Detroit Casino Workers Insist on their Terms



  • Casino operators offer salary raises, but workers demand that the raises match the rise in inflation since 2020.
  • The city council has thrown their support behind the striking workers, but it is unclear if the city residents will do the same.
  • Casinos hold a secret ace that might give them leverage in negotiations.

For the first time since casinos were first established in Detroit, workers are striking for increased pay. This comes after the expiration of their contract signed in 2020 and the failure of the casino operators and workers union to agree on new remuneration and welfare terms.

This strike by casino workers of MGM Grand Detroit, MotorCity Casino, and Hollywood Casino at Greektown now makes three major labor strikes currently ongoing in Detroit, with the auto workers union and Michigan health insurance union members strike still unresolved.

The city council has indicated its willingness to bear the temporary losses in revenue due to the casino workers’ strike, even as they have voiced their support for the striking workers and called for a fair deal to be reached between the casinos and the striking workers.

75% of Casino Workforce Picketing

Around 3,700 casino workers from the three onsite casinos are part of the striking workers. This amounts to 75% of the city’s casino workforce. In the meantime, the three casinos are still open, but business is reportedly down by more than 50%.

The striking workers allege that the casinos are unwilling to share more from the record revenues they earned in 2022, especially with the continued growth of revenue from online gaming. They also claim that since the total workforce of casino workers have reduced by more than 30% since its 2019 high of 6,800, they have had to shoulder more responsibility without their salaries reflecting it.

They continue to insist that they will not return to work until the casinos acquiesce to their demands.

On their part, the casinos insist that the workers’ claims of record revenues in 2022 are inaccurate. Their 2022 revenues fell short of their record earnings in 2019 and their 2021 earnings (even if just slightly). They also refute claims that they are getting a large chunk of the earnings from the online services in their names.

While the casinos might be telling the truth about their revenue earnings, they are remarkably silent about the drop in staff size. The 11.7% drop in revenue between 2019 and 2022 is exceeded by the 30% dip in staffing. Which means that they are in a relatively better financial position than they were in 2019.

City Council Backs Striking Workers Who Also Hope for the Support of City Residents

During the recent Detroit Lions home game, striking workers made sure to allow the stadium fans to enjoy undisrupted access to their tailgates.

Lions home games are famed for attracting huge traffic toward the city casinos, but this time the Detroit Casino Council urged Lions fans who visited the downtown area for the game to boycott the casinos in support of their cause.

Last week, the Detroit’s City Council declared their unanimous support for the striking workers to loud celebrations from the 700 workers who were present. They believe that it is “a fight for the middle class throughout the country.”

On Tuesday the striking workers took their lobbying for better wages and welfare to the state legislators in Michigan state capital. They hope it will heap pressure on the casinos to agree to their terms.

Casinos May Explore an Ace to Give them More Leverage in Negotiations

So far in 2023, Michigan online casinos have brought in 23% more than they did in the same period of 2022. This shows that more gamers are adopting the online experience. If this trend continues or spikes during the strike, the casinos may be less willing to come to terms with the striking workers’ demands due to this stream of revenue.

However, this is not an avenue that casinos intend to explore.

While it remains to be seen if a significant portion of the city residents will move their gaming to the online platform as the strike wears on, it poses an existential threat to the cause of the workers. The more dependent the casinos are on revenue from the online sources, the less number of workers they will need for their operations. However, Detroit is famed for standing by its unions so time will tell.

The striking workers, on their part, are hoping that the casino services will be boycotted entirely as this will give them the upper hand in the negotiations.

The casino floors are still open and accessible to gamers. However, it remains to be seen how long it will continue, if both parties fail to reach a resolution soon.

The Best Case Scenario

The casinos continue to claim that the packages they have offered the workers in the new contract is adequate, with MGM Grand Detroit claiming that their offer represented “the single largest pay increase”.

In the blame game that has ensued between the casinos and their striking workers, both have laid claims to facts that supported their individual causes, while keeping silent on other facts that may not be in their favor. However, the best situation is for all parties to agree to meet in the middle in a deal that is fair for all.

For now, the impasse lasts. But, it is expected that the revenues from October (which will be revealed sometime in November) will speed up the process by revealing who has the weaker hand in the bargain.

Jessica is a news contributor to Gamble Online Michigan. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Economics but has over three years of experience working in the hospitality and gambling industry. Despite her core finance and investment banking background, she has been a casino feature writer for N1 Interactive Limited and multiple gambling affiliate sites. Her work has been featured on the bet365 blog, and Max Force Racing. She spends her time between Michigan and California, staying up-to-date on the latest industry developments