Pandemic forces Potawatomi Hotel & Casino to permanently lay off 1,600 employees

MILWAUKEE -- Some 1,600 Potawatomi Hotel & Casino employees have been permanently laid off due to the coronavirus pandemic. The CEO and General Manager of Potawatomi said the decision was not made lightly -- and it is one that hurts.

Potawatomi Hotel & Casino

The Potawatomi Hotel & Casino is Wisconsin's most visited destination. Now, more than half of its staff has been told their furlough is permanent.

CEO and General Manager Rodney Ferguson said the COVID-19 pandemic forced the business to scale down operations.

Visitors on Friday, July 17 said everyone is adapting.

Potawatomi Hotel & Casino

Potawatomi Hotel & Casino

"I think the laying off of over 1,000 people permanently is awful. But I mean, what can we do? But we have to make adjustments in today's society with what's going on with the pandemic," said one visitor.

FOX6 News also spoke with a now-former employee who wishes not to be identified. He said he was on furlough -- and found out about his layoff on Friday. He said he has worked at the casino for more than a decade -- and he did not see this coming. The former employee said this is "a sad day."

Statement from Rodney Ferguson, CEO and General Manager of Potawatomi Hotel & Casino

"The coronavirus pandemic has forced Potawatomi Hotel & Casino to scale down operations substantially and place a cap on guest traffic to a fraction of normal levels. As a result, we have recently made the difficult decision to notify a large number of our staff on a temporary furlough that we consider the furlough to be permanent because of its unforeseeable length and impact. These permanent layoffs take effect August 15th.

"As a business that places care for its team members as a top priority, this is a decision that was not made lightly. It’s one that hurts. Those affected helped build Potawatomi Hotel & Casino into the most visited entertainment destination in the state of Wisconsin. That is not lost on members of business or tribal leadership.

"The business will expand operations as the science guides us and pandemic conditions dictate. Decisions will continue to be made in the best interests of guest and team member health and safety. "

Statement of Milwaukee Alderwoman JoCasta Zamarripa

"It is a devastating gut punch to learn of today’s permanent layoffs of workers at Potawatomi Hotel & Casino in the 8th District. The Potawatomi facilities on Canal Street that are used to attracting thousands of visitors a day during normal times have been decimated by the COVID-19 pandemic, and today is a sad day

"As a Council member and a Wisconsin State Representative, I have represented untold numbers of Potawatomi workers, and they are my friends and neighbors. I am hurting because of what has happened to their livelihoods, but I also pledge to help them in their time of need. Please do not hesitate to reach out to me at either my aldermanic office,, 414-286-3533 or my legislative office at, 608-267-7669.

"Most importantly, I urge affected Potawatomi Hotel & Casino workers to access the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development immediately to apply for unemployment insurance.  To apply, please log onto . Again, reach out to me, if you have difficulty accessing your unemployment benefits, etc.

"I ask the community to join me in lifting up and supporting affected Potawatomi workers during this difficult time.

"If we band together and support each other, I believe we will be able to successfully get through this crisis together."