Game on: Casinos lure visitors with opening date set

Danielle Starkey
Tahoe Daily Tribune
Harrah's Lake Tahoe is a part of Caesars Entertainment.
Bill Rozak / Tahoe Daily Tribune

All but five of the 120 part-time and full-time employees at Crystal Bay Casino were laid off when businesses were ordered to shut down in March.

Next week, if all goes according to plan, all will be working once again, said Bill Wood, general manager of the casino, the pleasure of saying it evident in his voice.

“Everybody’s excited,” he said the day after Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak confirmed that the state’s casinos can reopen June 4 with sharply reduced occupancy and detailed new disinfection and thermal testing protocols in place.

Though bringing back all the employees when the Gaming Control Board safety guidelines say they can have just 50% of the patrons they are allowed by their fire occupancy code seems ambitious at first glance, Wood is confident they can make it work.

“We were never 100% full,” he said of the 14,000-square-foot gaming floor. “Good occupancy at the slot machines is 50%, so there’s room there.”

On holidays and weekends when a heat wave sends valley dwellers climbing up the hill to escape the heat there may be more people coming to the casino, as has happened in the past.

“We’ll have to pay attention then,” he said.

The casino has always had staff on the gaming floor keeping an eye on things; what will be new when they reopen is that people in charge of accounting, marketing and human resources will also spend four hours of each shift roaming the floor, gently reminding anyone who forgets that they shouldn’t stand too close to one another, Wood said.

“You can have only 10 people in the place and if they’re all congregated together, that’s when you have a problem,” he noted.

As important is keeping the indoor air fresh and circulating, Wood said.

“Indoor ventilation is paramount. And if you’re just receiving old air, it doesn’t help,” he said. “In the past, the HVAC was set at 70 to 80% outside air. Now, it will be at 99%.”

That raises the cost of running the system, especially since they plan to leave all the doors open to help circulate the indoor air.

“If you have the air moving past you, the droplets expelled when a person coughs or sneezes near you are dissipated more,” he said.

In Stateline, Harrah’s Lake Tahoe also plans to open its casino June 4 but Harveys Lake Tahoe, also owned by Caesars Entertainment Corporation, will continue with a $41 million renovation and will not open until “late summer,” according to a company press release.

Also in Stateline, the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino will reopen at noon on June 4.

They are offering “first responders and essential frontline workers” one night free at the hotel, according to a press release.

The Hard Rock also began offering rooms for $20.20 a night in a promotion marking the return of gambling that was shut down statewide for the first time since legalization in 1931.

Their sister property, the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Sacramento, which is actually 40 miles north of Sacramento in Wheatland, opened May 21 at 50% capacity.

The Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe is accepting reservations beginning June 4. As of noon on May 26, they had already had reservations for 67 rooms of the 422 rooms they have at the 12-story hotel and casino.

Casinos will encourage hand-washing and offer hand sanitizer.

Swimming pool lounge chairs will be spaced apart.

Gamblers will be limited to three at blackjack and other table games, four at roulette, six at craps. Some resorts plan to disinfect dice between shooters, clean chips periodically and change card decks frequently.

Some will encourage the use of cellphones for touchless check-in, as room keys and to read restaurant menus.

Smoking will still be allowed, the Gaming Control Board said.

The governor said bars, restaurants, convenience and grocery stores with 15 slot machines can resume gambling operations. Nightclubs, dayclubs, buffets and large venues will remain closed.

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