April 8, only learning of it from a co-worker about six hours later before she was scheduled to work that evening.
Kenney noted similarities between Lucky 21’s April promotion to give away their $58,000 jackpot and what happened to the New Phoenix in La Center which she said did something similar before it closed in March 2017.
“When that happened in Woodland, I thought ‘wow, this does not look good,’” Kenney remarked. “I was expecting (the closure) but I was not expecting it so soon.”
Kenney added she noticed that some inventory wasn’t being replaced in the leadup to the closure.
Kenney said that the closure has sped up her retirement plans, requiring the sale of some of her property. Though she would be relatively fine given the job loss she noted that many of the 115 employees were not in the same situation and still had bills to pay but no paycheck to do it with.
“Everyone is absolutely devastated,” she said.
Lucky 21 Front of House Manager Chantalle Gipson said after she learned of the closure she filed for unemployment and made a labor and industries claim, adding she has applied for jobs as well.
“I’ve been here for six years almost, so it’s sad to see it happen,” Gipson remarked.
Lucky 21 Kitchen Manager Aaron Prather said he’s had 30 years of experience in the food industry, having joined Lucky 21 about a year ago.
“It’s a big disappointment,” Prather remarked about the closure, speaking positively of the workforce of the business, many of which who served under his management.
“The people that worked here … they were loyal. They showed up to work every day, they did their job to the best of their ability. They enjoyed their job,” he said.