Politics

Inside A Loud, Confusing, Staunchly Pro-Hillary Caucus

CREDIT: Alice Ollstein

LAS VEGAS, NV — Past the faux-marble columns flanking the entrance to the Caesar’s Palace casino, through a maze of blinking and ringing slot machines, at the top of several long escalators, hundreds of hotel workers gathered to chose between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination. Two hours later, Clinton had won 28 delegates and Sanders 12. She went on to sweep all six at-large caucus sites on the Las Vegas Strip.

Leading up to the final vote at Caesar’s, hundreds of casino workers, many of them in chef and bellboy uniforms, waited in line for over an hour. Competing chants of “Feel the Bern,” and “Hill-a-ry” broke out as Democratic Party officials scrambled to process everyone. High turnout created a long, slow line, as many workers needed to use the state’s same day registration procedure. Worried about blowing past the caucus’ scheduled start time, party officials ushered all workers into the hotel ballroom and dispatched volunteers to register them one by one. Some instructions were repeated in Spanish, but no other languages — despite the fact that the hotel workers’ union says their members hail from more than 150 different countries.

After some workers, who were only given an hour break to participate in the caucus, began to get antsy, the general manager of the Caesar’s Palace casino came in to reassure them. “I’ll take all the heat from your bosses,” he promised. “Stay here until the caucus is over. It’s an important process.”

As the workers stood for a head count about half an hour after the caucus was supposed to have started, it was clear the vast majority supported Clinton. Across the hotel ballroom, workers sported a sea of blue Hillary shirts reading “Estoy contigo,” waved printed signs from the Clinton campaign, and plastered themselves with Clinton stickers.

“She’s so intelligent, she has the experience, and she’s done a lot of stuff for women, for children, and for immigration reform,” Bellagio casino woker Morena del Cid told ThinkProgress in Spanish. “Plus, the United States needs a woman president already. They’ve had one in Argentina, in Costa Rica, in Germany, in England. Now we need Hillary Clinton here.”

del Cid, who came from El Salvador during the country’s brutal civil war in the 1980s, became a U.S. citizen more than a decade ago, and has worked for 27 years on the Las Vegas Strip. Though Sanders and Clinton have both been campaigning hard for the votes of casino workers like her in the days leading leading up to Saturday’s caucus, making late nights visits to laundry workers and employee cafeterias and joining protesting workers on the picket line, del Cid says it wasn’t difficult to make her choice.

“When Hillary gets into office, she will already know what to do,” she said. “Being Secretary of State, not just anyone can do that.”

Hotel worker Miguela Ayala tells ThinkProgress why he's feeling the Bern.

Hotel worker Miguela Ayala tells ThinkProgress why he’s feeling the Bern.

CREDIT: Alice Ollstein

Yet 81 of the workers, including Miguel Amaya, a 23-year-old baggage handler at the Caesar’s Palace, caucused Saturday for Sanders. (190 caucused for Clinton.)

“Working in the casino, I see a lot of high rollers, people who have so much money, and I feel they should be paying a bit more [in taxes]. I see people spending like $10,000 or $15,000 on a single hand of blackjack and I know that’s some people’s entire wage for almost a year.”

Amaya says Sanders’ proposal for free college tuition resonates with him personally. “I went to school for two years, but then I lost my financial aid,” he said. “Then I had to move here from New Mexico, and I can’t afford out-of-state tuition. I want to go back, but I have to save up a little bit first.”