San Diego County’s casinos focus on health and safety protocols
Pandemic guidelines include temperature checks, reduced capacity
Yes, you can still sit down at a blackjack table and try your luck at hitting 21. But there are a few differences during the Age of the Coronavirus: You and the dealer will be wearing a mask. There will likely be no more than three players at your table. And any companion who wants to watch will need to stand back six feet.
As 2020 winds down, all 10 of the San Diego area’s tribal casinos are open for business.
“We have gone to great effort to keep the excitement of the gaming experience intact in the face of COVID-related changes,” said Pala Casino Spa & Resort spokesperson Coley McAvoy. “Safe social-distancing has reduced the capacity and the volume of guests at slots and table games. However, our focus is on providing a safe and comfortable environment where guests can enjoy a true gaming experience while taking the necessary safety precautions.”
Most of the gaming establishments dotted throughout Southern California, as well as the mega-resorts up and down the Las Vegas Strip, are open, too. Note: There a few casino closures still in place in Sin City, and some hotels there are not open for business mid-week.
“Our properties will not look the way they used to for a while, and that’s not only OK, it’s critically important,” said Bill Hornbuckle, acting president and CEO of MGM Resorts, echoing the words of every casino executive. “We will continue providing the hospitality experiences we are known for, but we must do so safely.”
Most casinos shut down when COVID-19 arrived in March. At varying times over the several months, casino executive teams made individual decisions to re-open with new health and safety measures in place. Round-the-clock cleaning, social distancing and face coverings are now de rigueur.
It should be noted that California’s tiered system of business closures does not affect Native American casinos. Tribal lands are long established as sovereign governments.
What can a gaming aficionado expect in terms of health and safety measures? Every casino has a slightly different approach. All check guests’ temperatures upon entry and most have disabled every other slot machine or spaced them farther apart.
A comprehensive example of health-related precautions is the “Seven-Point Safety Plan” implemented last summer by MGM Resorts International for its dozens of casinos all over the world. The plan hits all the bases. Check it out, and see below for other specific measures in place at gaming properties throughout San Diego County.
Seven-Point Safety Plan
After closing in March, MGM Resorts International began a phased re-opening plan for its Las Vegas casinos. That began in the summer, after compiling a plan created in conjunction with health and safety advisor Dr. Shannon Magari.
The Seven-Point Safety Plan is a set of protocols and procedures designed in conjunction with medical and scientific experts to deter the spread of the virus, protect guests and employees and quickly respond to new cases.
With guidance from the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control and government regulators, MGM’s plan includes:
1. Screening, temperature checks and employee training: Employee and guest screening will measure and assess signs and symptoms of infection. Employees go through temperature checks before entering a property. Guests are asked to abide by a similar self-screening protocol prior to arriving and during a visit.
2. Mandatory masks and personal protective equipment: All employees will be provided and required to wear an approved mask. Masks are provided free of charge for guests, and guests are asked to minimize the amount of time masks are removed when drinking on the casino floor. Eating on the casino floor is not permitted.
3. Physical distancing: Six-foot physical distancing policy will be in place, wherever feasible, with floor guides serving as reminders. When six-foot distancing is challenging, reasonable mitigating protocols will be implemented, such as plexiglass barriers.
4. Handwashing and enhanced sanitization: Proven cleaning products will be used in accordance with EPA guidelines for coronaviruses, bacteria and other infectious pathogens. Electrostatic sprayers will be used in many large areas. In addition, custom-built handwashing stations with soap and water, along with hand-sanitizing stations, will be readily available.
5. Heating ventilation and air conditioning controls and air cuality: Rigorous measures in accordance with established guidelines to help mitigate the risk of virus transmission will be taken with regard to HVAC controls.
6. Incident response protocols: In the event a guest or employee tests positive for the virus, exposed areas are thoroughly sanitized, and, when possible, those who may have come in close, prolonged contact with the infected individual will be contacted.
7. Digital innovations: Guests will have the ability to complete the check-in process through a mobile app. This includes the ability to process payment, verify identification and obtain a digital room key. Digital restaurant menus will be available to view on personal mobile devices via QR codes. Virtual queues will be in place for guests when immediate seating is unavailable.
Around San Diego County
San Diego-area casinos all have similar, though distinct, procedures in place. Here’s a quick glance around local gaming rooms at efforts that include, but are not limited to, those listed:
- At Barona Resort Casino, face masks with breathing valves are no longer allowed, nor are gaiters or bandanas. Plexiglas shields have been added to several point-of-sale areas. A state-of-the-art, triple-stage air filtration system that incorporates ultra-violet light refreshes and disinfects the air.
- Golden Acorn Casino closes its casino from 3 to 7 a.m. each morning to allow time to clean all touch points on the gaming floor.
- The Harrah’s Resort Southern California staff has been re-trained on the latest cleaning and disinfectant techniques. High-touch gaming items (chips, dice, etc.) are routinely disinfected and refreshed. Where possible, procedures have been adjusted to allow that only dealers touch cards.
- There’s a Mask Patrol and a Clean Team on duty at Jamul Casino. The poker room is open, and guests are given the choice of playing at a full table or at a five-handed table.
- The housekeeping staff that’s assigned to clean public areas and high-touch areas at Pala Casino Spa & Resort has been increased and are on duty 24 hours a day.
- Daily cleanings at Casino Pauma include the use of CDC-approved Trident disinfectant sprayers.
- The immense Pechanga Resort Casino closed its poker, craps and bingo facilities, and its hotel remains closed. Dining is available at 50 percent capacity or less. All concerts have been postponed until at least March 2021.
- All of Sycuan Casino Resort is 21-and-older until further notice. Shuttle buses are not currently available. The casino’s poker room has re-opened, with plexiglass dividers between seats.
- Valley View Casino & Hotel has reduced capacity at all table games by 50 percent.
- There are hand-sanitizer stations for guest and employee use at every entry point, food venue and throughout Viejas Casino & Resort, which is also 21-and-older only at the moment. Each gaming table is limited to three seated players.
Donoho is a freelance writer.
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