U.S. Casino Reopenings Continue
Casinos in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and elsewhere are continuing to reopen, all under similar but location-specific guidelines for patron and employee safety. Some properties are advancing into new, less restricted phases of their reopening plans.
The U.S. casino industry continues to get back to business following a three-month hiatus. The process has been gradual, tentative and cautious, considering the viral outbreak that caused markets around the world to shut down in mid-March. Here is a look at several markets across the country, and how they are managing this critical transition.
Coachella Valley’s Augustine Casino, which is operated by the Augustine Band of Cahuilla Indians, reopened June 15 after being closed since mid-March. It was the first Indian casino in Riverside County to reopen.
The new normal restrictions will include facial coverings for all, temperature screening upon entering and only slot machines since table games have been removed to make room for more social distancing.
A smoking casino before, the Augustine has no prohibited it. Gone also are valet services and other amenities such as the buffet, although the Menyikish Bar & Grill will be open. Instead of a 24-hour casino, it will close at midnight to allow for deep cleaning.
Morongo Casino Resort & Spa, which reopened in late May, reported that one of its managers had tested positive for Covid-19. So far he has been told to stay home. He has no symptoms but employees who have had contact with him have been ordered tested.
This has apparently caused some employees to complain that not enough is being done to keep them safe. They also suspect that more employees have tested positive for the virus than the casino has admitted.
Some employees say the measure the casino adopted are mainly for show, they told KESQ News Channel 3. “More of our employees, our co-workers, are coming out positive and we’re not being told anything,” said an employee who didn’t want to be identified. “It’s crazy in there, there’s so many people coming in. It’s crowded, people are shoulder to shoulder.”
Rohnert Park’s Graton Resort and Casino in Northern California reopened on June 18 after being closed three months.
Eagle Mountain Casino in Central California is looking at a July 1 reopening according to the Tule River Indian Tribe. It waited longer than other Golden State tribes because the casino is in the middle of a reservation that has many elders, who are considered at risk to infection from Covid-19.
When it does reopen it will have the typical restrictions in place, such as temperature screenings, masks for all and alerts that will tell employees when a patron has left a machine and it requires sanitation.
The casino has purchased foggers and handheld ultraviolet lights to help sanitize.
San Manuel Casino in Southern California reopened June 15, with usual suspects of safety measures: temperature checks upon entering, followed by an interview by professional health screeners.
The number of guests is topped at 2,600 with fewer than half of the slot machines operating to enable social distancing. Guests are given a tool that allows them to press slot buttons without their skin coming in contact with them and a pen for one person’s use.
Only two players are allowed at each table game and player and dealer separated by a Plexiglas divider. Cards are replaced every eight hours and chips are cleaned throughout the day.
Dining and bars are operating at reduced capacity also.
Foxwoods Resort Casino, which has been reopening its property in phases, began Phase 2 on June 17, reopening Fox Tower Casino and in-restaurant dining at six outlets such as Guy Fieri’s Foxwoods Kitchen and California Pizza Kitchen.
It also reopened Monza World-Class Karting and a new drive-in theater. Others in the phase 2 reopening, Tanger Outlets’ 30 stores.
The Grand Pequot Tower increased its capacity.
Most of the resorts 2,000 employees are returning to work after being temporarily laid off about a month ago.
On Friday, June 12, gamblers lined up to enter the Seminole Hard Rock Hollywood, Seminole Casino Coconut Creek, Seminole Classic Casino Hollywood, Hialeah Park, the Big Easy in Hallandale Beach, Magic City Casino and the Casino at Dania Beach—all closed since mid-March due to Covid-19. First, however, patrons had to pass through thermal imaging cameras that detect potential fever—just one of the many stringent new protocols.
Hard Rock International Chairman Jim Allen said, “This is not about money. This is about the safety of our tribal members, our employees and our guests. Obviously, this has been a tremendous financial impact being closed for three months. But it’s about slowly going back in and making sure we take the steps to enjoy.” About 3,200 employees have resume work at the Seminole properties, which all have been equipped with the AtmosAir bipolar ionization system designed to destroy virus particles in the air and on surfaces.
New health and safety regulations, besides temperature checks, include operating at 50 percent capacity; mandatory masks for employees and guests; every other slot machine turned off; and plexiglass partitions between players and table games dealers.
The Guitar Hotel at the Seminole Hard Rock Hollywood formed the Safe & Sound Clean Team to continually disinfect surfaces, especially particularly in high-touch and high traffic areas. About 600 rooms will be available, with more opening later.
Several restaurants will reopen at the Hard Rock properties with social distancing rules; 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 opened in mid-May. Seminole Casino Brighton will reopen on Tuesday. No date has been announced regarding when Seminole Casino Immokalee will reopen.
Indiana casinos, closed since mid-March, were allowed to reopen on Monday, June 15, with reduced capacity and new safety and health measures in place. Each property was required to have their health and safety plans approved by the Indiana Gaming Commission before reopening. Every venue will operate at lower capacity and require guests to have their temperature checked before entering. Employees must wear face masks. Every-other slot machine is turned off to maintain social distancing and table games positions are limited. Hand sanitizer must be available throughout the facility. Also, live music, buffets, valet and shuttles remain closed.
Horseshoe Hammond Casino General Manager Dan Nita said, “Business volumes were terrific, much more like a busy weekend day than a Monday.” He added department managers now are fine-tuning certain areas. For example, Nita said, “We are going to find locations to add back some of the slot machines that have been turned off due to social distancing.”
In Gary, Majestic Star Casinos General Manager Jahnae Erpenbach said, “We are extremely pleased with our passenger count yesterday, with nearly twice as many folks visiting than on a typical Monday. We¹re very happy with our reopening day results and glad to know our hard work to bring our guests back safely paid off.” Majestic Star guests received a customer care kit consisting of hand sanitizer, face mask and finger protectors.
At Blue Chip Casino in Michigan City, Vice President and General Manager Brenda Temple said guests have been understanding regarding the casino’s new health and safety and social distancing protocols, including shortened hours to accommodate deep cleaning overnight along with sanitizing and cleaning throughout the day. Temple said, “Central to this effort is Boyd Clean, a set of comprehensive health and safety protocols that fully meet the highest standards set forth by federal, state and local health officials.”
At Hollywood Casino in Lawrenceburg, restaurant offerings are limited. The VIP Lounge, poker room and sportsbook will remain closed but sports betting kiosks will be available.
Rising Star Casino in Rising Sun requires all guests to show identification, regardless of their age, upon entering as well as have their temperature checked. Masks are encouraged and will be available for patrons. Floor graphics indicate social distancing where lines form. Guest areas are cleaned and disinfected several multiple times daily with EPA-approved products. HVAC systems have been upgraded with hospital grade filters.
In addition, restaurant and sportsbook seating have been reduced to maintain social distancing. And only three people at a time will be allowed on elevators.
Belterra Casino Resort in Florence has reconfigured seating at slots, table games, restaurants and bars for social distancing. Patrons will be limited in retail shops and banquet and meeting spaces. Guest spaces are cleaned and disinfected multiple times daily with EPA-approved products.
Guests at Four Winds Casinos in South Bend and New Buffalo are required to wear face masks. Chief Operating Officer Frank Freedman said attendance was good and guests were cooperative with the rules and social distancing. He said two guests failed the required pre-entry temperature check and left the properties cooperatively.
In addition to casinos reopening, the IGC announced charity gaming, including church bingo, resumed June 15.
Meeting (virtually) for the first time in four months, the Illinois Gaming Board recently issued guidelines for reopening the state’s 10 casinos, closed since March 16—but gave no indication of an actual reopening date. Each property must submit to the board a plan outlining health and safety protocols they plan to implement. Gaming Board Administrator Marcus Fruchter said, “The IGB 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 J.D. Pritzker’s Restore Illinois plan.”
Pritzker himself commented, “Our public health officials are talking to casino owners and other experts to try to figure out how you could do it. We’ve heard a lot about this out of Las Vegas, of course. But look, the goal here is to get everybody back to work, but to do it safely.”
Illinois Casino Gaming Association Executive Director Tom Swoik said he hopes the opening of casinos will coincide with the start of Pritzker’s Phase 4, which will start Friday, June 26 and allow gatherings of up to 50 people.
Illinois casinos will be capped at 50 percent occupancy, although that could change “depending on public health conditions at any time,” the IGB said.
Other requirements include providing free personal protective equipment and daily health screenings to employees; posting signage urging patrons to keep up social distancing and “proper hand washing;” and regularly disinfecting all gaming equipment including dice, chips, cards and roulette wheels. Also, patrons and employees must wear “some type of face covering.”
Buffets, table game tournaments, valet parking, poker rooms and any “promotions that require patrons to cluster and/or that cannot be conducted in compliance with current 6-foot social distancing requirements” will be prohibited.
The IGB also issued reopening guidelines for video gaming operators to eventually restart the 36,000-plus machines installed at thousands of establishments statewide. Operators will be required to install physical partitions between the machines or space them out for social distancing, among other regulations.
In addition, Pritzker recently issued an executive order allowing participants to register for online betting accounts from home instead of in-person at casinos. In March, the board had granted 4-year sports betting licenses—at $10 million each—to Rivers in Des Plaines, Grand Victoria in Elgin, Hollywood in Aurora and Joliet, Par-A-Dice in East Peoria, Argosy in Alton and Casino Queen in East St. Louis. However, the casinos closed due to Covid-19 less than one week later.
Arlington International Racecourse in Arlington Heights, Hawthorne Race Course in Stickney and Fairmount Park in Collinsville also have applied for sports betting licenses, but they haven’t been approved yet.
After sitting idle while casinos reopened in neighboring states Delaware and Pennsylvania, Maryland casinos finally got the nod to end their Covid-19-related shutdown along with gyms, indoor restaurants and other businesses as of 5 p.m. June 12.
The restrictions in place are similar to those in other jurisdictions, including temperature checks at entrances, mandatory personal protective equipment for employees, masks for patrons and social-distancing requirements including Plexiglas shields at some games.
Maryland Lottery and Gaming Director Gordon Medenica said in a statement the state’s casinos will be limited to 25 percent to 50 percent of their capacity when they initially reopen.
The state’s three small casinos—Rocky Gap Casino Resort in Western Maryland, Hollywood Casino Perryville and Ocean Downs Casino—were the first to reopen—all three were slated to reopen Friday, June 19.
The state’s largest casino, Maryland Live! Casino and Hotel, will reopen its hotel and casino June 29, along with four of its 13 restaurants and bars. Its spa, retail shops and concert venue will remain closed.
Neither MGM National Harbor near Washington, D.C., consistently the state’s top-earning casino, or Horseshoe Casino Baltimore has announced a reopening date.
Medenica said in his statement that his agency is confident the casinos would be “ready to operate safely and effectively” when they do reopen their doors.
The Bay State’s three casinos have set June 29 as their target date for reopening, although that is subject to change. They closed March 15 in line with Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker’s executive order for the state.
The operators of the Encore Boston Harbor, MGM Springfield and Plainridge Park told the Massachusetts Gaming Commission last week that they would require at least two weeks to move things around on the gaming floor to create social distancing space between slot machines and table games. Employees will also have to be brought back from furlough and trained in the new protocols.
The commission is still working on its reopening plan, which emphasizing social distancing, hygiene, safety and reporting. The panel said it will ask for guidance from the state on the issue of six foot distancing between slot machines, and whether that could be less if physical barriers separate the machines.
They agreed to require Plexiglas barriers for blackjack, but felt that they might not work well for craps and roulette. Another topic is whether hand sanitizer should be required or just available. They also discussed chips and cards and how to keep them sanitized when they are passing between players.
Commissioner Enrique Zuniga observed, “We are not going to bring down the risk to zero. Let’s face it. That’s true for every other industry. What we are left with is the workability of each precaution.”
The Encore Boston Harbor has already begun installing barriers for blackjack tables but not for other games or for high roller games.
This differs somewhat from the MGM Springfield, which will also have barriers for some games, but will give players the option of whether to play at a table that has one. The MGM will also reduce its numbers of operating machines to less than 600 out of a total of 1,768.
The restrictions, which initially limit occupancy to about 25 percent, are so onerous that it might make it hard for the MGM to operate at a profit said the company’s vice president and general counsel Seth Stratton.
“I think our team has to look and see if there is an economically feasible way to reopen,” he told commissioners.
The Encore has 2,804 machines, of which 935 will be operating with two disabled machines in between.
Plainridge is a slots only casino, with 1,320 machines before the restrictions, and with 385 once six foot social distancing is put in place.
The commission is also studying how many players to allow at a roulette table at the MGM.
The rules will also require masks for guests and mandate that the casino provide them if they don’t have them.
Casino restaurants will be able to operate with social distancing, but bars will remain closed.
The Michigan Gaming Control Board recently approved new protocols for Detroit’s three casinos, closed since March 16. MGM Grand, Greektown and MotorCity must limit capacity to 15 percent; take guests’ temperatures before entering; keep poker rooms and buffets closed; increase cleaning and sanitizing and maintain social distancing.
The question now is when the casinos actually may open under Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s Safe Start plan. She said, “We should be moving the rest of the state into Phase Five in short order. I said two weeks ago it was my intent to get there before July 4 assuming the numbers continue the direction they have been. I would anticipate that in the coming week or two, we’ll be there, and that would be good news. We just ask that people continue take this seriously. It’s really important. None of us wants to move backwards, we’ll keep moving forward.”
Greektown Casino Hotel, however, announced in a June 12 letter the property will permanently lay off 621 employees. Greektown Hotel General Manager John Drake said a notice has been filed with the state under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act. The layoffs would start September 15 or within two weeks after that. “This layoff will be permanent, but the facility will remain open,” the letter states. .
The three Detroit casinos’ year-to-date combined revenue of $299.2 million dropped 51.6 percent through May compared with $617.9 million in combined revenue for the same period in 2019, according to Michigan Gaming Control Board figures.
Ten out of the state’s 24 tribal casinos reopened on June 5. The Gun Lake Casino in Wayland resumed operations on June 8, with thermal cameras at every entrance screening patrons and employees. On June 12, the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians opened its five casinos in the Upper Peninsula, but without table games, keno or bingo.
Also on June 12, Friday, the Bay Mills Tribe reopened its Bay Mills Resort & Casino in Brimley. All employees, customers and vendors will be required to wear a face mask, and plexiglass partitions have been installed at many service areas. General Manager Richard LeBlanc said, “As we begin the process of reopening our facility, the health and safety of our customers, our team members and our communities will be our highest priority.”
The Pokagon Gaming Authority reopened its Four Winds casino resorts in Dowagiac, New Buffalo and Hartford on June 15. Four Winds Senior Vice President of Casino Operations Frank Kennedy said the gaming experience will be somewhat different due to the new safety measures. “This is still going to be a fun place. We just want to reopen safely and properly,” he said.
Kennedy noted 45 percent of the casinos’ slots are off limits and some have plexiglass dividers in between instead of being turned off. Also, 60 percent of table positions have been removed, allowing only three players at a time; every other table will be closed. Everyone will be required to wear a face mask. Also, Kennedy said, the buffet and valet remain closed.
Ohio casinos and racinos are welcoming guests with new health and safety protocols as Governor Mike DeWine allowed them to reopen June 19. First to open at 6:00 a.m. was Hollywood Casino Columbus. Among its requirements are operating at half capacity; screening patrons before allowing them to enter; limited slots and table games seating for social distancing; no live music or entertainment; and mandatory masks for employees and table-game patrons. The casino will be closed between 3:00 a.m. and 8:00 a.m. daily for deep cleaning.
Hollywood Casino Vice President and General Manager Allie Evangelista said the casino worked with the Ohio Lottery Commission, local leaders and public health officials to develop the new guidelines.
MGM Resorts International’s MGM Northfield Park racino reopened Saturday, June 20 with a private invitation-only event before the public entered. MGM Resorts Acting Chief Executive Officer Bill Hornbuckle said, “As with our other resort reopenings, health and safety remain a top priority in every phase of our plan. We look forward to providing a safe and fun environment for everyone to enjoy our gaming, restaurant, and horseracing amenities.”
The racino is operating at 50 percent capacity with half of its 2,200 video lottery terminals disabled to allow for social distancing. Only two restaurants and two bars will be open. Live harness horseracing at the property’s racetrack will continue.
The Cherokee Nation began reopening casinos the week of June 8. Smaller, rural facilities opened first and the largest facility, the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa reopened Thursday, June 11. Referencing new health and safety precautions implemented due to Covid-19, General Manager Martin Madewell said, “Things are going to look different. We would rather do too much than take the risk of not doing enough. We’re going to watch the data and listen to the CDC and local health departments.”
New precautions include taking guests’ temperatures before they even got out of their cars, to prevent a crowd forming at the door, Madewell said. Also, the property is operating at lower capacity; half the slots will remain disabled; plexiglass partitions have been installed at table games; and employees and guests must wear masks. Also, cleaning crews are constantly decontaminating and sanitizing, Madewell said.
Tulsa’s other two large casinos previously opened: Osage Casino on May 15 and the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s River Spirit Casino Resort on June 1.
The Shawnee Tribe’s Golden Mesa Casino planned to reopen June 22 with restricted hours until June 29 to allow for deep cleaning and sanitizing. Officials said the new hours of operation will be reviewed weekly to determine if they should be changed.
New safety precautions include mandatory face masks for guests, who must pass a temperature check and show an ID and players club card before entering; no food on the gaming floor; and no chairs at the Gold Spur Bar. Social distancing will be enforced.
The Indian Head Casino, operated by the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs in Oregon, reopened June 18 after closing March 18. It will limit the number of guests to 250 total at any one time.
Guests will need to pass through a touchless temperature check before entering. Smoking is no longer allowed on the property and clear plastic shields have been installed strategically to protect patrons and employees conducting transactions such as at the Players Club.
Slot machines only are offered, with tables available at a later time. Restaurants will offer take-out and some have curbside delivery.
As of Monday, June 22, half of Pennsylvania’s casinos were to have reopened after Governor Tom Wolf’s office moved their counties into the so-called “green phase” of reopening.
In the green phase, casinos are permitted to reopen at a maximum 50 percent capacity. Each casino must also gain approval from the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) that validates the facility has implemented the various health safety guidelines required by the state.
The latest reopenings, planned for Monday, are Mohegan Sun Pocono and Mount Airy Casino Resort, both in the Pocono Mountains resort region in Eastern Pennsylvania. Hollywood Casino at Penn National Racecourse near Harrisburg reopened Friday, June 19.
The three Western Pennsylvania casinos were the first to reopen—Rivers Casino Pittsburgh and the Meadows Racetrack and Casino south or Pittsburgh, followed by Lady Luck Nemacolin in the Laurel Highlands.
Safety precautions in place at Mohegan Sun Pocono reflect the required measures for green-phase reopening:
- Guests and employees will be required to wear face masks unless they are eating, drinking or smoking
- Restaurants and bars will have reduced seating capacity
- Temperature checks will be conducted of everyone at entrances to the casino. Anyone whose temperature registers as 100.2 degrees or higher will be rechecked. If the reading is still high, the person will be denied entry and asked to return when he or she feels healthy
- Some slot machines will remain turned off and seating at table games will be limited, to promote distancing
- Plexiglas dividers have been installed at “transactional locations”
- The entire casino will be cleaned and disinfected frequently
- Hand sanitizing stations and disinfecting wipes have been added throughout the property
- Floor decals and signage will reinforce the message about distancing
Mohegan Sun Pocono hotel will reopen on June 28. Reservations will be accepted starting June 22. Some businesses and amenities at the casino and resort will also remain closed. They include valet parking, Seasons Buffet, the poker room, pools and gyms.
The other six Pennsylvania casinos were in counties still in the “yellow phase” as of press time. They include Presque Isle Downs & Casino near Erie and the five properties in the more densely populated eastern part of the state—Wind Creek Bethlehem, Rivers Casino Philadelphia, Harrah’s Philadelphia, Valley Forge Casino and Parx Casino in Bensalem.
The South Dakota Commission on Gaming recently decided to allow gambling devices in Deadwood remain on casinos’ floors through New Year’s Eve without renewed licenses, as long as they’re sealed from use. Members of the Deadwood Gaming Association had asked the commission for additional time to kickstart revenue following the shutdown of their casinos due to Covid-19.
The commission also approved licenses for the new owners and operators of the Midnight Star casino, formerly owned by actor Kevin Costner. The new owners plan to open the casino and sports bar—closed since August 2017—on July 1.
In addition, the commission approved funds that would allow horseracing to return to the Stanley County Fairgrounds in Fort Pierre on October 3 and 4. No races were run in 2019. As host, the Verendrye Benevolent Association will receive up to $239,036. In past years, the Fort Pierre races ran for several weekends around Easter.
The Ho-Chunk Nation announced their casinos in Black River Falls, Wisconsin Dells and Wittenberg will reopen Monday, June 29, with new safety guidelines including mandatory face masks for employees and guests and social distancing.
Other new protocols will include pre-entry temperature checks and use of hand sanitizer for guests, employees, & vendors; clear partitions installed at transaction points; designated smoking areas; and designated entrances for employees and visitors.