U.S. Casinos Continue to Reopen
Face masks. Social distancing standards. Reduced capacity on slot floors, at table games and in restaurants. Everyone knows the drill by now, but as casinos reopen across the U.S., each one is doing it a little differently. Las Vegas has been busier than expected, given that its main feeder, air travel, is still very low.
Casinos in the United States continued to reopen last week, all under similar Covid-19 safeguards, with the specifics provided by their state governments, unless they are operated by sovereign tribes. Here’s a partial list of gaming halls that are now back in business, or are gearing up to reopen.
Las Vegas. Las Vegas has been far busier since reopening than most anticipated.
The two-month shutdown that ended June 4 appears to have unleashed a flood of pent-up demand, with news outlets reporting crowded sidewalks along the Las Vegas Strip and casino floors packed with eager gamblers looking for open seats at slot machines and table games that are operating at reduced capacities by state order.
And few were wearing face masks, which are not mandatory under the order, or adhering to social distancing, which technically is mandatory.
From reports at the scene it appears visitors prefer to behave as if Covid-19 never happened or magically has gone away.
“Vegas is all about our guests being carefree, but in the initial days of reopening, it feels like there may be too much ‘free’ and too little ‘care,'” said Scott Roeben, who runs the travel blog Vital Vegas. “People aren’t being reckless; they just aren’t as paranoid as I’d expected.”
Operators certainly weren’t complaining.
Station Casinos COO Bob Finch professed himself “incredibly pleased with the positive response and turnout” at the six of the company’s 10 locals resorts that have reopened.
“It was exciting and emotional to see the energy in Las Vegas last week as we welcomed back our employees and reopened our doors to guests for the first time in months,” said Bill Hornbuckle, acting CEO of MGM Resorts International. “We are eager to get more of our employees back to work and enhance the Las Vegas experience with additional resorts.”
Derek Stevens, owner of The D Las Vegas and the Golden Gate on Fremont Street, prepped for June 4 by giving away 2,000 one-way air tickets. On opening day, he was personally greeting guests checking in to his hotels while staff poured them glasses of sparkling wine.
“We wanted to make sure we welcomed everybody back and got them off to a good start,” he said. “By the time they hit the casino, everybody was in a great mood,” he said.
Farther away, Rod Taylor, vice president of Lake Mead/Mohave Adventures, said the June 5-7 weekend at the marinas he operates at the Lake Mead National Recreation Area was his busiest of the year.
“We haven’t seen demand at these levels since before the (2008) recession.”
Brian Howard, chef and owner of Sparrow + Wolf, a restaurant in the Chinatown district west of the Strip on Desert Inn Road, said last week his dining room was sold out through opening weekend.
“It’s a great feeling to see the guests singing to the songs of the playlists, laughing and enjoying each other again,” he said. “You get the sense that everyone is ready to celebrate being out again.”
Gaming operators have helped things along with free parking, something that hasn’t been seen on the Strip in years. The Sahara went a step further by waiving the resort fee it charges hotel guests. The South Point has reduced its fee to $14 a night through August.
They’re also dangling an array of value-oriented promotions.
Station is offering a deal with up to 25 percent off regular room rates for a minimum stay of two nights with a $50 food and beverage credit. The website Vegas.com was offering rooms at the Flamingo, one of three casinos that Caesars Entertainment opened, for $45 a night. MGM’s New York-New York was advertising rooms for $30. Golden Entertainment, which owns the Strat on Las Vegas Boulevard and the Arizona Charlie’s locals casinos, was discounting rooms by up to 45 percent. At the top end of the market, Bellagio was charging only $139 a night.
And buoyed by the demand, operators are accelerating other planned openings.
MGM’s Excalibur resumed business last Thursday. Luxor and The Shoppes at Mandalay Bay Place are set to reopen June 25. Aria, Mandalay Bay and the Four Seasons Las Vegas will return on July 1.
Caesars, which initially opened Caesars Palace, the Flamingo, Harrah’s Las Vegas and the Linq promenade on June 4, last week added the casino at the Linq to the list, though not the property’s hotel.
“We are encouraged by customer interest and visits, strong demand, and the implementation, so far, of our enhanced health and safety protocols,” said Caesars CEO Tony Rodio. “This is a new way of operating and we will continue to evaluate and adjust our procedures to enhance guest and team member comfort and experiences.”
Operators have stressed guest and employee safety as their biggest concern and have instituted extensive protections and procedures. Visitors, however, have seemed less concerned. News reports indicate few are wearing masks or observing the properties’ social distancing guidelines.
“What I noticed is zero consistency,” said Tim Haughinberry, a Las Vegas resident and owner of Back Bar USA, a local beverage marketing firm. “Overall, nobody seemed to care that there was a pandemic.”
Roeben attributed it to “a kind of wishful thinking; that if you ignore the threat, it doesn’t exist.”
“We all know this isn’t permanent, it’s the ‘new temporary.’ Vegas isn’t meant to be done with masks or worry. It’s an escape.”
Laughlin. The Colorado River casino market has been greeting huge crowds since reopening with the rest of Nevada gaming two weeks ago.
At Edgewater Casino Resort long lines were reported at hotel check-in on the afternoon of reopening day on June 4, and guests didn’t seem deterred by staff at the doors wielding hand-held body temperature scanners.
By 10:30 that morning, the Aquarius Casino Resort had counted just under 1,000 guests.
“We are thrilled to reopen and do what we love to do in providing a fun and exciting escape for our guests,” said Sean Hammond, vice president and general manager.
Both Harrah’s Laughlin and the Riverside Resort Hotel & Casino ran charter flights to Laughlin/Bullhead International Airport to juice the reopening, while the Regency Casino hosted a 6:30 a.m. pajama party to kick off its return.
Tropicana-Laughlin, the Golden Nugget and the Pioneer also reported hefty crowds.
Pennsylvania casinos began reopening last week after two and a half months of shutdown, with reduced capacity and strict guidelines to protect employees and customers against the spread of the Covid-19 virus.
In the Pittsburgh area, both Rivers Casino and Meadows Racetrack & Casino opened Tuesday, June 9. In Fayette County, also in western Pennsylvania, the Lady Luck Casino at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort was slated to reopen Friday, June 12.
Rivers Casino is operating on reduced hours 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays with 24-hour operation Friday and Saturday. “Our team had already been working on making the changes announced by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board in May,” Rivers Casino General Manager Bill Keena said in a statement. “We intend to meet or exceed all requirements to provide a healthy environment. The safety and well-being of our team members, our guests and the community are our top priority.”
“We have been working closely with the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, state and local leaders, and public health officials to finalize comprehensive reopening protocols and new health and safety precautions,” said Meadows General Manager Tony Frabbiele in a statement. “We look forward to sharing details of our property-specific procedures in advance of reopening and welcoming back our team members and customers.”
Casinos are opening under the state-mandate “green phase,” which means properties are restricted to 50 percent occupancy, and must follow a 10-page list of protocols issued by the gaming board. All customers and casino employees are required to wear masks, social distance and limit personal contact. Casinos must implement extensive cleaning and disinfecting regimens to comply with all guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Pennsylvania Department of Health.
Other protocols include the following, according to the state Gaming Control Board:
- Casinos must place signs at each entrance reminding patrons of CDC guidelines for social distancing, proper washing of hands, use of sanitizers, wearing masks, and for staying home if feeling ill or sick.
- Casinos must monitor customers for temperature and other symptoms of illness.
- The casino staff stationed at entrance points must receive training in recognizing possible signs of people who may be ill, and will be instructed to routinely ask such people if they have had a fever, had contact with anyone with the Covid-19 virus within the past 14 days and whether they are feeling ill.
- Casinos must place sanitizer stations at each entrance as well as throughout the casino floor, which include hand sanitizer solution as well as sanitizing wipes for patrons to use both on themselves as well as on surfaces with which they may come into contact.
- Casinos must place markings on the floor in all areas in which patrons may form lines for entry or services. The marking shall be designed to maintain a social distancing of 6 feet in between patrons.
- Patrons not complying with protocols shall be warned and if they do not comply shall be asked to leave the casino.
- Each casino must identify a pandemic safety officer who will report any employee with a confirmed or presumptive case of Covid-19 to the gaming control board and the state health department.
Slot machines are reconfigured promote social distancing, many with a Plexiglas barrier between machines, others by removing chairs from certain machines and disabling certain slot machines to create distance between operating machines.
Poker rooms will remain closed until further guidance from the state, and valet parking will not be available during this phase of reopening.
The Seneca Indian Nation plans to begin reopening its three full-scale casinos in Western New York starting June 18.
Seneca Niagara Resort and Casino in Niagara Falls will open first, along with the tribe’s smaller machine gaming venues in Irving, Salamanca and Cuba.
The other main casinos, Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino in downtown Buffalo and Seneca Allegany Resort and Casino in Salamanca will follow on June 25 and July 2, respectively.
Like the Oneida Nation’s three casinos in central New York, which opened last week, the Seneca properties will operate at reduced capacity both on the gaming floors and elsewhere and with best practices in place to protect health and safety, according to a statement issued by the tribe.
“After being closed for nearly three months, we are now ready to move forward with the safe, responsible and systematic reopening of our gaming facilities,” said nation President Rickey Armstrong Sr. “This is a signature moment in our region’s economic recovery from the circumstances that arose as a result of this unprecedented public health crisis.”
The five properties employ around 4,000 people in total.
The Senecas and Oneidas voluntarily complied when New York’s entire gaming industry was closed on March 16 as part of the response to the coronavirus pandemic, which has hit New York City harder than anywhere in the U.S. The state has begun to ease the shutdown for some sectors of the economy, but the four commercial casinos, along with the racinos and racetracks, remain closed.
In Florida, the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Hollywood, Seminole Casino Coconut Creek and Seminole Classic Casino in Hollywood reopened on Friday, June 12, bringing back a combined workforce of 3,200 employees. The properties reopened under new Safe and Sound health precautions with 50 percent capacity.
Jim Allen, chief executive officer at Seminole Gaming and chairman at Hard Rock International said, “Hard Rock and Seminole Gaming have made a tremendous commitment to sanitary protocols and a safety first mentality for both guests and team members. We are making sure our resorts and casinos are safe and sound so our guests and team members have peace of mind when they return.”
Safe and Sound Program guidelines include mandatory guest temperature checks and masks; limited slot machine availability; plexiglass barriers at table games, poker games and customer service areas; hand sanitizers throughout the properties; enhanced cleaning and disinfecting of surfaces; and continuous air purification through the AtmosAir bipolar ionization system.
The iconic Guitar Hotel will reopen with 600 rooms at the Seminole Hard Rock. All three casinos will open select restaurants with social distancing. Hard Rock Live at Seminole Hard Rock and the Pavilion at Seminole Casino Coconut Creek will remain closed until further notice. Seminole Hard Rock Tampa reopened in mid-May and Seminole Casino Brighton reopened Tuesday, June 16. No date has been confirmed for reopening Seminole Casino Immokalee.
Delaware’s Dover Downs Casino & Hotel reopened its doors June 1 with operating hours revised to 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., under strict guidelines dictated by the state to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
The casino valet entrance to the property will be the only entrance open to the public, where customers will stop at a thermal temperature sensor. Customers with a temperature 100.4 degrees will not be permitted to enter. The property is complying with Governor John Carney’s guidelines for Phase 1 of reopening, which means entry will be limited to 30 percent of the fire code capacity, with six-foot social distancing guidelines throughout, and eight-foot distancing between slot machines and in restaurants.
“We are very much looking forward to welcoming our guests back to the property,” said Nick Polcino, vice president and general manager of Dover Downs, according to the Cape Gazette. “We are committed to continue working closely with the state to ensure the health and safety of both our employees and our guests remain a top priority as we move forward in this new phase.”
Guests and team members will be required to complete medical screenings and temperature checks before entering the property. Customers will be required to wear masks, and staff will sanitize slot machine surfaces frequently. Table games are slated to reopen with Phase 2 this week, with limited play stations and face coverings for players and dealers.
Hand sanitizer stations are placed around the casino.
During this phase, the Garden Café will serve lunch and dinner for takeout daily from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sweet Perks Too will be open from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily. Beverage service on the casino floor will be available during all hours of operation.
Indiana’s 13 commercial casinos will be allowed to reopen on Monday, June 15, under health and safety proposals they submitted to the Indiana Gaming Commission. Deputy Director Jennifer Reske said, “We’re impressed with the resources they’ve put into preparing for opening with all the necessary health mitigation procedures in place.”
The Michigan-based Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians also is expected to reopen its Four Winds Casino in South Bend plus three in southwestern Michigan on June 15. Charity gaming, such as church bingo, also may resume that day.
According to the gaming commission, it’s up to casino properties to determine their actual reopening date. Local governments also may impose additional restrictions on casino operations.
Under new rules, casinos must operate at half capacity. Employees and guests must have their temperatures checked and sanitize their hands before entering. Employees will be required to wear a face mask. The casinos must encourage social distancing and limit the number of players at table games, who must wear face masks. Slots will be rearranged with more space between machines and they must be sanitized between use. Smoking will be restricted to designated areas. Buffets, valet service and poker rooms will remain closed.
At Four Winds, everyone must have a temperature check and wear a mask at all times, among other new rules. Tribal Council Chairman Matthew Wesaw said, “Great care was taken by our gaming authority, gaming commission, health task force and casino management team on how to reopen with the proper health and safety measures in place.”
At least 7,000 Indiana casino workers have lost jobs during the shutdowns, which began March 17. Due to the casino closures, the state has lost
more than $110 million in projected tax revenue during March, April and May.
Detroit’s three casinos—MGM Grand Detroit, MotorCity Casino Hotel and Greektown Casino-Hotel—will be allowed to reopen under new health and safety guidelines decreed by the Michigan Gaming Control Board. That is, whenever they are allowed to reopen by Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer recently lifted the state’s stay-at-home order and Detroit-area restaurants resumed dining-in. Regarding casinos, closed since March 16, Whitmer said, “I think that casinos are going to be coming online soon. We’re going to continue to move forward.”
Casino reopening guidelines approved by the Michigan Gaming Control Board include operating at 15 percent of full capacity; temperature checks and masks for employees and patrons; designated smoking areas; increased cleaning and sanitizing; and social distancing, among others. Poker rooms, buffets, valet service and live events will remain closed.
Gaming Control Board Executive Director Richard Kalm said, “In compiling these minimum guidelines, we considered CDC recommendations, Nevada Gaming Board guidelines and information from the National Indian Gaming Commission. We required the casinos to propose reopening plans, and we consulted with the casino unions on the guidelines. We believe the guidelines will protect the public when it is safe to reopen the casinos.”
Greektown Casino-Hotel Chief Community Officer Marvin Beatty stated he said he supports Whitmer’s decisions and her concern for public health. “We’re anxious to get it open and service our customers. Whatever way they believe is the right way to start out, that’s what we’ll do,” he said.
MotorCity Casino Hotel President Bruce Dall commented, “MotorCity Casino Hotel looks forward to reopening our casino complex as soon as authorized by Governor Whitmer. Since closing, we’ve consulted with health experts, and worked with city of Detroit leadership, state leadership, the Michigan Economic Recovery Council, as well as the Michigan Gaming Control Board in its efforts to develop reopening guidelines designed to protect the health and safety of our guests and employees.”
And MGM Resorts International released a Seven-Point Safety Plan outlining the health and safety protocols to be implemented at all of its properties, including MGM Grand Detroit.
After being closed for three months, revenue at the three casinos dropped more than 50 percent compared to the same period last year—a total of $299.2 million this year compared to $617.9 million last year, according to the gaming control board. In addition, they paid $24.2 million in state gaming taxes this year compared to $50 million for the same period in 2019, and paid less than half of the $73.5 million in tax and development fees they paid to the city of Detroit this time last year.
Tribal casinos began reopening before Whitmer lifted the stay-at-home order. The Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe’s Soaring Eagle in Mount Pleasant hosted a VIP event on Friday, June 5. A prayer and smudge ceremony preceded the 8 a.m. opening. The tribe’s Soaring Eagle Slot Palace in Mount Pleasant and Saganing Eagles Landing Casino and Hotel in Saganing also had soft reopenings for invited guests only. All three reopened to the public on Monday, June 8.
Saginaw Chippewa Gaming Enterprises Chief Executive Officer Mike Bean stated, “We reopened with hopeful optimism without celebration because everything that is going on in the world right now. Our number one concern is getting back up and running in a safe and healthy fashion for our team members and guests. The tribe depends on the revenue for its tribal programs. The feedback we have received so far is people feel good about seeing people with masks on because they feel safer.”
Bean added, “We have spent a great amount of the time we were closed talking to other casinos around the country to discuss how we reopen in a responsible manner. We learned what we could. So we put in certain protocols in place to reopen.”
The Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians’ three Four Winds casinos in Michigan and South Bend, Indiana location are planning to open June 15. Four Winds Chief Operating Officer Frank Freedman said, “As the health and safety of our guests and employees has been and continues to remain our top priority, we will be opening with some changes to our amenities and services.”
The Illinois Gaming Board recently announced its casino reopening protocols but didn’t name a date when the state’s 10 casinos actually may reopen. IGB Administrator Marcus Fruchter stated the state is “committed to the safe, fair, deliberate, consistent and regulatory compliant resumption of casino gambling. The timing and conditions for such a resumption will be based upon public health guidance and metrics, and will proceed within the framework of Governor Pritzker’s Restore Illinois plan.”
Illinois is currently in Phase 3 of the governor’s Restore Illinois plan; he has stated the earliest the state could enter Phase 4 would be June 26. That’s when 50 or more people will be allowed to gather, although Fruchter said casinos have submitted plans allowing up to 50 percent of the maximum capacity allowed per venue.
Illinois casinos have been closed since March 16, just one week after Rivers Casino in Des Plaines was the first to offer legalized sports betting.
Among the IGB guidelines are social distancing, mandatory masks for employees and guests and increased cleaning and sanitizing. Poker rooms and buffets will remained closed.
Cherokee Nation Businesses announced they’re reopening their 10 northeast Oklahoma casinos in phases, starting with Cherokee Casino Tahlequah and Cherokee Casino Ft. Gibson opening on Monday, June 1, followed by Cherokee Casino Sallisaw on Tuesday, June 2. Cherokee Casino Will Rogers Downs, Cherokee Casino Grove and Cherokee Casino Roland reopened Wednesday, June 10. The remaining properties–Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa, Cherokee Casino West Siloam Springs, Cherokee Casino South Coffeyville and Cherokee Casino Ramona—were planning to reopen by Sunday, June 14. All were closed in March in response to Covid-19.
Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said, “Over the last two months, we have worked diligently to implement industry leading protocols that will help ensure the safety of our team members, our guests and our communities. As we begin to welcome back our guests, we must remain vigilant in our efforts to protect one another.”
CNB casinos are following the Responsible Hospitality plan, including new health and safety precautions. Hoskin explained, as team members and guests arrive at a casino, “The first place to go is the temperature check station, where a public health nurse asks you about your symptoms. We have a thermometer that uses a camera, so it’s sort of a sensor that can check your temperature. And if you pass those, you can continue on in the building. If you don’t, we will direct you to Cherokee Nation Health if a person is eligible for that, or tell them they need to go see their health care provider.”
Hoskin said all guests and team members must wear a mask and practice social distancing. The properties will operate at reduced capacity and all will be closed between 2 a.m. and 10 a.m. for enhanced cleaning and sanitation.
Hoskin added employees will return in staggered shifts but all tribal workers should be back in September. He stated the tribe’s major challenge was acquiring enough supplies to keep its thousands of employees and customers safe. Officials also watched as Oklahoma allowed businesses to reopen in May to “see what sort of impact that might have on the numbers in our area,” Hoskin said. “If the dangers were to increase as indicated by the data, we would change accordingly. I wouldn’t hesitate to suspend public access again if it meant protecting public health or employee health, and the same is true with our gaming facilities.”
An employee at Riverwalk Casino and Hotel in Vicksburg recently tested positive for the Covid-19 virus, and may have worked on the casino floor a few days before developing symptoms. In a memo to team members, General Manager Ginny Tzotzolas said, “We have learned that one of your fellow team members has tested positive for the novel coronavirus Covid-19. The team member last worked on May 25 and frequently worked on the casino floor.”
Mississippi casinos, including the four in Vicksburg, were permitted to reopen on May 21 with limited capacity, fewer players at slots and tables, enhanced cleaning and other new precautions. Tzotzolas said additional cleaning measures would be done in areas where the employee who tested positive worked.
Tzotzolas said due to privacy laws the team member who tested positive for the virus could not be identified. “However, our discussions with this team member indicate that the team member did not work in close contact (defined by the Centers for Disease Control as being within six feet of another person for 10-30 minutes or more) with any other team member in the two days before developing symptoms. We will coordinate with the health department to conduct contact tracing as required.”
New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell announced restrictions would be lifted on restaurants and other businesses on Saturday, June 13. Soon after the mayor’s announcement, Caesars Entertainment said it would reopen Harrah’s New Orleans, the state’s only land-based casino, that day, under new health and safety guidelines from the city and the Louisiana Gaming Control Board.
The new guidelines for Harrah’s as well as the Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots include operating at 25 percent capacity, reconfiguring the casino floor for social distancing and reducing slots and table-games seats. Employees and guests must have their temperatures taken before entering and must wear face masks. Cleaning and sanitizing measures will be increased.
Also in Louisiana, Evangeline Downs in Opelousas opened its 2020 horseracing season on Friday, June 12, nearly three months later than originally scheduled. For that reason, the track’s racing schedule will include 50 days instead of 84. The summer meet, originally set to start April 8, still is scheduled to end Saturday, August 29.
The races will be run without fans in the stands but they’ll be broadcast on TVs in restaurants and bars. Fans will be able to place bets online and at off-track betting facilities nationwide. Also, players will be able to place wagers at kiosks throughout the property.
David Strow, vice president of corporate communications at parent company Boyd Gaming, said, “It’s exciting to finally be able to resume operations at Evangeline Downs and get racing back on track. We’re in the bit of a new normal right now, so not everything is the way that we’re accustomed. But we’re excited to be able to open our racing calendar. There are still ways for our fans to enjoy the races.”
Harrah’s Louisiana Downs in Bossier City also has reopened. Its 64-day meet began Thursday, June 11 and will run on Saturday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday through September 23.
Ohio Governor Mike DeWine announced the state’s seven racinos may reopen Friday, June 19. The four casinos in Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati and Toledo may open the same day or soon after, said Jessica Franks, spokeswoman for the Ohio Casino Control Commission.
Franks said a working group including industry officials, heads of the Casino Control and Lottery commissions and health officials developed proposals for new safety rules for the casinos. These include 50 percent occupancy, social distancing, mandatory masks for team members, encouraging patrons to wear masks and limiting players at slots and table games. Poker, valet services and concerts will not be allowed yet. Special hours will be set aside for at-risk populations, such as older adults.
Last month horseracing tracks were allowed to resume racing, but without spectators. Only essential personnel will be permitted at the track on race days. Wagers may be placed online and at off-track betting facilities.
At Jack Casino in Cincinnati, the future home of Hard Rock Casino, President George Goldhoff said, “It was a tough several months, but we are Cincinnati Strong. We stuck together and saw each other through, and now it’s time to get back on track.” He added, “I wish I could say for certain there will be no glitches upon reopening. What I can say beyond a doubt is that we have a team of individuals who are committed to providing a safe and sound environment and we are taking every precaution to ensure you and our staff feel safe. While the guest experience may look and feel different, we will continue providing first-class hospitality our guests deserve and enjoy.”
Goldhoff said guests will recognize the newly designated Safe + Sound Clean Team by their brightly colored shirts as they clean and sanitize all high-touch surfaces, as well as tables and casino chips, at least every two hours. Goldhoff said the cleaning team will use an “electro-static atomizer that shoots out a sanitizing agent.”
Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear allowed historical horseracing venues to reopen on Monday, June 8. Beshear said, “They actually provided us with a proposal that will be most of the requirements. It was a good proposal and we think it’s going to help us to do it safely.”
That includes Churchill Downs’ Derby City Gaming in Louisville, featuring 1,000 racing terminals. In a statement, officials said, “We’re excited to welcome back our employees and guests and are committed to doing so in the safest and most responsible way possible. The team at Derby City Gaming is diligently focused on implementing the safety plan, which aligns and in many cases exceeds state guidelines and requirements for reopening.”
Some of the requirements include occupancy limits, visual aids for social distancing, hand sanitizing stations, plexiglass dividers, temperature checks for guests and employees and employee training on safety protocols.
Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb, who allowed the state’s 13 casinos to reopen on Sunday, June 14, stated his decision was not affected by the reopenings in Kentucky.
“This is all about health in the state of Indiana, as it is in Kentucky as well. This is not about trying to make more money,” Holcomb said.
Minnesota’s 11 federally recognized tribes are in the process of reopening their 19 casinos with new health and safety precautions in response to Covid-19.
The Upper Sioux Community reopened its Prairie’s Edge Casino Resort in Granite Falls on May 18, with 50 percent occupancy, plexiglass dividers, mandatory temperature checks, face masks, hand sanitizing stations, limited slots availability and social distancing. The hotel’s pool, sauna and exercise room remain closed. “Once again, these changes have been made for the health and safety of all,” tribal leaders said.
The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community’s Mystic Lake Casino and Little Six Casino in Prior Lake reopened May 26 with strict sanitizing protocols, reduced occupancy, limited smoking areas and required temperature checks and masks. Restaurants and self-serve beverage stations remain closed. Officials said, “We will take a phased approach to reopening based on the guidance we continue to receive from public health officials, and add additional amenities over time.”
The Red Lake Nation reopened its Seven Clans Casino in Warroad and Seven Clans Casino in Thief River Falls on May 28. Seven Clans Casino, Red Lake remains closed. At the open casinos, hours have been restricted for extensive cleaning sessions. Both properties require masks and installed social distancing markers and plexiglass partitions, and have banned smoking. Poker, bingo restaurants, the water park and arcade remain closed. In a statement, tribal leaders said, “Our management is continuously monitoring the situation and will continue to modify our properties to ensure that we are operating in a way that keeps you, our guests, our team members and tribal members safe.”
The Bois Forte Band of Chippewa opened its Fortune Bay Resort Casino in Tower on Monday, June 1 with limited hours, increased cleaning and safety protocols, mandatory temperature checks and masks and no smoking. Only two guests at a time are allowed at table games. Valet, shuttle service, coat check, fountain drink stations, fitness center, mobile sauna, restaurants, buffet, poker room and arcade remain closed.
The Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe reopened its Grand Casino in Mille Lacs and Hinckley on Monday, June 1. New protocols include temperature checks, required face masks, social distancing markers, hand sanitizer stations and designated smoking areas. Joseph S. Nayquonabe, chief operating officer at Mille Lacs Corporate Ventures, said, “When we made the decision to temporarily close Grand Casino, we knew we were making an unprecedented decision with significant financial implications. Yet we did so confidently, knowing that it was the right decision to protect the Mille Lacs Band community, as well as the safety and wellbeing of our associates and guests.”
Prairie Island Indian Community’s Treasure Island Resort & Casino in Welch reopened in phases on June 1 and June 5. New health and safety protocols include designated entrances with temperature checks, mandatory masks, limited table-game seating and hand sanitizing stations.
The Lower Sioux Indian Community’s Jackpot Junction Casino Hotel in Morton reopened Monday, June 1 with half capacity, reduced hours, temperature checks and mandatory masks. Only three patrons at a time are allowed at table games. Lower Sioux Lodge is open at half capacity but the pool, sauna, exercise room, arcade and business center remain closed.
White Earth Nation’s Shooting Star Casinos in Mahnomen and Bagley will reopen Friday, June 19 with limited occupancy and hours. Guests’ temperatures will be checked and they will be “highly encouraged” to wear masks. Slot machines have been rearranged and floor decals have been placed to encourage physical distancing. The hotel, RV park and gift shop will be open with limited occupancy, and the spa, bingo hall, poker, buffet and pool remain closed. In a statement, officials said, “The decision to close our doors for the first time in 28 years since opening in May of 1992 was not an easy one. While you’ve been away, we have been working diligently behind the scenes to put measures into place to keep you safe when you return.”
The Leech Lake Band of Chippewa’s Cedar Lakes Casino, White Oak Casino and the Northern Lights Casino Hotel and Events Center will begin phased reopenings on Monday, June 22. Phase One will include slot machines, alcohol service on the casino floor, snack bar take-outs and the gift shop. Phase Two will include table games, restaurants, hotel and the event center. And Phase Three will include entertainment, bingo and fitness centers.
The Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa’s, Black Bear Casino Resort and Fond-du-Luth Casino remain closed, with no reopening date set. Fond-du-Luth Casino Manager Maurice Ojibway said, “We are working tirelessly on a plan for the eventual reopening of the casino. A reopening we hope is sooner than later, but in any event, will be designed to protect and keep safe our most precious assets–our customers and employees.” Black Bear Casino Resort General Manager Dan LaPrairie stated, “Our commitment to operating the best hospitality and entertainment venue in the region has always gone far beyond meeting minimum legal requirements. This has not changed during the Covid-19 pandemic.”
Grand Portage Band of Chippewa announced it will reopen its Grand Portage Lodge & Casino in Hovland on Monday, June 22. Tribal Chair Beth Drost said, “Things will be a little different when we reopen, with new measures in place to ensure that our guests and employees remain safe.”
Colorado’s commercial casinos are starting to reopen, although a tribal casino, the Sky Ute Casino Resort, beat them all to the punch with a mobile sports betting app.
The casinos are in Teller and Gilpin counties, which both petitioned the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE ) for variance requests that would allow their reopening, although it has already partially approved plans for reopening restaurants, gyms and cinemas.
Teller County includes Cripple Creek, whose most prominent casino is the Wildwood Casino, which calls itself the highest casino in the world, at 9,593 feet above sea level.
Without the Wildwood Casino, Cripple Creek’s sales tax revenues have nosedived and it has a budget shortfall of $2 million.
In Colorado, unlike some states, the Health Department has the last word in unlocking shutdowns mandated by the pandemic.
Unhampered by the coronavirus the state WAS able to begin its experiment in sports gaming, which became legal on May 1.
When the CDPHE rejected Teller County’s application for a variance on May 22, casino representatives met with health officials to learn what they might do to get a favorable ruling.
Teller County followed up with an amended application that included social distancing guideless, mask requirements and temperature checks. Blackjack would be the only table game that could reopen immediately.
CDPHE approved that variance last week. It clarified that, for example, casinos must stipulate how many people can ride in an elevator. They may only operate with slots, not tables and buses that serve the casinos must be cleaned daily and after each transport.
Gilpin County, which includes the casino town of Black Hawk, presented a 50-page proposal to CDPHE, which, limits casino capacity to 30 percent of building code capacity. That capacity could be amended once infection rates decline.
That proposal was approved and the casinos in Gilpin will be able to open June 17. The 10-day window gives casino operators time to recall their furloughed employees and implement the safety protocols.
Those procedures include limiting capacity to no more than 175 people at a time, or 250 people at outdoor settings. Signs must be post asking people with fevers to stay away, and employees must be monitored daily for symptoms. Buses that transport patrons to casinos must be cleaned and disinfected between rides and at the end of each day of service.
Reports in the Wall Street Journal and USA Today indicates that Gilpin County is the hardest-hit in the U.S. by the economic turndown created by the pandemic. More than two-thirds of the town’s revenue comes from gaming.
Sportsbooks will not encounter such problems for a casino such as Casino Creek, where sports wagering happens through kiosks that only one customer can use at a time. There are no sports betting lounges planned.
Meantime, six digital sportsbooks launched in May, with another expected to join later this month. For May gross revenues were $25.5 million.
The Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise has announced it will remain closed until at least until July 5 by order of Navajo President Jonathan Nez, who is also keep all governmental operations under lockdown until then.
When casinos are reopened, they will employ protocols such as deep cleaning and sanitizing and other safety measures now become standard at casinos around the country.
The Navajo Nation has one of the highest rates of infection of the coronavirus, and has a population that includes a high percentage of at risk individuals, including elders and people with diabetes.
The Quechan Indian Tribe has announced it will reopen the Paradise Casino on June 17. The new-normal safety measures will be in force, with masks smiled upon but not required. Employees will make frequent sanitizing sweeps from corner to corner.
The casino’s bingo and lounge will be closed with the space used to create more social distancing for slot machines.
California’s tribal casinos have marched to a different drummer than Governor Gavin Newsom, who has said he felt most of them were reopening faster than was safe, but who has no authority over sovereign reservations.
Four Indian casinos near Sacramento, California reopened on Monday, June 8 under rigorous social distancing and the disinfecting protocols that make the gaming experience a much different one than it was when they closed in mid-March. They included Thunder Valley Casino, Cache Creek, Red Hawk Casino and Jackson Rancheria.
The largest casino in Northern California, the Bay Area’s Graton Resort & Casino, operated by the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, announced a June 18 reopening.
All the new-normal restrictions are in place (masks, temperature checks, refigured gaming floor and limited restaurant tables, ubiquitous sanitizer stations) with hotel amenities on the Spartan side, e.g. no valet services.
Chairman Greg Sarris, did not comment, but previously had said it was “virtually impossible” to maintain enough social distancing in a casino to reduce the transmission of the coronavirus.
In Southern California San Manuel Casino, the first California casino to close, will be one of the last in the region to reopen. It announced a June 15 reopening, with phases beginning June 9. It will have the usual safety precautions and will limit its capacity to 2,600 patrons. Fewer than half of its 4,900 slot machines will be turned on, with chairs removed from those that are off. Its 68 table games will be even more restrictive than most casinos, with only two allowed per game, instead of the three that most are reopening with—with clear barriers between players and dealer. Chips will be cleaned nightly, compared to twice a month before Covid-19. Some restaurants will offer take-out only—with guests able to order from the casino website and informed by text when they can pick up the food. None will be open to in-restaurant dining.
Still waiting in the wings is the Augustine Casino in the Coachella Valley, which is looking at, but hasn’t committed to, a mid-June reopening.
General Manager Jef Bauer told the Press-Enterprise, “We don’t want to rush into anything. We feel like we have a good plan, but we want to make sure it’s safe enough to open.”
In preparation for the inevitable, the smaller casino has removed half of the stools and chairs from the gaming floor, eliminated the player’s club to create more room for social distancing, and moved slots further apart. Customers won’t be able to shop in the gift store, but rather order items at the counter.
The Menyikish Grill’s tables will be set further apart and everything will be served in disposable containers and with plastic forks and spoons.
An interesting wrinkle is how to do a temperature check in the middle of one of the nation’s hottest deserts, where temperatures routinely reach 115 degrees. Bauer says the “jury is still out” on that.
Casino Pauma, in San Diego County, which was one of the first casinos in Southern California to close, and which had said it was staying closed until further notice, finally announced a Friday, June 12 opening.
General Manager Jim Thomason declared, “Because we are a smaller local casino that does not have a hotel, spa, pool, and other amenities like the larger resorts, it is far easier to manage safety for our guests. Our guests can expect to be around smaller crowds compared to the mega resorts that surround us.”
The first casinos in the New England market to reopen in the wake of the pandemic are Foxwoods Resort Casino and the Mohegan Sun.
Cars have largely ignored the large highway signs that Governor Ned Lamont ordered his transportation department to erect warning motorists “DON’T GAMBLE W/ HEALTH. AVOID LARGE CROWDS.”
During a radio address he declared, “I thought we should have waited until mid-, late June like our neighbors. I thought that would have been safer for employees, safer for customers, and safer for the region.”
Foxwoods Interim CEO Jason Guyot says he believes the resort’s new safety protocols will protect patrons and casinos employees while the tribe begins to claw its way back to profitability.
That may take a while since Foxwoods is currently operating at a quarter of its capacity.
Although Foxwoods is not advertising to neighboring states right now, the parking lot has plenty of license plates from Massachusetts, where the three casinos have not yet reopened and won’t reopen at least until the end of June according to Governor Charlie Baker’s plans for reopening the state.
Patrons aren’t thrilled by such innovations as playing table games with a plastic shield between player and dealer, but they are willing to put up with it in the name of safety.
One patron told the Boston Globe, “It’s definitely going to change the experience, but hopefully it doesn’t change the main reason why people come, which is to win money.”
Guyot took charge of the casino in the middle of shutdown when his predecessor resigned without much notice. The casino furloughed most of its 4,500 employees and has recalled about a third of those for its limited reopening.
A few miles away the Mohegan Sun has also reopened, and has reported similar positive reactions among returning guests.
Some experts predict that with the limited reopenings and capacities that the casinos will be fighting even more fiercely for the shrunken pie.
But first, the casinos must learn whether the safety measures they instituted are actually working.
With no new Covid-19 cases in the Confederated Tribes of Warms Springs in Oregon, the tribes plan for government employees to return to work and to reopen its Indian Head Casino.
The Warm Springs Tribal Council voted for the casino to reopen with 25 percent capacity, and all of the now expected protocols of sanitation, social distancing and masks for all.
The tribe has been under a stay-at-home order.
Atlantic City casinos are quietly counting the days until reopening, but that date is still uncertain, although New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy has targeted the July 4 weekend for that big reveal.
Resorts Casino Hotel on Atlantic City’s famous Boardwalk has a re-opening plan. The property dubbed it the “Play Safe, Work Safe” plan.
The proposal includes a major capital outlay to improve air quality and to clean and sanitize surfaces with advanced bipolar ionization and UV technology, according to CDC Gaming Reports.
“Upon reopening, we will be utilizing what research has shown to be the best sanitization and air-quality technology available today,” said Mark Giannantonio, president and CEO of Resorts.
Professional cleaning company Servpro has already disinfected and sanitized the casino property with its electrostatic spraying process. UV-C sterilization technology will be used on escalators to eliminate bacteria and viruses on handrails. In addition, a bipolar ionization air-purification system will disinfect the air flow to reduce the spread of viruses and bacteria.
Mobile ultraviolet-light technology, similar to what hospitals employ, will clean and disinfect public and private areas, including public restrooms and hotel rooms.
Health screening and temperature checks will be mandatory for employees, many who will be trained on industry-wide health and safety protocols. Precautions for guests when they return will include by now standard mobile express check-in and checkout, capacity of four patrons per elevator car, social distancing, and hand-sanitizer stations and hand wipes.
“We are excited about being one of the safest destinations in our region upon reopening,” Giannantonio said in a statement. “We want our guests to be able to enjoy the friendly and warm experience that has always been part of our core values.”
Specific industry-wide details are still being worked out among multiple parties, including state gaming regulators and the hospitality union.
The state Division of Gaming Enforcement, AtlantiCare and UNITE HERE Local 54 union are working on a proposal for operational best practices by the nine casinos in Atlantic City. Once finalized, the plan goes to the Governor’s Office for review, according to the Press of Atlantic City. Re-opening plans for the individual properties also go to gaming regulators for approval.
Steve Callender, head of the Casino Association of New Jersey said the industry needs about 14 days to re-open. But other properties open elsewhere give a glimpse of what Atlantic City will look like. Staff members wear masks, and are tested for Covid-19 before returning to work. Guests were strongly encouraged, but not required, to wear masks in Las Vegas, but other places make it mandatory.
Recommended social distancing guidelines apply. Guest temperature screenings, table capacity limits, Plexiglas separators and spaced-out slot machines are also commonplace.
“Every market is unique, and we can better tailor our solutions for our Atlantic City customers versus what might work in other jurisdictions,” said Terry Glebocki, CEO of Ocean Casino Resort.
The industry could benefit from seeing how they operate elsewhere.
David G. Schwartz, associate vice provost at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and former director of the school’s Center for Gaming Research, said Atlantic City properties could also use the re-opening as an opportunity to “re-introduce themselves to customers. In Las Vegas, that has meant casinos abandoning paid parking and some removing their resort fees.”
“Atlantic City casinos can use this opportunity to do the same, and to capitalize on ongoing travel restrictions. There are many people within driving distance of Atlantic City that might not want to fly right now, and if they like what they see when they visit an Atlantic City casino, they might keep coming back.”
Casino operators in Atlantic City believe that they are prepared to safely and responsibly welcome guests back to their properties.
“Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City is extremely comfortable and confident that we will provide responsible protocols to safeguard both our guests and team members,” said Joe Lupo, property president. “The new standards will provide a clean, comfortable and fun experience that we are hopeful will present visitors an exciting summer here on the iconic Atlantic City Boardwalk at the Jersey Shore.”
Glebocki said “communication and reassurance are key to re-opening,” since both guests and employees need to feel safe before they return.
“Everyone has been living in this Covid world for nearly three months now,” she said. “We have become accustomed and we have adapted to a new sense of normal where masks and social distancing are commonplace in public spaces. That will make it easier for guests when they return to Ocean.”
While the state of Maryland has entered the second phase of reopening for non-essential businesses, dubbed “Maryland Strong: Roadmap to Recovery,” the state’s six casinos are still waiting for that roadmap to reach them.
While casinos such as MGM National Harbor have reopening plans in place, the industry is still awaiting word from Governor Larry Hogan on when casinos may reopen.