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Casinos gamble that customers are ready to play

Two casinos in the St. Louis area were finally able to open their doors after a two and a half-month hiatus due to the COVID-19 shutdown. Ameristar in St. Charles and Lumiere Place in St. Louis City opened on June 1 to anxious gamblers.

Other casinos, including Hollywood Casino in Maryland Heights and River City Casino in South St. Louis County, will be allowed to open on June 15. But it won’t be business as usual.

Casinos are taking extreme precautions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Ameristar Casino St. Charles [Photo courtesy of Boyd Gaming]

Ameristar has guests enter through designated entrances. Face coverings are highly encouraged while on the property and will be provided free of charge upon request. Employees will be screened for their temperature each time they enter the property and will be required to wear masks.

The casino itself looks different as well. Physical layouts have been reconfigured to maintain proper social distancing.

Slot machines and video poker machines will be turned off or reconfigured to allow for physical separation between guests, who won’t be allowed to congregate behind players.

Table games will have a maximum occupancy based on the type of game: three players on blackjack-style table games, four players for baccarat or roulette, and six per craps table. Dealers will be separated from players by plastic barriers and dice will be sanitized between shoots.

“The most important thing we can do is enforce social distancing,” said David Strow, vice president of Corporate Communications at Boyd Gaming, which owns Ameristar. “We strongly encourage guests to wear masks, but at the end of the day, it’s the customer’s choice.”

Guest spaces and employee areas will be cleaned and disinfected multiple times daily, including slot machines, chairs, table games, restaurants, kitchens, restrooms, doors, handrails, counters, ATMs and kiosks. Hand sanitizer dispensers are placed throughout the property and the frequency of air filter replacement and HVAC system cleaning will be increased.

All restaurants and bars [when open] will have reduced seating and tables or booths will be spaced apart to allow for appropriate distancing. Self-serve buffet-style food service will be suspended. There is no live entertainment for the time being, but the hotel is open.

Even with the reopening, Ameristar announced plans to turn between 25% and 60% of its furloughs into permanent layoffs. Boyd Gaming of Las Vegas filed notice with Missouri officials indicating that as many as 947 employees could be affected.

Ameristar is not running at full capacity, Strow said. Although there will be layoffs, the exact number has not yet been determined.

“At this point, we cannot say with any accuracy; we don’t know how the business will look in two months,” he said.

Hollywood Casino and River City Casino & Hotel, both owned by Penn National Gaming, Inc., will be able to open on June 15. St. Louis County Executive Sam Page announced on June 1 that bars could open June 8 and remaining businesses June 15, including casinos.

Guidelines are still being finalized and will be available on stlcorona.com.

“There’ll be limits on crowd sizes, requirements for masks, social distancing and cleaning and disinfecting protocols, all necessary to make sure that employees and their patrons are kept safe as more people are out and about,” Page said.

Prior to the shutdown, Hollywood Casino had already implemented stringent CDC-recommended protocols, including increased daily cleaning regimens, maximizing air circulation, and canceling or postponing all live events, said Jay Snowden, president and CEO of Penn National Gaming.

Other steps taken included reducing the number of chairs at the dining facilities, table games and poker rooms, as well as the number of slot machines in play at any one time, he said.

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