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Masks, spaced-out slot machines and no poker rooms among Pennsylvania casino reopening protocols

Allentown Morning Call logo Allentown Morning Call 5/21/2020 By Jon Harris, The Morning Call
a red stop sign sitting on the side of a building: Wind Creek Bethlehem, which has been closed since March 15, will have to follow protocols released by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board on Wednesday whenever the facility is allowed to reopen. © April Gamiz/The Morning Call/The Morning Call/TNS Wind Creek Bethlehem, which has been closed since March 15, will have to follow protocols released by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board on Wednesday whenever the facility is allowed to reopen.

Visiting a Pennsylvania casino, whenever the gambling halls end up reopening, will be much different than before the coronavirus pandemic.

Mask-wearing guests will approach the casino entrance, where trained staff will try to spot any signs of illness and ask patrons whether they’ve had a fever or any contact with someone with the virus in the last 14 days.

Once inside, guests will notice markings on the floor to keep people 6 feet apart and hand sanitizer stations throughout the casino. Cleaning should be amped up, especially on door handles, elevator buttons and restrooms.

Slot machines may have plexiglass barriers between them or some might be disabled entirely, to keep players separated. Table games should be operated with fewer players, and the typical crowd of nonplayers congregated around a table won’t be there.

Neither will poker rooms, which won’t be authorized to operate — at least initially — due to players handling cards and chips.

These are among the minimum requirements outlined in a 10-page document released Wednesday by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board and shared with the state’s 12 land-based casinos.

“As conditions throughout the commonwealth improve and the reopening of casinos is authorized, the PGCB desires to assure that re-openings occur in a manner which promote the safety of casino patrons and employees alike as well as assure an environment conducive to proper regulatory oversight,” board Executive Director Kevin O’Toole said in a news release.

What remains unclear, however, is when the state’s casinos will reopen. Pennsylvania is using a three-phase approach to guide reopening — red, yellow, then green — and many counties, including Lehigh and Northampton, remain in the most-restrictive red phase as others transition to yellow.

Board spokesman Doug Harbach said casinos cannot open during the yellow phase and there’s yet to be specific guidelines on the green phase. “We will look for further guidance from the governor’s office on restrictions that would affect large venues such as casinos,” he said.

Casinos are starting to open in other states. Of the country’s 989 commercial and tribal casinos, 100 were open and 889 remain closed as of Wednesday afternoon, according to the American Gaming Association. Berks County gambling giant Penn National Gaming Inc. reopened its five Louisiana casinos on Monday and planned to open five properties in Mississippi on Thursday, implementing social distancing and safety protocols.

Pennsylvania casinos have been closed since mid-March, evaporating gambling revenue and taxes, while putting thousands of employees on furlough as shutdowns were enacted to slow the virus’ spread. One beneficiary was the state’s young online gambling business, with online casino revenue surging 73% last month to $43 million.

Wind Creek Bethlehem, which closed to the public March 15, committed to paying its roughly 2,400 workers through the end of May.

Jay Dorris, president and CEO of Alabama-based parent Wind Creek Hospitality, on April 28 posted an update on the casino’s website, informing patrons that the facility didn’t yet have a reopening date but was in the midst of developing a plan to keep guests and employees safe.

Whenever Wind Creek reopens, Dorris wrote, it will start with a soft reopening, where small groups of invited guests will test the site’s new policies and procedures. Once Wind Creek believes it can accommodate more guests, it will open to the public through a new reservation system. That will allow guests to reserve a day and time in advance, so the casino can limit the number of people on the property, Dorris said.

The Gaming Control Board said the document it released Wednesday is based on best practices guidelines along with various plans by gambling companies in Pennsylvania.

The document also lists several requirements for casino employees, who will receive COVID-19 training that provides an overview of mitigation protocols, including proper use and disposal of personal protective equipment and recognition of symptoms.

Upon entering, employees may be required to undergo a temperature check. At entrances, the casinos will place markings to maintain social distancing as employees report to work. While on site, employees will wear masks and will be allowed to wear translucent gloves while working.

The gaming board said the protocols disclosed Wednesday represent the minimum requirements to be fulfilled prior to a casino reopening.

“While these guidelines for casino operations will be subject to amendment as we move closer to a time of reopening, we believe this plan will be effective in mitigating and reducing the risk of exposure to COVID-19 for all employees, patrons, and other guests,” O’Toole said.

The full document of reopening protocols is at, under “Casino Reopening Protocols.”

Morning Call reporter Jon Harris can be reached at 610-820-6779 or at


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