Recovering from a global pandemic requires gaming to write a whole new playbook By Howard Stutz, Executive Editor, CDC Gaming Reports May 23, 2020 at 4:00 am Biloxi, Mississippi wrote the playbook 15 years ago on how a casino community recovers from a cataclysmic event after Hurricane Katrina nearly wiped out the Gulf Coast gaming market. Granted, there isn’t a script for dealing with the economic and emotional damage the coronavirus pandemic has inflicted on the nation’s entire gaming business over the past two months. No one plans for an entire industry – nearly 1,000 properties in 43 states – to close in a span of two weeks. We’re seeing that document written in real-time. Now, as casinos are slowly returning to life, we’re getting a glimpse of what gaming could resemble in a post-COVID-19 era. More than 160 commercial and tribal gaming properties have reopened in 15 states over the past two weeks, including Louisiana and Mississippi, two of the larger commercial gaming markets that, combined, produce more than $10.5 billion in annual economic impact. Eventually, we won’t see dealers and other casino personnel wearing medical facemasks, which is quickly becoming commonplace. Plexiglass shields that separate table game players, while every other slot machine is taken out of service in order to comply with social distancing guidelines, will also disappear. What will remain in place are the technological advancements and innovative operational changes that promote health and safety and also enhance the customer experience. There doesn’t seem to be a problem getting people to return to casinos, based on the long lines witnessed in Arizona, California, Oklahoma, and other states. Biloxi, along with other Mississippi gaming markets, returned to business Thursday, but under strict health and safety guidelines. The new rules didn’t bother the guests. “Right now, the crowd sizes seem to be great. They have so many safety protocols in place. I, at this point, have no concerns whatsoever,” Scarlet Pearl Casino guest Brian Waystack told Biloxi television station WLOX. “This is probably safer than any grocery store you go to.” In some ways, Biloxi’s latest comeback in 2020 resembles the months following August 2005. Once Hurricane Katrina’s storm surge receded, Mississippi laws were changed to allow Gulf Coast casinos to move onshore. In the weeks and months following the storm, a handful of casinos reopened their gaming and restaurants in temporary locations, giving recovery workers and homeland security personnel some entertainment outlets as they helped the community rebuild. Message on the Caesars Palace marquee on May 15/ Photo by Howard Stutz Beau Rivage, Biloxi’s largest resort, reopened on the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina in a ceremony that welcomed back employees and guests but also paid tribute to those who died in the storm. Ceremonies aren’t taking place as casinos reopen post-COVID-19. The damage to facilities wasn’t physical and the properties don’t need to be rebuilt, just reimagined. Temperature scanners, hand sanitizer bottles, and personal protective equipment are meant to provide casino employees and guests – who have been told for months to shelter at home – a level of comfort that they are entering a safe environment. We’re now starting to get an idea of what Las Vegas will resemble starting June 4, the date Governor Steve Sisolak said Friday in which state gaming regulators could reopen the nation’s largest gaming community. Here’s a hint: It’s going to be a slow comeback for a destination that produced almost $6.6 billion in gaming revenues each of the past two years and provides an economic impact of nearly $56 billion annually. In fact, Jeremy Aguero of Applied Analysis – one of the state’s leading fiscal and economic experts – told Nevada Newsmakers it could take three years for the full Las Vegas economy to return from the COVID-19 downturn. MGM Resorts International and Caesars Entertainment are each going to reopen two properties initially. Combined, the companies have 18 Strip resorts. Las Vegas Sands will reopen the Venetian’s hotel, but not the Palazzo. The phased-in approach will include limits of no more than 50% maximum occupancy capacity, added spacing between slot machines, and limited seating at table games – three players for blackjack, six for craps, four for roulette, and four for poker. Pre-COVID-19, Biloxi recovered from Katrina with increased investment and a vibrant Gulf Coast tourism market. Now, in the early post-pandemic stages, the gaming industry will author a whole new playbook. Howard Stutz is the executive editor of CDC Gaming Reports. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.