The Grand Casino Hotel & Resort will reopen on May 22 with limited hours, hand sanitizer stations throughout the property, and social distancing guidelines in place. (Courtesy Grand Casino / Facebook)
As the second-largest Indian gaming market nationwide, just shy of California, Oklahoma generally produces roughly $4.4 billion in annual gaming revenues, according to the latest Casino City Indian Gaming Industry Report.
The coronavirus pandemic abruptly cut off those revenue streams, as Tribes throughout Oklahoma — without being required to do so — closed all of their gaming and entertainment facilities to protect the health and safety of their employees and communities.
Oklahoma is home to more than 130 Tribal casinos, and the state’s Tribal gaming industry employs tens of thousands of people, making the Tribes the state’s third-largest employer.
But now, after more than two months of closures, some Tribal casinos in Oklahoma — like many throughout the nation — are preparing to open their doors once again. They are proceeding with vigilant sanitation to prevent the spread of COVID-19, while marketing their entertainment venues as destinations for responsible fun after an extended time of shelter-at-home.
Cherokee Nation Businesses
Cherokee Nation Businesses (CNB) has adopted a set of “Responsible Hospitality” strategies that puts guest and team member safety first. CNB outlines procedures for physical distancing, enhanced cleaning and sanitization, and temperature screenings for both team members and guests.
“How we move forward from this pandemic will be a part of our legacy,” said Chuck Garrett, CEO of Cherokee Nation Businesses. “We intend to emerge confident in the knowledge that we did all we could to implement industry-leading protocols that promote the health and safety of our team members and guests. While the guest experience will be different than before, we will continue to deliver the same first-class hospitality and entertainment our guests have come to know and love.”
The plan also includes limited hours of operation, occupancy restrictions, and the required use of masks by everyone on property. Guests are asked to bring their own masks that cover the nose and mouth — but not the full face.
“The ‘Responsible Hospitality’ plan was designed to be a fluid, evolving program that addresses the needs of now, while working toward the future,” said Mark Fulton, COO of Cherokee Nation Entertainment. “We look forward to revising, streamlining and implementing improved measures as we progress toward a more resilient future and returning our properties, amenities and services to full operation.”
CNB operates 10 entertainment destinations throughout Northeast Oklahoma, as well as many non-gaming businesses, and employs some 7,700 employees, making it one of the largest employers in the area. While a date has not yet been released for opening those properties, the Nation’s Responsible Hospitality plan is in place for when the time comes.
“As we approach a multi-phase reopening of our facilities and amenities, we have developed extensive guidelines and procedures that enhance our stringent standards for sanitization and cleaning. We will commence operations only when we are confident we can provide an experience that minimizes the risks to the safety and security of our employees, our guests and our community,” Garrett said in the hospitality plan.
“While the decision to suspend our public-facing operations has had an impact on our bottom line, it was a decision that was made with the health and safety of our employees and our customers in mind — and it was the right decision,” Garrett said. “We are never willing to put profit over people. For us, this isn’t just business, it’s personal.”
Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes
All six Lucky Star Casinos, owned and operated by the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes, opened on May 15 at 10 a.m. with reduced hours, social distanced seating, face coverings encouraged and provided to patrons, and enhanced cleaning measures.
“The health and safety of our community and employees is always our highest priority and through this pandemic, we have relied on facts from the CDC and health experts to guide our decisions,” Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes Governor Reggie Wassana.
The Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes have also been busy discussing how best to utilize the $54 million they received under the CARES Act. Some items being discussed are expansion of the El Reno Indian Clinic, and construction of an emergency medical services facility.
“Currently, the Tribes’ capacity to address a pandemic of this scale is inadequate and such facilities will assist with a successful pandemic response,” reads a Tribal press release regarding the CARES Act funding.
The release also talks about improving broadband capacity, funding home school requirements, and the purchase of personal protective equipment for Tribal members.
Citizen Potawatomi Nation
Both the Grand Casino Hotel & Resort and Firelake Casino will reopen on May 22 with limited hours, hand sanitizer stations throughout the property, and social distancing guidelines in place.
The air at Grand Casino Hotel & Resort will be ventilated and treated every eight minutes. Firelake will allow up to 300 guests at a time to minimize crowding. Both properties will require team members to wear gloves and masks, and patrons will be required to wear masks at all times.
Kickapoo Tribe of Oklahoma
The Kickapoo Tribe owns and operates Kickapoo Casino Shawnee and Kickapoo Casino Harrah. Both are scheduled to reopen on May 20 with some new safety protocols. Patrons must enter through the main entrance, must not be showing any signs of illness, and wear a mask. Capacity at the Harrah location will be capped at about 400, and at about 140 for the Shawnee location.
Upon entry at both casinos, patrons will be temperature checked and go through a sanitizing station. Once on the floor, patrons are asked to practice social distancing. Slot machines are programmed to turn off after a patron uses it so it can be immediately disinfected.
Sac & Fox Nation
The Sac & Fox Nation Casino and the Black Hawk Casino both reopened on May 15 at 10 a.m. Both casinos are doing temperature checks upon arrival, require guests to wear masks, and encourage social distancing. Sac & Fox Nation Casino is limiting its headcount to 40 people, and Black Hawk Casino is limiting its head count to 180 people.
“We are constantly monitoring the situation and we will adjust our protocols and procedures as needed to protect the health of our employees and guests. We will continue to take a conservative, phased approach to reopening,” says Principal Chief Justin Freeland Wood during a live Facebook announcement. “These are difficult times and I will continue to prioritize public health and safety.”
This story is by no means a complete list of Tribal casinos across Oklahoma with reopening strategies. For an up-to-date overview of scheduled re-openings, visit the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association website.