Pent-up demand after the Great Lockdown By Ken Adams, CDC Gaming Reports May 17, 2020 at 7:09 pm It has been two months since the Great Lockdown began, taking the casino industry into a dark cave with all the other “non-essential” businesses in the country. By the 16th of March, every casino in the United States was closed. In state after state, the governor declared a crisis due to what we now call COVID-19. Not all states followed the same guidelines, but in general non-essential businesses were closed, public gatherings were limited or forbidden, and social distancing and isolation was recommended or dictated. Charts tracking the number of cases, deaths, available hospital beds, and ventilators appeared everywhere. We were told that if we avoided groups of people, kept our distance, and were patient, the graph of cases and deaths would flatten and, in time, begin to decrease. Most public officials focused on the decrease, looking toward a still-hazy point at which businesses could begin to reopen in phases, depending on their societal importance, and citizens could start to re-establish their daily routines. Still, large gatherings like sporting and entertainment events would have to wait until the last phase of the process; it’s hard, after all, to keep your distance in a crowd of 50,000. Casinos fit into the category of larger businesses that probably would not be allowed to open before the second or third stage of the reopening. Gamblers play craps at a casino in Deadwood, South Dakota Still, some have begun coming back online. Indian casinos were the first, for the most part in the more remote areas of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Oklahoma. South Dakota was the first conventional jurisdiction to reopen, but more are on the way: Louisiana casinos are scheduled to open May 18, Mississippi casinos will open on May 21, and Missouri on June 1. More announcements are anticipated through the rest of May, although the governor of Michigan has hinted that the casinos in Detroit could be closed for months. Other states appear to be planning for June or July. The major jurisdictions have been busy developing procedures and requirements for protecting employees and customers from each other and from the virus. Politicians, regulators, and casino operators all want to find the perfect formula, but no one yet knows what that is, or if there even is one. It is known that whatever one person touches should be thoroughly cleaned before another person touches it and that people should maintain six feet of separation from each other. And it would be best if everyone wore a mask. There will likely be plexiglass barriers, cleaning teams and temperature checks, as well. It is too soon to gain much insight into the process or the reaction of customers, but South Dakota did offer an interesting tidbit after its first weekend. One of the casino owners in Deadwood said his casino was 15 to 20 percent busier than on a normal weekend. He called it cabin fever. The Thunderbird casino in Oklahoma had a line of hundreds of people waiting for the doors to open. The Coeur d’Alene Casino in Idaho opened on May 1, and according to the casino management, the casino was very busy. There is an added twist to that tale, however. The Coeur d’Alene Casino had a celebrity of sorts on hand when it reopened: Brian Christopher, a YouTuber with a growing national reputation. Christopher’s YouTube channel, which features videos of him playing slot machines, has more than 250,000 subscribers. He is constantly on the lookout for new casinos, particularly ones which would like him to be their new best friend. When Christopher contacted Coeur d’Alene, he was running out of material for his broadcasts. He wanted to use the casino to show his subscribers that everything was going to be okay. But he also wanted to show casinos all over the country that having him in their establishment could be good for business, especially now. Christopher identified one of the challenges of casinos reopening: customer anxiety. After staying home for a couple of months, people are naturally uncertain about going back into public places. Coeur d’Alene gave some of those people a chance to test the casinos’ waters, albeit only virtually. The only downside to the demonstration in Idaho was that there were no other players visible. The casino would not allow Christopher to shoot a video of anyone else. There are hundreds of challenges to be met in the reopening of the gaming industry. For certain, one of the most important issues is going to be customer confidence. Casinos will have to do the right things and they will have to make certain customers are aware of their efforts. Brian Christopher might not be the perfect answer, but he and others like him – social media personalities, in other words – can help. The casino industry is going to need all the help it can get as it works its way out of the Great Lockdown and back into what we all hope will again be a normal world. The lockdown was, and is, foreign terrain – unchartered waters. So is the path back.