Casinos Prepare to Reopen: A State by State Outlook

After almost two months on lockdown due to Covid-19, casinos in the U.S. are making cautious plans to reopen.

Social distancing. Health screenings. Face masks. Limits to positions at slots and tables. As the U.S. gaming industry prepares to reopen, abundant health precautions will be in place in hopes that customers will feel safe enough to return. From coast to coast, here’s a list of some markets poised to open their doors. All plans are subject to change, depending on containment of the Covid-19 virus.

ATLANTIC CITY

Atlantic City hotels will be accepting reservations starting June 1—just missing Memorial Day weekend, the official blastoff of summer at the Jersey shore. The casino hotels on that list include Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, Hard Rock Atlantic City, Ocean Resort and Harrah’s, but all reservations are subject to change until the state gives properties the green light to do business.

That decision lies with Governor Phil Murphy, who hasn’t indicated a firm timeline, although he will allow beaches to open—following safe-distancing guidelines—by Memorial Day Weekend, May 22, 2020.

As may be expected, according to Philadelphia magazine, Atlantic City’s nine casinos have been busy “disinfecting the properties, top to bottom, and trying to come up with plans for what reopening will look like.” That could include face masks, reduced capacity for restaurants or just room service to start, and other precautions.

A casino executive told the magazine, “The governor is going to be extremely conservative with the plan to reopen. You’re on top of each other in a casino. Or, well, you used to be. And people have proven that they can’t self-police. And they have cabin fever. It’s going to be interesting.”

Meanwhile, Murphy reserves the right to extend the shutdown, for another 30 days or indefinitely.

“Extending this declaration ensures that we can continue using every resource at our disposal to mitigate the spread of Covid-19,” he said last week. “We will continue to stand by these principles and protect public health as we responsibly take steps to get the economy moving again.”

Meanwhile, more than 25,000 Atlantic City casino employees are out of work. And the city, which clawed its way back from the 2008-09 recession, an economic low point that caused the permanent closure of four casinos, has been set back on its heels once again.

“We have the potential of an Armageddon in Atlantic City,” George Tibbitt, the president of the town’s City Council, recently told Politico.

UNITE Here Local 54, the union representing 10,600 Atlantic City workers, says safety in the workplace comes first. “We all want to reopen as soon as possible but we want everything to reopen safe,” said Local 54 President Bob McDevitt. “We don’t want to rush into it and have bunch of tragedies happen to workers.”

UNITE Here International President D. Taylor agreed, saying, “We desperately want to go back to work, but we want to go back to work in a safe environment. There can be no short cuts. This has to be mandated in the strongest possible terms.”

Casinos are widely expected to reconfigure their gaming floors to keep customers six feet apart, installing plexiglass guards at front desks, frequently sanitizing dice and chips, suspending buffets and closing spas and pools for now. A checklist from the union also called for employer-paid tests to determine their current and past Covid-19 status, “thermal screenings” of incoming employees and guests, no touch time clocks, plexiglass partitions for cashiers, line servers, cashiers and cage staff, the elimination of self-service trays, plates and utensils, doors that are kept open or opened by staff, but not touched by the public, and other measures. Guests who exhibit signs of the virus “should be presumed infectious.”

Taylor said he would publicize the names of those casinos that did not follow these safety guidelines.

“Any casino that is not taking the kind of measures we are talking about, we’re going to let customers know this far and wide,” Taylor said. “If a tragedy hot spot happens, it affects everybody in that town, not just that one casino.”

NEVADA

Crowd control will be watchword when Nevada’s casinos gradually resume operations around Memorial Day. Social distancing measures will limit play on casino floors. Occupancy will be limited in restaurants as well as convention and meeting facilities. Nightclubs will remain closed.

The Nevada Gaming Control Board has issued new health and safety guidelines for the reopening of casinos.

The industry, which was ordered closed by Governor Steve Sisolak on March 17 along with all non-essential businesses in the state, is looking for a phased reopening of gaming floors and other attractions sometime around the official summer kickoff. To that end, licensees will be required to submit detailed reopening plans to the regulatory agency at least seven days prior to the resumption of business.

Some leading operators, notably Wynn Resorts and Las Vegas Sands, have already publicized extensive health and safety protocols governing social distancing, the screening of guests for body temperature and the regular disinfecting of public and back-of-house areas.

Under the board’s guidelines, properties must limit occupancy to no more than 50 percent of the limits assigned by local building and fire codes. Similar limits will apply to bars, taverns and restaurants that operate as restricted licensees under state regulations with 15 machine games or less.

The guidelines require the reconfiguring of gaming floor plans in accord with safe social distancing. Limits will include no more than three players per blackjack table, six players per craps table, four players per roulette table and four players per poker table.

Chairs and stools must be removed from machine gaming areas to make sure players don’t sit next to each other. Plans also must provide for social distancing in racebooks and sportsbooks, keno lounges, bingo halls, restaurants, hotel front desks, business centers, concierge areas, retail shops and other areas, with steps taken to ensure customers do not congregate in groups.

Convention and meeting spaces will be limited to gatherings of no more than 250. Nightclubs and day clubs will remain closed until further notice.

Hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes must be available to all employees and patrons, and properties must detail their plans for cleaning and disinfecting all public areas and points of contact on a regular basis, including machine games, playing cards and chips.

Sisolak backtracked last week, however, and allowed phase one of the state’s reopening to start last Saturday, May 9. The previous date had been May 15. Restaurants and retail would be permitted to reopen with social distancing regulations in place.

MASSACHUSETTS

In an April 30 virtual meeting, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) voted 5-0 to extend the lockdown of the state’s three casinos until May 18. This is in line with Governor Charlie Baker’s latest executive order on non-essential businesses. Casinos have been closed since March 14.

However, the panel has taken steps to form a task force to study issues around the reopening of the Encore Boston Harbor, MGM Springfield and Plainridge Park slots parlor. Their closure has turned off the spigot on $20 million that the Bay State collects each month in gaming taxes. This has exacerbated the state’s already bad budget situation.

Three simulcast centers at Plainridge Park, Suffolk Downs and Raynham Park remain closed, but remote betting that uses advanced deposit wagering have continued at Plainridge and Suffolk with the commission’s blessing.

At the April 30 meeting, MGC Chairwoman Cathy Judd-Stein said she and Interim Executive Director Karen Wells are working on a “restart working group” that includes commission members and staff working closely with casino operators to develop a plan for reopening the casinos and the commission’s offices.

Wells told commissioners, “There’s really two buckets; there’s the technical opening and then, because of the situation we find ourselves in now, we have health and safety issues we need to address.”

She added, “The technical opening protocols and procedures will consist of an assessment of the regulatory process required to bring casinos back online, including an extensive operations checklist that ensures necessary compliance and integrity standards.”

Wells said the group’s topics will include enhanced sanitation procedures, employee training, physical distancing, limiting occupancy and guidance provided by public health officials. “The plan will also need to account for what procedures will be necessary in the event of a restart setback,” she said.

The commission is looking to the country where the Covid-19 virus originated, China, and its gaming district, Macau, to learn from its experience in reopening, which began happening in late February.

Macau’s precautions are tight: every other table is closed, players are required to be masked and to have their temperatures taken when they enter and casino employees must say they are in good health before coming to work.

Judd-Stein commented, “We are fully engaged with our licensees in preparation for a new normal and the myriad of considerations for a safe and sustainable reopening.” She added, “What we do know for sure is it won’t be as simple as unlocking the doors and switching the lights back on.”

She added, “Our shared priority of public health remains paramount in our decision-making as we determine how best to proceed in a post-pandemic environment.” She concluded, “This difficult set of circumstances has presented an unprecedented global challenge. As so many have said, we are all in this together.”

Wynn Resorts Ltd., which owns the Encore, has developed a program for reopening its property in Las Vegas that may well be applied to its Massachusetts casino.

Guests at the Encore hotel will likely find that many expected amenities to be lacking, such as valet services, but replaced by free offerings of masks and hand sanitizers. They will also have their temperatures taken upon entering. Bell carts will be sanitized after each use. Elevators will be limited to four persons at a time. The casino will also be different: Every other table will be open and limited to just a few players. Slots will be at least six feet apart.

MICHIGAN

On April 30, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive order extending until May 28 temporary closings of casinos and other facilities due to the Covid-19 virus.

Without a vaccine, said Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, the city’s three casinos probably would be unable to fully reopen. “The opening of the entertainment sector and casinos is going to depend on the development of the anti-virals, the development of a vaccine, and things that are outside our control,” he said. “I would be surprised if a vaccine develops within a year. So we’re going to have to deal with it. Do the casinos end up reopening with 25 percent or 30 percent capacity? I don’t know.”

Duggan said casinos have been working with the city’s chief medical advisor about requirements to reopen, such as having guests and employees wear masks, allowing only a fraction of slot machines to operate and restricting the number of players at table games. Duggan said he’s also watching what Las Vegas is doing.

“Those conversations will occur in the coming weeks. I think we’re a long way away—six months, maybe a year from the casinos operating the way we’re used to seeing them operate, but I do think it’s possible.”

Last year, Detroit casinos generated $184 million for the city and $118 million for the state. Duggan said Detroit entered the Covid-19 crisis with a $107 million rainy-day fund, and will use $50 million of that to offset budget cuts.

Meanwhile, the Island Resort and Casino in Harris, which closed March 21, will start a phased reopening on May 16. The first phase will include available slot machines, carryout food service, some bars, plus bingo and retail sales. It’s owned by the Hannahville Indian Community, and like other tribal casinos, is not under the jurisdiction of the Michigan Gaming Control Board.

Tribal leaders said they have a well-planned safety and protection plan ready when the casino reopens to keep staff and visitors safe. For example, each entrance will be equipped with a staff member to check the temperature of both employees and customers; individuals whose temperature is 100 or above will not be allowed in. Also, the casino will distribute face masks to guests if they want to wear one.

General Manager Tony Mancilla stated, “We feel we’re doing what everyone else does. Hotels are open, restaurants are open. We have those things. The only difference is the slot floor. We think we can keep that clean and our customers themselves will keep themselves safe.”

He said 200 of the casino’s 850 employees will be asked to return to work in the first few weeks, and the rest will return as business picks up. Employees were paid for two weeks after the casino closed.

WASHINGTON STATE

Since they closed their casinos in March, Washington’s gaming tribes have been hemorrhaging money that is typically used to run their governments and services. Now they’re mulling how to reopen, with the Northern Quest Resort & Casino near Airway Heights leading the way.

Tribes are also taking their cues from Governor Jay Inslee, who’s studying options for restarting the state’s economy.

The first day it was open, Northern Quest, operated by the Kalispel Tribe, was “slammed,” according to Kevin Zenishek, executive director of casino operations. The casino opened with every other slot machine and half the tables open.

The 29 tribal casinos in Washington last year generated more than $2 billion in revenues. But they create an economic wave that doesn’t end at the casino’s doors. They employ more people than Starbucks, which originated in the state, as well as Costco, Safeway, Walmart and Albertson’s. Tribal casinos are the eighth largest employer in the state, with a total of more than 30,000 workers.

The next tribal casino to open will likely be the Stillaguamish Tribe’s Angel of the Winds Casino Resort in Arlington on May 11. “We’ve discussed a variety of re-opening dates previously and wanted to ensure all necessary precautions were in place and we were fully prepared to open our doors,” Stillaguamish Tribal Chairman Shawn Yanity told CDC Gaming Reports.

He added, “The closure has had a significant impact on tribal programs such as family services, health services, cultural resources and tribal elder programs. The Stillaguamish Tribe is exercising its sovereignty to support the livelihoods of our team members, their families, and our community.”

In the northern part of the state, the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation plan to reopen the 12 Tribes Resort Casino in Omak, the 12 Tribes Mill Bay Casino in Manson, and the 12 Tribes Coulee Dam Casino in Coulee Dam on May 19.

Ron Allen, chairman of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe and the Washington Indian Gaming Association, told the Seattle Times it could take up to 24 months for a return to business as usual. “We are definitely in survival mode,” he said. “Some tribes would like to open up now, but we don’t want to be the source that causes anyone to get sick from the virus. It is a calculated risk, when to open up, but we can’t wait for zero, there won’t be any economy left.”

The Puyallup tribe’s Emerald Queen Casino & Hotel near Tacoma normally employs around 2,400. Currently, 12 percent are laid off with 73 percent furloughed, says tribal spokesman Michael Thompson.

Without gaming revenues, the tribal government has also furloughed or laid off 600 workers, with some working fewer hours. It will only pay member benefits through June. The tribe is a large regional employer, but has no current plans to reopen the casino, said Chairman David Bean.

The Little Creek Casino Resort, operated by the Squaxin Island Tribe, also has no timetable for reopening, although it reopened its Salish Cliffs Golf Club a week before the governor’s May 5 timeframe for golf courses.

Ray Peters, intergovernmental affairs liaison for the tribe and interim COO of the resort told the Olympian, “People are ready to get outside. Golf is a healthy activity and we have safety precautions in place to ensure there won’t be points of contact.” Already, tee times are booked far in advance. Players are encouraged to book and pay online or by phone and to check in by calling the pro shop.

Social distancing precautions will be employed on the course, such as spacing tee times by 15-minute intervals, limiting the number of people in the pro shop, not allowing players to arrive more than 30 minutes prior to their tee time and raising cup liners so players don’t need to handle the flags. Players are limited to two at a time, unless from the same household and then the limit is four.

ILLINOIS

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker recently said Illinois has “really bent the curve significantly” on Covid-19 virus cases, with hospitalizations “increasing barely.”

Still, his stay-at-home order will remain in place through May—meaning that casinos, which were ordered to close March 16, will stay shuttered for now. In addition, more than 36,000 video gambling terminals across the state also will remain off-limits “to prevent the further spread of the novel Covid-19 virus and protect public health and safety,” according to Illinois Gaming Board Administrator Marcus Fruchter. “The Gaming Board will continue to review current public health guidance and conditions to determine when and under what conditions statewide video gaming and casino gambling can safely resume.”

Illinois Casino Gaming Association Executive Director Tom Swoik says casino operators hope they can reopen by June 1. He estimated Illinois’ 10 casinos have lost about $100 million during the six weeks they’ve been closed, and more than 5,000 employees have been laid off. “It’ll take several months to see people feeling comfortable to start going back. Everyone’s going to be very, very cautious,” Swoik said.

He said casinos nationwide are considering new sanitization policies, such as sneeze-guards between slot machines, spacing the machines farther apart, limiting table games to two or three players, prohibiting players from touching cards and sanitizing chips continuously.

In April 2019, Illinois casinos took in $115 million and players lost $145 million at video slots, according to gaming board data.

Covid-19 also has impacted the massive statewide gambling expansion bill Pritzker signed into law last summer, which would allow five new casinos. Sports betting, also included in the bill, launched just two days before the National Basketball League suspended its season; Illinois casinos were shuttered a week later.

RHODE ISLAND

Twin River, the owner of two casinos in Rhode Island, is working with the Rhode Island Lottery on plans they will submit shortly to Governor Gina Raimondo. The plans are to reopen the two facilities that closed in March.

“We’re hoping sooner than later,” Lottery Director Gerald Aubin told state budget officials last week. “We’re being very conservative on our opening policies and hopefully that will be approved and we can open as quick as possible.”

It’s likely to happen in phases, making slots available first, and bringing back tables later. About 1,600 slots could operate at Twin River Lincoln if six-foot distancing is maintained. At the Tiverton casino, about 380 machines could operate. That means that revenues will be about 39 percent of what was being collected in mid-March, when the casinos were closed by executive order.

A possible wrinkle in this scenario is that Rhode Island currently quarantines visitors from other states. Sixty percent of patrons to the two casinos are from out of state.

Twin River CEO George Papanier commented, “While we remain optimistic about reopening, this additional financing ensures we have the financial resources necessary to continue funding operations, servicing our obligations, and pursing organic and strategic growth opportunities through the Covid-19 crisis.”

LOUISIANA

In many Louisiana parishes, the Covid-19 curve is flattening, leading the Louisiana Gaming Control Board to consider reopening the state’s casinos later this month. Board Chairman Ronnie Jones said, “If the numbers continue to do what we hope they’re going to do and flatten out, perhaps they’re reopen by the end of the month.”

Jones said since the state had lost about $100 million in gaming revenue as of the end of April; casinos were shuttered in mid-March.

When Louisiana casinos do invite players to return, Jones said, they can expect a different experience compared to pre-closure. “It will be reduced capacity. We won’t be filling up these gaming floors with hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people. It’ll probably be a percentage of what their authorized capacity is.”

He added, “Every other device will likely be disabled to provide for social distancing unless they put up something like a plexiglass barrier, some sort of panel between devices.” Also, Jones said, the casino floor will be arranged to comply with social distancing rules of six feet.

“You’ll have less chairs available at poker tables and blackjack tables. You’ll have less people participating in craps games just to provide for that social distancing. You’ll find most of the employees are probably going to be wearing masks and PPE’s, and there will be lots of sanitation and cleaning going on,” Jones stated.

MISSISSIPPI

Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves was hopeful the state’s casinos, closed since March 16 due to the Covid-19 virus, could reopen by May 25. However, he and state Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs noted this week that the pandemic curve has not flattened. Reeves isn’t completely ruling out Memorial Day reopenings. “It’s certainly possible. It’s something that I am interested in looking into and doing,” he said.

”The casino industry is critically important to our economy,” Reeves said, “and it’s certainly critically important to the revenue streams, particularly of the local governments.” He noted the state’s casino industry employed more than 16,500 people in February; their return will help reduce unemployment rolls, currently overloaded with more than 150,000 applicants.

Reeves also pointed out that casinos won’t be the same when they reopen. For example, he said, card and table games might not reopen immediately, since they require people to gather in one spot. Also, every other slot machine might be closed so gamblers can practice social distancing. Reeves said he’s concerned that most casino activities are indoors, with crowded bars and international visitors.

Still, Mississippi Gaming and Hospitality Association Director Larry Gregory hopes casinos can reopen for the Memorial Day holiday. “What a great weekend to open for our industry,” he said. “We put together what we thought are good procedures. Customers know when them come back our casinos are clean and safe.”

At the Silver Slipper Casino Hotel in Bay St. Louis, General Manager John Ferrucci commented, “We’ll be able to get back to some kind of normalcy, at least get the juices flowing in the month of May. That’s really important. It would be critically and psychologically important that we get open in the month of May so we didn’t go two entire months with no activity at all.”

Ferrucci said the casino will reopen in stages and employees will be called back as required. He added, “We’re not going to have table games probably the first weekend,” but they will be limited to three players when they’re available.

Every other slot machine will be deactivated, and restaurant capacities will be reduced. At the popular casino buffet, guests will not touch utensils; instead, extra staff will serve customers’ selections. Guests still will build their own salads from pre-portioned ingredients and staff will operate the self-serve ice cream machine.

At the Scarlet Pearl Casino Resort in D’Iberville, Director of Promotions and Events Vicki Haskins said, “We’re installing the separators on those selected table games that are going to be opened, and that’s going to keep each person safe and socially distanced. On the slot machines that are going to be opened, we’re also adding plexiglass partitions.”

SOUTH DAKOTA

Deadwood, South Dakota was the last commercial casino market in the U.S. to close due to the Covid-19 virus. But the Deadwood city commission recently approved the second reading of an ordinance that allowed businesses—including casinos—to reopen Thursday, May 7, as long as they follow all federal, state and local Covid-19 protocols.

Governor Kristi Noem said, “Thanks to a strong commitment and respect for the principle of personal responsibility, South Dakotans have dramatically changed the trajectory of our initial Covid-19 projections.”

Deadwood Gaming Association Executive Director Mike Rodman noted, “We’re starting to see the opening of those properties so we’re anxious to get back to work.”

The first casinos to reopen were the Silverado-Franklin Historic Hotel and Gaming, Cadillac Jack’s Gaming Resort, Deadwood Station Bunkhouse and Gambling Hall, Gold Dust Casino and Hotel, Hickok’s Hotel and Gaming, the Lodge at Deadwood Gaming Resort, the Mineral Palace Hotel and Gaming (slots only), Lucky 8 Casino, Tin Lizzie Gaming Resort and the Deadwood Mountain Grand Hotel & Casino. Friday, May 8 saw the reopening of Buffalo Bodega Gaming.

The First Gold Hotel & Gaming and Gold Country Inn will reopen on Wednesday, May 13, the Wooden Nickel Casino and Bullock Hotel & Casino on Friday, May 15 and the Old Style Saloon on Thursday, May 21.

No reopening date has been set at the Celebrity Hotel & Casino, Deadwood Gulch Gaming Resort, First Gold Hotel & Gaming, Iron Horse Inn, Mustang Sally’s or Oyster Bay Casino.

MONTANA

In Montana, Covid-19 virus cases have sharply declined since late March. As a result, Governor Steve Bullock declared that restaurants, bars, brewpubs and casinos could reopen Monday, May 4. The establishments were ordered to comply with rules limiting the number of patrons and requiring staff to wear protective masks and gloves.

At the Lucky 7’s Casino in Billings Heights, owner John Gies said, “I’m ecstatic. I’m ecstatic just to see everyone again. It provides that social interaction that everybody needs, instead of being cooped up and not being able to get out and socialize. That’s a big aspect of it as well.”

Gies said he’s following the state guidelines for approval to reopen issued by the Yellowstone County health office. “We did spread our machines out to meet the social distancing requirements of six feet per machine throughout the whole casino. We did use industrial cleaners. That does kill the coronavirus. We’re going to be cleaning our machines from top to bottom, the chairs and everything, so when a customer leaves and a new customer comes in, they know that machine has been cleaned.” He said maintenance staff will also clean “all door handles, both coming in and out of the building, every ATM, any touchable surface. We’ll be hands-on-deck cleaning it to make sure everything is safe for our customers and our employees.”

Gies added that customers will open their own beverages and soft drinks from the fountain will be served in single-use plastic cups. He also is providing hand sanitizer and gloves for customers.

All of his employees have returned to work, Gies said, “even though, when they found out what they could get for unemployment, they assured us that they would love to come back. We appreciate our employees hanging in there with us. It means a lot to my wife and I.”

Gies concluded, “The bills keep coming with no income coming in. But we survived it and we will continue on.”

INDIANA

Indiana’s 10 casinos and two racinos may reopen Sunday, June 14, says Indiana Gaming Commission (IGC) Deputy Director Jenny Reske. The IGC ordered casinos to close on March 16 due to the Covid-19 virus.

Governor Eric Holcomb said he wants the state economy “back on track” with all businesses operating at full capacity by July 4. Reske said the IGC is working on reopening requirements, and casinos also must submit their plans to the state before they can invite patrons to return. “The casinos are putting a lot of thought into their plans,” Reske said.

Holcomb’s plan does not specifically mention casinos, but June 14 would be the start of his five-phase plan’s fourth phase, allowing cultural, entertainment and tourism businesses to open at half-capacity, along with bars and nightclubs. “We hope we can open up the state even more in mid-June, to get you back to even more of the activities you and your family are used to and missing so much in recent weeks,” Holcomb said.

However, he cautioned, “If we cannot continue to meet our four guiding principles, all or portions of the state may need to pause, or even return to an earlier phase of our stay-at-home order. In other words: this is up to each of us, and all of us.”

Meanwhile, union workers at three northern Indiana casinos and Caesars Southern Indiana and Indiana Grand Racing and Casino held an online rally via Facebook demanding their employers take additional steps to protect health and safety for them and patrons. They also asked their employers to offer more affordable health insurance.

KANSAS

Kansas Governor Laura Kelly lifted her stay-at-home order on Monday, May 4 and added she hopes to lift all state prohibitions on large gatherings and other restrictions by June 15. However, state-owned casinos will not be allowed to reopen until at least May 18, when the 10-person mass-gathering limit will gradually begin to increase to 30 until June 1 and 90 until June 15.

“We have been through quite an ordeal these last two months,” Kelly said. “The breadth of change we’ve all been forced to accept in a matter of weeks has been drastic, disorienting and utterly disruptive. In some ways, this crisis has brought out the best in us as Kansans. It has reminded us what truly matters in life, and how much we need each other, despite what this polarized world would have us believe.”

OKLAHOMA

Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt recently announced phased reopenings of businesses across the state that were temporarily closed due to the Covid-19 virus. Most casino officials are taking their time to invite customers back. Two exceptions are the Tonkawa Tribe’s Tonkawa Hotel & Casino, which opened May 1, and the Otoe-Missouri Tribe’s 7 Clans Casino Resort in Newkirk which opened May 2.

The Muscogee (Creek) Nation announced it will extend temporary closures through May 15 at its Oklahoma casinos, including River Spirit Casino Resort in Tulsa, plus casinos in Beggs, Holdenville, Eufaula, Bristow, Checotah and Okemah and the travel-plaza casinos in Muskogee and Okmulgee.

Principal Chief David Hill said, “This is an unprecedented public health crisis. As a leader and primary employer in the communities in which we live and serve, we must confront this extremely challenging time together. Health, financial stability, and job security are all concerns for our employees and we want to do everything we can to alleviate those concerns.” Hill noted that all 2,200 furloughed casino employees will continue to receive pay and benefits, as well as the 150 employees at Margaritaville.

MCN Press Secretary Jason Salsmon added, “Our top priority is health and safety and anything past that is secondary.” He said tribal leaders are closely following the latest coronavirus models and numbers, and seeking guidance from government officials.

Sac and Fox Casinos also will remain closed until at least May 15, said Principal Chief Justin Wood. “Now is not the time to end social distancing. We will continue to watch the impact reopening Oklahoma has on human life,” Wood said.

Speaking for the Chickasaw Nation, the state’s largest tribe, Governor Bill Anoatubby announced the tribe’s 24 casinos also will remain closed until at least May 15. When they do reopen, he said, extreme caution will be taken in all operations.

“Health professionals advise that recent measures enacted to help mitigate the spread of the virus are beginning to work because of widespread participation,” Anoatubby said. “From health care workers and others working on the front lines of this pandemic to those who are staying home, we must all work together to continue this progress. Health professionals also advise to take a cautious approach toward reopening in order to preserve recent gains and prevent a resurgence in new cases.”

That said, the six Lucky Star Casino locations owned by the Cheyenne and Arapaho Nation will reopen May 15, with new safety measures in place. Governor Reggie Wassana said, “We’re going to take temperatures, whether it’s through a thermal camera or through an actual temperature reading device.”

Additionally, he said, individuals with a high temperature will be turned away at the door; social distancing will be maintained at slots; sanitization protocols will comply with Center for Disease Control guidelines; and staff and guests will be encouraged to wear masks. “We’re just going to try to keep everything in front of us as we can as far as monitoring and keeping everything safe, and keeping the risk minimal,” Wassana said.