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William Hill CEO donates salary to furloughed employees

Who says big companies don’t have a heart?

Joe Asher isn’t being asked to be compared to Mother Teresa. But the CEO of William Hill U.S. made a magnanimous gesture toward the 600-plus employees the company was forced to furlough last week as the coronavirus pandemic tightened its grip on the American economy.

Asher is donating his entire salary to those furloughed employees through a foundation he has set up within the company. In addition, he has asked William Hill’s remaining 250 employees to pitch in and help their out-of-work colleagues.

“It wasn’t that hard, to be honest with you,” Asher said Wednesday of his decision. “It didn’t feel right to take a paycheck when we have so many employees that were out of work.”

Asher did not reveal his salary. But he said he was in a position to do so without negatively impacting his own family. He also was proud of the way the employees still working are pitching in.

“I told them we are in this together and whatever they can do, they should help,” he said. “Even if it’s only 20 bucks, it’s totally cool. But I want everyone to do something.”

Asher said the gesture has been well received, not only within his own company, but in the casino and sports betting industry.

“The response has been tremendous,” he said. “I’ve received so many emails and texts from our employees and from the gaming community. My hope is it inspires other executives in the industry.

“One thing I know about this industry is it’s so giving. You see the things these big casinos are doing to assist their employees, it’s tremendous. I’m so encouraged by what I’m seeing.”

One thing Asher misses seeing are the Vegas Golden Knights, and sports in general. With the sports world shut down in the U.S. and Canada, Asher said it’s leaving people feeling depressed.

“We’ve got to get sports going again,” he said. “Even if it means playing in an empty arena. People need something to watch. All they’re hearing about on the news are masks and ventilators and (protective) gowns. It’s all doom and gloom. We need to have something else to think about.

“Obviously, it’s critical for our business. But it’s more important for the country’s well-being.”

Asher is worried about the mental health of his own employees. His company has an Employee Assistance Program to help with depression or other issues. As part of his foundation’s setup to help with financial assistance, William Hill is picking up 100 percent of the furloughed employees’ health insurance payments through the end of June.

“We can’t lose people to illness in a medical crisis because they didn’t have insurance,” he said. “That’s immoral.”

Like virtually everyone, Asher has no idea when the coronavirus pandemic will subside. He said he will keep the foundation in place during the crisis and will likely maintain it in some form once things return to normal.

“We don’t know how long this is going to last,” he said. “But this company has ben around for 86 years. William Hill survived World War II and I’ll be damned if it dies on my watch. We’ll get through it."