Gambling During A Pandemic: Casinos Reopen In St. Louis, St. Charles
For some Missourians, this week seemed like a fine time to place a few bets.
The Missouri Gaming Commission is allowing all 13 casinos in the state to reopen this week, after more than two months of being closed to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Ameristar Casino in St. Charles and Lumière Place in St. Louis are the only casinos reopening in the region Monday. Casinos in St. Louis County, including Hollywood Casino in Maryland Heights and River City Casino in Lemay, must remain closed due to county restrictions spurred by the pandemic. Casinos in Illinois are also not allowed to reopen yet.
The entrance to the Ameristar on Monday afternoon featured a large traffic sign that read “Casino Open” in capital orange letters, and cars steadily streamed into the parking lot.
Jessie Hill, a St. Charles resident, said news of the Ameristar reopening flooded his Facebook feed, so he decided to come test his luck in a game of Texas Hold ’em with a friend.
“We live right down the road and like there really hasn’t been much to do since everything’s been shut down, so it gives us an opportunity to get out of the house and do something,” Hill said.
But gambling during a pandemic is going to look different, said David Strow, vice president of corporate communications for Boyd Gaming. Boyd Gaming owns and operates the Ameristar and 28 other casinos nationwide.
Chips, dice, playing cards and slot machines all are touched hundreds of times a day at casinos. Strow said his casinos are putting numerous safety protocols in place to reduce the risk of spreading the virus on those high-touch items.
Dealers place cards face up, so players don’t have to touch them. Chips and dice are regularly sanitized, but people are encouraged to frequently wash their hands after touching them. Also, every other slot machine is turned off and Blackjack tables are limited to three players a piece to maintain social distancing. Chairs on the gaming floor have been removed and the building is restricted to half capacity.
Every dealer and casino employee is required to wear a mask and if a guest does not have a mask, they’re offered one, but not required to wear it.
Most restaurants in the Ameristar have reopened, although the night club will remain closed for now. The hotel is also operating at half capacity and is not offering valet service currently.
Strow said the casino is ready to open, despite furloughing a majority of employees in April and months of significant revenue loss.
For the last two months, Strow said the company had no revenue coming in, as all Boyd Gaming casinos were closed nationwide. The company wrote in a letter to the state in May that depending on revenue after reopening, potentially 25% to 60% of employees could be laid off.
“The range in that letter really reflects that uncertainty,” Strow said. “It’s an honest statement of we don’t know what that’s going to look like two months from now, we don’t know what our business levels are going to look like, what our staffing levels are going to look like.”
Casinos taxes are the state’s fifth largest source of revenue, according to the state gaming association.
Closures compounded by slow business from hesitant customers could hurt state income, but Strow said he is hopeful people will be back to relieve stress from being under stay-at-home orders.
“People do need that escape; they still need entertainment,” Strow said. “And so we can continue to offer them that.”
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