ATLANTIC CITY — They've turned to politicians, bureaucrats, businessmen and union reps to try to save their jobs at three Atlantic City casinos scheduled to close soon. Now, hundreds of soon-to-be unemployed dealers, cocktail servers and hotel workers are turning to what many say could be their last, best chance.
"We're praying for God to open new doors to them," said the Rev. Eric McCoy, president of the Atlantic City Fellowship of Churches.
Clergy members and the main casino workers union organized a rally and prayer service Wednesday night for the nearly 8,000 workers who will be jobless when Revel, the Showboat and Trump Plaza close down over the next few weeks.
"We have hope that God is about to restore to them whatever his plan for them was," McCoy said. "He had plans for us before casinos existed, and he'll have plans for us after they're gone."
Union worker Maria Logan, a member of the New Shiloh Baptist Church, said the challenges are big and real.
"This isn't play: People are losing their homes and the only means of supporting their families," she said. "This is very scary for people who are in a situation they never expected. Some people put their entire lives and souls into these jobs, and someone just comes along and snatches it away from you. It is devastating."
Bishop James Washington, New Shiloh's pastor, agreed, warning the congregation "as these casinos are shuttered, it will have a domino effect up and down our streets and our communities. Our hearts are heavy. Multi-million-dollar corporations are about to turn their backs on these good people."
Divine intervention may be their only hope at this point. New Jersey's Division of Gaming Enforcement has issued final closure notices for Revel and the Showboat. The Showboat's owner, Caesars Entertainment, has already taken a charge against quarterly earnings for employee severance payments, and has classified the Showboat as a "discontinued operation" with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
Workers at the three casinos are bracing for a grim future. Liditze Diaz, who works at a restaurant in Revel, is a single mother living with her father, whom she also supports. She plans to look for a new job and rely on savings, but that will only last so long.
"Hopefully unemployment will be kind," she said.
She said the prayer rally, if nothing else, is making casino workers realize they are part of a larger community that supports them.
Chris Ireland, a bartender at Showboat, is in a doubly bad situation: his wife is a cocktail server there as well.
"It's not going to be good," he said. "We have bills like everyone else."
Ireland said he could have applied for a job at the Maryland Live! casino but is reluctant to uproot his family.
The shutdowns are part of a rapid unraveling of Atlantic City's gambling market, which began the year with 12 casinos but will have eight before summer ends.
The Atlantic Club closed in January. Showboat is closing Aug. 31, followed by Revel on Sept. 1-2 and Trump Plaza on Sept. 16.