Lines form, crowd cheers for reopening of Arizona casino Friday

Five casinos in the Phoenix area opened Friday, offering a glimpse into what heightened health and sanitation measures — and pent-up demand — may look like in Las Vegas casinos in the weeks to come.

By 8:45 a.m. a long line of gamblers — some wearing masks, others not — wrapped around the Harrah’s Ak-Chin casino, eager for doors to open at 9. The crowd cheered and people flooded into the casino, which had been closed since March 19. Staff members held open the doors, their faces hidden behind cloth face masks, and reminded guests to keep their distance.


“(The shutdown has) been hard. You’re isolated and bored. … I was definitely excited to get in and be able to sit down at a slot machine.”

– said Jennifer Duncan, of Surprise, Arizona, one of the first to re-enter the casino.

Every other slot machine on the casino floor was unavailable for use, and signage throughout the floor reminded people to keep their distance. One sign covering a slot machine screen read, “Don’t get too close, you’re turning me on.” Other signs suggested that guests wash hands frequently and wear a mask. Stickers on the floor reminded them to keep 6 feet apart.

There was limited seating at blackjack tables, each with a $10 limit. The tables would normally be $5 at this time of the day, according to Alan Kay, a retired Maricopa resident who would visit the casino five times a week to play poker before the shutdowns. The property’s poker room, as well as keno and bingo, remained closed. Staffers diligently wiped down touch points, and hand sanitizer was available at multiple stations.

The property is managed by Caesars Entertainment Corp. and owned by the Ak-Chin Indian Community. According to Caesars’ latest annual filing, the property normally has 1,150 slot machines and 30 table games spread across its 65,200-square-foot casino.

Las Vegans Mihaela and Tom Steyer drove down for the opening Friday morning, leaving at 2:30 a.m.

“Six hours is nothing,” – Mihaela Steyer said, noting that she and her husband had gone to a casino in Idaho last week, a 16-hour drive. She said she does not have any safety concerns as the casino reopens amid the pandemic. “I don’t worry,” she said, adding that she keeps her distance from others.”

Sal Mesa, of Gilbert, Arizona, did not have a mask but said he was taking other precautions, keeping his distance from others and sanitizing his hands often. He and his wife would visit the casino roughly twice a month before the shutdowns. He said that the two were excited when they learned local casinos would be back in business, and they plan to make a Las Vegas trip once Nevada’s casinos reopen.

“They say this (virus) will be around for a while. … I can only sit at home for so long,” he said. “I’m in my 60s. I’ve been around germs. I was a police officer for 29 years; I was exposed to a lot of things. I’m still here.”

While he believes that when “it’s your time, it’s your time,” Mesa said the heightened health and sanitation measures at the casino made him feel safer.

“I know everyone’s conscious (of the virus),” he said. “It seems like social distancing is working out the best they can. (…)



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