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Column: What will reopened casinos look like after shutdown ends?

The following column was written by Kelly Duncan and Thomas B. Shepherd III, attorneys at Jones Walker LLP

Even though the casinos in Louisiana and Mississippi continue to be closed under orders from the states’ governors and gaming regulators to address the coronavirus pandemic, we can speculate what a reopened gaming industry might look like in the Deep South once those orders are lifted.

Prior to entry into a casino, guests may be asked questions about their recent travel or health or exposure to someone with the virus. Patrons may have to walk through a device to check for elevated temperatures before being admitted. Social distancing will become the norm, and casino floors may be marked to indicate minimum distancing for patrons at locations such as hotel check-ins.

Kelly Duncan and Tommy Shepherd III

Even after casinos are reopened, players who have been conditioned to avoid crowds of any size may be reluctant to return to gaming properties. As a result, we expect the gaming floors to be uncrowded, and most if not all the guests and certainly all the staff will be wearing masks, and perhaps many will be wearing medical gloves; it will be interesting to see how surveillance departments adjust to the new normal of not being able to see faces of patrons and employees.

Dealers whose faces will now be covered with masks will have to struggle to engage in friendly interaction with their players — who are also likely wearing masks. Miscommunication will increase. Every third seat at a table game may be occupied — more tables than normal might be open, but with fewer players at each table. Card decks will be changed out more frequently, and chips may be subject to cleaning and disinfecting. The same will be true at non-card games. Poker rooms will be closed. Electronic table games will be more prevalent. Non-players will not be permitted to gather around tables, even on a Saturday night.

Two of every three gaming devices will be rendered operable in order to establish the necessary social distance between players. A guest cashing out of a device and leaving his seat will result in a member of the housekeeping crew swooping in to sanitize the device and the chair in front of the machine.

Sportsbooks in Mississippi will be on a skeleton crew until the return of sports. And who knows when that will happen?

Employees will be screened for symptoms of the virus at each shift change; any sign of illness will result in the employee being sent home immediately or, if the capability exists, testing for the virus on-site or at a local clinic. Casino cleaning staffs will be robust, very visible, and active, as it will be necessary to employ enhanced cleaning techniques to keep the restrooms, door handles, handrails, and other areas as clean and fresh as possible.

Buffets will be closed, and food service will be limited to menu orders. Only half the tables in the dining venues will be open for service, and not all restaurants will be open. Beverage service to players may be limited to reduce human contact and the potential spread of the virus.

Hotel rooms will be plentiful and cheap. Casino guests will be more of the “day trip” variety rather than those staying overnight, as guests will be reluctant to sleep in hotel rooms that they have not personally watched being cleaned and fear whether the previous night’s guest might have left the virus behind.

Because of the outbreak, annual festivals in New Orleans that draw large crowds, such as Jazz Fest, have been canceled this year, and others that already have been postponed to later in the year also may be canceled. In light of the foregoing, live entertainment at casinos that typically attract large crowds may be nonexistent or, at a minimum, will be regulated not only as it relates to the total number of individuals allowed but with queue lines and seating spacing consistent with social distancing protocols.

Spas, pools, convention centers, and bars will not be open until much later in the year. Once casinos are reopened for business, there will be gaming, but it just won’t be the same for a long time.