Tribal casinos, closed for weeks due to COVID-19, must now decide whether or how much to reopen. Their dilemma mirrors those of businesses all over the U.S., as they try to balance the desire to get back to work with the advice of medical experts and often contradictory government edicts.
The Coeur d’Alene Casino in Worley, Idaho, opened its restaurants on Tuesday, cautiously. Visitors and staff alike are required to wear face masks, and social distancing rules are in effect. The policy confused some Facebook fans, who asked whether they would be allowed to remove the masks to eat while in the restaurant. Coeur d’Alene said that masks may be removed for eating and drinking but must otherwise be worn. The casino itself is currently open, though the official reopen date is May 1. Those who visited the casino on Tuesday said that staff were taking temperatures at the door, and that every other slot machine is turned off for social distancing. Casino patrons are required to have masks on unless they are eating, drinking or smoking.
The Coeur d’Alene precautions are somewhat in line with a draft protocols checklist released by Blue Stone Strategy Group. In an extensive pdf document, the strategy firm, which serves Indian Country exclusively, outlines the ways to minimize risk in every facet of casino operations. While masks, gloves and sanitizing fluid are by now predictable precautions, how does a casino deal with ejections or medical emergencies? Which games can even be played safely, and how can payout procedures be adjusted to minimize exposure? Does a casino need to consider installing sneeze guards at kiosks and plastic barriers at slot machines?
There’s a lot to consider, but Blue Stone points to one small advantage Tribal casinos may have over the larger gaming industry. “Some Vegas casinos are predicting that revenues will be as low as 30% in the short term,” Blue Stone notes. “Most Tribal casinos do not depend upon national and international tourism in the same way Vegas does so we all hope not to see business levels that low upon reopening.” For casinos curious about decreased revenues, Blue Stone’s toolkit includes a Casino Profit Calculator Excel spreadsheet.
Gila River Hotels & Casinos has chosen to delay the originally planned May 1 reopening of its three properties in southern Arizona — Wild Horse Pass Hotel & Casino, Lone Butte Casino, and Vee Quiva Hotel & Casino — until May 15, or possibly later. The casino will be installing plastic barriers between slot machines and elsewhere.
Only time will tell whether some of the changes implemented are temporary or permanent — there’s just still too much uncertainty over when or how the COVID-19 crisis will end. The Angel of the Winds Casino said in a statement that at least one change is permanent: Upon reopening, the casino, operated by the Stillaguamish Tribe of Indians, will be smoke-free. The move has sparked a lively discussion on the casino’s Facebook page.
Mohegan Sun, Eagle Mountain Casino, and Oklahoma Tribal casinos operated by the Chickasaw, Cherokee, Choctaw and Muscogee (Creek) Nations have all stated they are remaining closed through at least mid-May.
Jay Dorris, CEO of Wind Creek Hospitality, said in a release that the facility was not yet ready to reopen, but outlined changes guests can expect when they do. To avoid lines due to reduced capacity, the casino will implement a reservation policy “to always keep the number of guests and team members on property and on the casino floor at a safe number.” Additionally, Dorris said, the casino will be “limiting the number of guests in retail outlets, limiting some services in our spas and fitness facilities, and making some changes in our hotels, valet parking, pools, bell service, and other entertainment venues.”
Is this the new normal? Place your bets.