No amount of plexiglass will keep COVID-19 out of a casino By Howard Stutz, Executive Editor, CDC Gaming Reports June 2, 2020 at 8:00 pm My initial thought walking through Bellagio on Monday morning – my first time inside the Strip resort since mid-March, when the spreading coronavirus pandemic shut down gaming across the U.S. – was that right now is a good time to be in the plexiglass business. The use of the clear acrylic material – in an effort by casino operators throughout the county to meet post-COVID-19 social distancing protocols – was rampant at Bellagio, and a similar practice is being mirrored at other MGM Resorts International properties. Plexiglass panels are installed onto gaming tables, at the hotel lobby front desk, at the casino cage, and in restaurants and bars. The idea is to provide some physical separation between customers and employees without harming guest services or gaming interaction in the casino. A mini baccarat table with Plexiglas barriers installed to separate the players. Soon, however, another thought struck me, this one a little more sobering. No matter how many panels of plexiglass are mounted, no matter how many facial masks are provided to guests entering the resort, no matter how many gallons of hand sanitizer is made available, and no matter how times employees clean and disinfect every touch surface in a property, casino operators are not going to keep COVID-19 out of their buildings. Several Nevada gaming companies – MGM, Caesars Entertainment, Wynn Resorts, Boyd Gaming, Las Vegas Sands, and Station Casinos – along with the Culinary Workers Union, are providing COVID-19 testing for employees before they can return to work. But how the casino industry responds after a guest or employee tests positive for coronavirus is just as important as the health and safety protocols being implemented at the businesses. Nevada’s Gaming Control Board released a set of reopening guidelines last month and and have required casino operators to file their own plans with the state before gaming restarts Thursday. The Control Board’s plan is clear: “If a licensee is informed or is alerted to a case of COVID-19 at its property, it must communicate the case to and cooperate with its local health authorities. All employees should receive clear instructions on how to properly and efficiently respond to all presumed cases of COVID-19. Licensees must follow the appropriate steps to conduct additional cleaning and disinfecting protocols of all areas that patrons visited during their stay in accordance with guidelines issued by the licensee’s local health authority. Plans should identify personnel or a department on property to serve as a liaison to assist local health authorities with aggregate data sharing and contract tracing.” In MGM Resorts’ Seven-Point Safety Plan, the company addressed what will happen if someone at one of their properties tests positive for COVID-19: “We have many protocols in place that are aimed at reducing the chance the infection will spread on our properties. In the unfortunate event a guest or employee tests positive for the virus, we will activate incident response protocols to ensure the infected individual has access to medical treatment, exposed areas are thoroughly sanitized and, when possible, notify those who may have come in close, prolonged contact with the infected individual. MGM has medical and security personnel on staff to respond quickly in the event of an incident.” Plexiglass in between booths at Sadelle’s Cafe inside Bellagio No matter how vigilant a property is, however, issues such as one that arose recently in Northern Michigan will undoubtedly crop up. The Odawa Casino reopened Friday, and a guest who visited the property that afternoon tested positive over the weekend for coronavirus. Health authorities issued a “low-risk exposure to the virus” notice and suggested anyone at the casino during the same time period should “self-monitor” until June 12 and watch for symptoms. In an interview with The Nevada Independent, Gaming Control Board Chairwoman Sandra Douglass Morgan said casinos can’t force a casino guest to take a COVID-19 test. However, policies are in place to ensure mechanisms and procedures should a guest fall ill. Last week, officials from the Southern Nevada Health District and Las Vegas’s University Medical Center said agreements had been reached with 10 non-gaming hotels in Southern Nevada to accept COVID-19 positive visitors who need to be quarantined for 14 days. So after 78 days of silence, Nevada’s casino industry now prepares to reopen the doors – albeit gradually – to customers on Thursday. Station Casinos and several downtown Las Vegas gaming operators have plans in place to open at 12:01 a.m. But under the state’s guidelines, capacity is capped at 50 percent, and there will be fewer slot machines available and reduced seating at gaming tables. The 4,000-room Bellagio will open the hotel at just 30 percent capacity. Hand-sanitizing and handwashing stations are located throughout the casino. “We have to take health and safety seriously,” said MGM Resorts Vice President of Administration John Flynn, who oversees the company’s post-COVID-19 protocols. “Getting this done right and doing this methodically is of paramount importance to us.” Howard Stutz is the executive editor of CDC Gaming Reports. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.