Hot Springs Casino Offers Pay Raises for Vaccinated Employees

An Arkansas hotel-casino is giving pay raises to employees who are inoculated against the coronavirus. 

Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort
Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort
Visitors head toward an entrance at Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort in Hot Springs, Ark. The resort recently added a hotel and spa at the site. (Image: KFSM-TV)

Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort is raising the minimum wage for vaccinated non-tipped employees to $16 an hour, and to $8.50 an hour for those who receive tips, the resort recently announced.

Salaried employees will receive a 3 percent pay raise if they are inoculated against COVID-19. New employees who are vaccinated will start at $40,000, according to KTHV-TV.

Oaklawn is a casino and historic horse track about an hour southwest of centrally located Little Rock, the capital city. In April, Oaklawn held a grand opening for its $100 million expansion. The expansion includes an eight-story, 198-room hotel, with some rooms overlooking the racetrack. The resort also added a 15,000-square-foot events center and spa.

Oaklawn President Louis Cella said the casino is “struggling to fill open positions, and COVID is still hanging on,” according to KTHV-TV.

Arkansas has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the nation, ranking 45th in the number of eligible residents who have been inoculated. Nationwide, 51.9 percent of those eligible are fully vaccinated. In Arkansas, 40.6. of eligible residents have received the maximum number of shots. Vermont leads the nation, with 67.7 percent of its eligible residents fully vaccinated.

Cella said the resort wants the vaccine incentive “to change the financial health of our current and future team members.”

The vaccine incentive, coming on the heels of the FDA approving the Pfizer vaccine, should move those unvaccinated to become vaccinated,” he said.

The vaccine incentive for current employees is available through Dec. 31. New employees hired after Jan. 1, 2022, can provide a valid vaccination card to receive the incentive, KTHV-TV reported.

The resort also is continuing its cash drawing that began in August. The drawing has resulted $45,000 being awarded to employees with valid vaccination cards, according to KTHV-TV.

Illegal Gambling

Casino gambling occurred illegally but openly in Hot Springs for decades, until authorities shut it down in the 1960s. 

During this era, the nation’s most notorious gangsters vacationed in Hot Springs. These included Al Capone, Frank Costello, Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, and Charles “Lucky” Luciano.

Oaklawn now is the only place in Hot Springs with legal casino gambling. The connection to its illegal casino past is on display at The Gangster Museum of America in Hot Springs. The museum’s executive director, Robert K. Raines, is author of Hot Springs: From Capone to Costello.

A recently release book by David Hill, The Vapors: A Southern Family, the New York Mob, and the Rise and Fall of Hot Springs, America’s Forgotten Capital of Vice, also explores the city’s casino and underworld histories.

Saracen’s Vaccine Incentives

In Pine Bluff, about 45 minutes south of Little Rock, Saracen Casino Resort also is providing incentives to encourage employee vaccinations. 

Saracen is offering two extra paid vacation days for employees who show proof of a COVID-19 vaccination. Those employees also are eligible for a weekly $1,000 drawing. The drawings are held at 3 pm every Wednesday through Sept. 8. About 900 people work at the casino.

“Work at Saracen, and you can win cash for being vaccinated,” Carlton Saffa, the resort’s chief market officer, recently tweeted.

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