Tribal and commercial casino operators in the U.S. were affected by the spread of COVID-19. While all casinos were closed back in March upon gradual reopening tribal venues and commercial properties implemented strict health and safety protocols.
The Impact of COVID-19 on the U.S. Gaming Industry
Similar to commercial casino operators, the tribal casinos in the United States were also impacted by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Earlier this year, the COVID-19 pandemic forced all 989 U.S. casinos to close. Given the sovereignty status of the tribes, they managed to reopen their venues quicker than the commercial operators.
Many states have also allowed the commercial casinos to reopen their doors for visitors. However, this was a gradual process which resulted in losses in millions for the operators. While some operators managed to keep their workforce intact, many have announced employee layoffs. Looking at recent data by the American Gaming Association, we see that, some 862 tribal and commercial casinos have reopened doors. With that mind, some 127 venues currently remain shut.
Closed for Two Months, the Spokane Tribal Casino Reopened in mid-May
Looking at the Spokane Tribal Casino in Airway Heights, Washington we see that the operator introduced strict health and safety measures. The venue established kiosks for temperature screening on all entrances. Furthermore the casino rolled out hand sanitizing stations and introduced mandatory wearing of masks for all employees and patrons. To ensure social distancing, the Spokane Tribal Casino removed some 20% of the gaming machines from the casino floor.
Cited by Inlander, the Spokane Tribal Casino General Manager Javier De La Rosa outlined that he was a part of the gaming industry for 27 years. He added: “I’ve been through 9/11, I’ve been through the financial market (crash). This is by far more damaging to the industry. 9/11 was scary in the sense that the unknown was the scary thing.” De La Rosa deemed the current situation as similar, given that anyone can be carrying the respiratory disease COVID-19.
The Spokane Tribal Casino General Manager outlined that in order for the health and safety protocols to be implemented hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent. He did not miss to say that the casino kept paying all of its employees for the two months when it was closed. Although the venue is yet to recover its losses, De La Rosa said that he is happy to see the patrons complying with the implemented health and safety measures.
Another Tribal Property Is on the Road to Recovery from the COVID-19 Impact
Similar to the Spokane Tribal Casino, the Coeur d’Alene Casino in Worley, Idaho closed its doors back in March. Prior to reopening, the tribal operator formed a task force which needed to create a health and safety plan for post-COVID-19 operations. The plan which was created also followed the guidelines from the local and state officials. Among the restrictions which Coeur d’Alene Casino introduced we find:
- Temperature screening for both employees and patrons
- Social distancing protocols
- Casino capacity limits
- Mandatory wearing of masks for visitors and employees
Back on April 27, the venue did a “soft reopening” and implemented the outlined restrictions. Many visitors wanted to get in and there was even a line. Further restrictions were also introduced by the operator in order to enhance the safety of both patrons and employees. Cited by InLander, the Coeur d’Alene Casino’s CEO, Laura Stensgar said: “Our protocols have been in place since day one.” She added: “And they have safeguarded us from any type of outbreak. … And I don’t see us dropping the masks for quite some time.“
Although no solid amount can be presented, according to Stensgar the losses for the time when the venue was closed were in millions. However, she said that since it’s reopening the Coeur d’Alene Casino is on the road to recovery.