Florida Reopens First Seminole Casino

The Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa became the first casino in Florida to reopen to customers following the statewide coronavirus shutdown. The casino was granted permission to recommence business as long as it implemented a number of health and safety protocols to protect guests and employees.

A painted wall mural for the City of Tampa.

The Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino has reopened in Tampa, albeit with strict safety protocols that encourage hygiene and social distancing. ©Jason Martin/Pixabay

The Seminole Tribe closed its six Florida casinos on March 20. With many of its patrons older retirees who were at the most risk of the coronavirus’ full effects, the Seminoles cited the importance of protecting both the population they serve and their staff as their reasoning for closure.

Some of the new procedures that have been adopted to promote hygiene and social distancing include the requirement that everybody within the premises must wear a mask. All guests arriving without masks will receive them upon entry. Everybody entering will also have their temperature read before being granted access.

If patrons are recorded to be running a fever, they will be denied entry. Additionally, the capacity of the casino has been reduced to 50 percent. According to Hard Rock International chairman and Seminole Gaming chief executive officer Jim Allen, the protocols underscore a “safety-first mentality” that is currently guiding operations.

Further health and safety protocols include:

  • On-site restaurants including the Hard Rock Cafe and Rise Kitchen & Deli will be open though will only accept a limited capacity and adopt social distancing measures.
  • Only 200 of the hotel’s 800 rooms will be available for booking.
  • More than half of the casino’s 5,000 slot machines will be turned off to enforce distancing between players in gaming areas.
  • New plexi-glass barriers will separate players from dealers and staff at table games and customer service areas.
  • Multiple hand-sanitizing stations have been installed throughout the casino.
  • A new 100-employee strong Safe and Sound Clean Team will routinely clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces in common areas.
  • An air ionization system has been installed to purify and disinfect circulated air inside the building.
  • 850 signs have been installed to remind visitors to social distance.
  • Events at the pools and the Seminole Hard Rock Event Center will remain closed until further notice.

According to Jim Allen, the protocols are important not just for the comfort of the guests, but for the peace of mind for their many employees. For this reason, the casino did not force any employees to return to work, and listened to their concerns in order to refine their protocols.

“We did not mandate our employees to come back to work. So if someone felt uncomfortable, we respected their wishes. In this particular case, we revised our (attendance) policies to be compassionate to employees that just fundamentally feel that they do not want to be in this environment.”Jim Allen, Chief Executive Officer, Seminole Gaming

Allen also spoke of allowing 2,000 of the casino’s 4,800 staff to return to work, though acknowledged that the closure of many of its retail spaces means that the number of staff required is limited. For the time being, Allen’s goal is to get as many people back to work as possible.

Allen added that the protocols, which are similar to those outlined by the Nevada Gaming Control Board (NGCB) are expected to change for the other Seminole casinos based on the success at Tampa. There is no date for when the other casinos will reopen.

Other Major Casinos Gear Up for Reopening

Florida’s Seminoles are one of a number of tribal groups looking to restart business, with the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and the Mohegan Tribe also planning partial reopens on June 1. Both tribes operate, amongst others, the Foxwoods Resort Casino and the Mohegan Sun respectively.

With the Foxwoods Resort Casino being one of the largest in the world, it will be interesting to see how they implement safety protocols to stem the risk of the virus. Acknowledging the need for mutual cooperation to soften the economic devastation from the closures, the tribes collaborated on the operating procedures.

Both properties, based in Connecticut, will keep their concert venues, poker rooms and buffets closed. Restaurants will only offer takeout food. Similarly to Tampa’s Hard Rock Casino, the tribes will undertake temperature checks of visitors, require all on premises to wear masks and utilize plexi-glass barriers.

Despite the rigorous focus on health and safety, the reopening has not been welcomed by all, including Connecticut’s governor Ned Lamont. Lamont has described the move as being “incredibly risky” for guests, workers and those in the region who will come into contact with visitors.

As both casinos operate on sovereign lands, Lamont is unable to stop their operations. However, he has suggested that he may try to appeal to guests and workers with safety concerns to influence them not to show up. Despite this, tribe officials have promised that their policies will exceed those requested by lawmakers.

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