As casinos reopen the business model ‘requires reimagining’ for health and safety By Howard Stutz, Executive Editor, CDC Gaming Reports May 16, 2020 at 4:00 am The limited casino reopenings announced last week by states and tribal governments took place so quickly that gaming operators responded in real-time. For example, during Caesars Entertainment’s quarterly conference call Monday afternoon, CEO Tony Rodio discussed the planned health and safety measures for casinos in Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe, Atlantic City, and Council Bluffs, Iowa. In the middle of the call, CFO Eric Hession added more states to the list. “In the regional markets, it does appear that they’re moving a bit faster in terms of reopening,” Hession said. “We’ll have our Ak-Chin facility in Arizona opening (Friday). The two Cherokee properties in North Carolina will open … Monday. Louisiana casinos will be able to open as well this weekend. So that’s good news.” Penn National Gaming announced reopenings plans for its Louisiana properties on Thursday. Moments after the release crossed the wire, it was learned the company’s five Mississippi casinos would reopen before Memorial Day Weekend. It seems like properties with reduced gaming capacity and social distancing guidelines are reopening as fast they were closed. Nearly 1,000 casinos in 43 states were shuttered over a two-week period to slow the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. AGA CEO Bill Miller discusses casino reopenings on Cheddar American Gaming Association CEO Bill Miller said Friday the organization has tracked reopenings of 52 casinos in nine states. He said Louisiana will be the first “major commercial casino market” when it reopens Monday. Miller said there are several keys to success as the casinos reopen. All gaming properties, regardless if monitored by state gaming regulators or tribal authorities, have created protocols that follow the advice and guidance from the Center for Disease Control, public health professionals, and state and local directives. “Reopening our industry requires reimagining every part of our business so that gaming employees and customers are confident their health and safety will be protected as they return,” Miller said. The last thing the industry needs is a COVID-19 outbreak centered at a gaming property. This past week, casinos in Oklahoma, Arizona, and Deadwood, South Dakota saw large crowds during reopenings. Analysts cited “cabin fever” as customers were willing to embrace social distancing and wear protective masks just to feel some semblance of normalcy. SunTrust Robinson gaming analyst Barry Jones cited a “pent-up demand and a higher risk tolerance for core regional gamblers” even with the properties operating at 50% capacity. The true test will be the destination markets reopening, such as the Strip and Atlantic City. But that may take a while. An employee wipes down a slot machine at a casino in Norman, Oklahoma Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak on Friday said the no other businesses – i.e., casinos – will open during the state’s initial phase, which will last through the end of the month. “It’s too early to make any determinations,” he said. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy reopened the Jersey Shore beaches on Friday but gambling inside Atlantic City’s casinos is still on hold. The Strip is beholden to airline travel to pad visitation numbers. McCarran International Airport saw passenger traffic fall 53% in March and an even larger decline is expected when April’s numbers are released. Getting Vegas customers to return as the nation still deals with a pandemic will take a herculean marketing effort. Gaming companies have released their health and safety guidelines, which go far above requirements set by gaming regulators. Las Vegas Sands will have 25 EMTs on staff 24/7 to respond to any COVID-19 emergency. MGM Resorts International, Wynn Resorts, and others will have temperature checks at all customer and employee entrances and require workers to wear masks and personal protective equipment. It is also “suggested” that customers utilize masks or face coverings. MGM will have hand sanitation areas throughout the casinos. Station Casinos is testing all its employees for COVID-19 before they can return to work. Social distancing will be commonplace. “Our properties will not look the way they used to for a while, and that’s not only okay, it’s critically important,” said MGM Resorts acting CEO Bill Hornbuckle. Howard Stutz is the executive editor of CDC Gaming Reports. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.