3 Casinos in Arizona Close Temporarily Amid Rise of COVID-19 Cases

Gila Rivers Casino in ArizonaAs the coronavirus cases in Arizona, and other states, are on the rise, it has forced Gila River Hotels & Casinos to close three of their casinos for at least two weeks as they reevaluate their safety protocols and procedures.

Those three casinos are Wild Horse Pass, Vee Quiva, and Lone Butte.

This marks the second closure for casinos in Arizona, after casino doors were shuttered in mid-March due to the coronavirus outbreak, joined the rest of the country in close down casinos to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The three Gila River casinos reopened on May 15, as Arizona Governor Doug Ducey lifted the state’s stay-at-home order. Some AZ residents believed it was too soon for casinos to reopen, as others were glad to return ahead of the rest of the country.

When casinos reopened, casino operators and tribal companies set force specific coronavirus safety protocols, such as having staff wear facial masks and encouraging patrons to wear them as well.

Effective June 18 at 2 a.m., the three properties effectively shut down as questions about the casino company’s efforts to prevent the spread of the virus have been posed. It also comes after a security guard at Gila’s Lone Butte Casino died from COVID-19.

The security guard, 68-year-old Robert Washington of Chandler, AZ, returned to his job as a security guard once casinos reopened. According to his daughter, he died of complications related to COVID-19. Washington was in the susceptible age bracket, a diabetic and had recently beaten prostate cancer.

According to Gila officials, the company strengthened its policies last week mandating all patrons to wear masks when on the casino properties. Now that the properties will be closed for at least the next two weeks, the company advises it will be strengthening and reevaluating its current safety standards.

Family of Affected Casino Worker Mourns and Implores State to Take Virus Seriously

The family of Robert Washington, who unfortunately passed away after contracting the virus upon returning to his job at the casino, is in mourning and requesting that the state of Arizona take coronavirus seriously.

Washington’s daughter, Lina Washington of Sacramento, has spoken out publically, demanding that customers, employees, and elected officials alike take the threat of COVID-19 as seriously as possible, to avoid another coronavirus-related death from happening.

In Lina’s eyes, she feels the state could have done more when it came to providing guidance to businesses upon reopening. She believes proper guidance could have kept employees, like her father, safe against the threat of the virus.

Lina says it’s not just her dad, but others who will be affected as the number of cases in Arizona continues to increase, and that someone needs to be held accountable for those who are being directly impacted by COVID-19.

While Lina believes her father wouldn’t want her disclosing personal information about him in the news, she’s doing so because she believes his death was “100 percent preventable,” and that if she can help prevent this happening to another daughter or family, she will continue to go on the record with it.

She says as long as people continue to be negligent to the fact that this pandemic is “very real,” that this will not be a unique case and unfortunately will continue to happen until everyone takes it as seriously as it is.

On the day that casinos reopened in the state, Lina’s father told her it was a frightening scene in that around eighty percent of people weren’t wearing masks.

Her father was originally told that upon returning to work, he would be able to work outside on the golf cart to patrol casino grounds. Instead, he had to staff the security desk on the casino floor, interacting with every patron that entered and exited the casino.

Lina believes that mandating all visiting patrons to wear masks could have helped prevent her father from catching the virus. She’s hoping that her story will spur change within the state and her community.

Current COVID-19 Cases in AZ

Today, the Arizona Department of Health Services has confirmed 3,591 new cases of COVID-19 and 42 related deaths. Previously, the state saw its record number of cases last Thursday, and 1,000 new cases were added in the last five days, showing a near-double case count from last week.

For the first time since the virus outbreak, hospitalizations in the state have exceeded 2,000, with 2,136 beds occupied by possible and confirmed COVID-19 patients on Monday, compared with 1,992 hospitalizations from the day before.

Arizona has been one of the states with the most relaxed coronavirus restrictions throughout the country, but it looks like the rapid and significant rise of COVID-19 cases will cause the state to enforce stricter rules on mask usage.

Arizona Modeled Sin City’s Reopening Protocols

Arizona’s safety protocols mirrored that of Nevada casinos, which required casino staff to wear masks, but not enforcing mask usage for casino guests.

However, the Nevada Gaming Control Board recently updated its safety guidelines last week, to include more stringent practices when it comes to facial coverings.

Now, any individual wishing to play table games must wear a face mask if plastic barriers aren’t installed to safely separate gamblers when playing. Cashless gaming could also be a reality soon for Nevada casinos.

According to Roger Gros, publisher of Global Gaming Business, he believes Nevada is doing a “pretty good job” at observing the CDC guidelines that have been put into place to help stop the spread of the virus.

Gros noted that casinos are doing a better job at following the rules than their patrons. Gros has noticed that around only 25 percent of guests are wearing masks in Strip casinos, and around 40 percent of guests are wearing masks in the local casinos.

Beyond the rules that were recently updated this week, Gros doesn’t believe that the state’s Control Board will mandate guests to wear masks. He believes that Las Vegas and Nevada wants to remain more “player-friendly” and will likely resist making any enforcements unless absolutely necessary.

But according to Gros, he would rather see everyone wearing a mask in Las Vegas than to have to see it get shut down again because of cases of COVID-19 increase.

Today, not surprisingly, there have already been a handful of confirmed cases of COVID-19 coming out of the Las Vegas Strip. A kitchen worker at Bellagio’s Mayfair Supper Club tested positive last week, forcing the live entertainment and dining venue to temporarily close. A worker at the Flamingo testing positive on the same day and two concierge workers at the Cosmopolitan have also recently tested positive.

There have also been confirmed cases of workers in restaurants on and off the Las Vegas Strip. A worker at Guy Fieri’s restaurant who tested positive for COVID-19 caused the establishment to close back down this week.

Updated Procedures

On June 16, Gila River’s Chief Security and Surveillance Officer Doug Simpson explained that the health and safety of the casino’s employees and guests were paramount and that the main priority for the company right now is implementing an extensive new set of safety measures across its three properties upon reopening.

Those updated safety measures include:

  • A new casino floor layout to comply with social distancing
  • Allowing casinos to operate at capped capacity; 50 percent at most
  • Increased cleaning and sanitation performed on high-touch areas
  • Providing all employees with protective personal equipment
  • Testing all casino staff every two weeks until further notice

Throughout the two-week closure, all Gila River employees will continue to be paid in full and receive full medical benefits.

Arizona Shuts Down Casinos as NJ Prepares to Finally Reopen

Throughout the country, Arizona casinos are currently the only ones to shut back down after reopening to the public.

But while Arizona casinos have shut down to reassess its safety standards, it looks like New Jersey casinos are finally preparing to reopen in time for the 4th of July weekend, after a three-month coronavirus shutdown.

On July 2, Gov. Phil Murphy announced that New Jersey will reopen its Atlantic City casinos at 25 percent capacity to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. In a tweet, Murphy also shared that additional health and safety guidelines will be released within the next several days.

Alongside the state’s casinos reopening, indoor dining will also be allowed to resume across the state at the same 25 percent capped capacity.

What we know now is that face covering and health screenings will be required for both casino patrons and staff members. Anyone who is not in compliance will be asked to leave the premises or escorted out if need be.

Gov. Murphy is adamant about not allowing those who don’t wish to comply with the important reopening requirements to ruin it for those who wish to return to casinos and dining establishments responsibly, calling anyone who wishes not to comply “knuckleheads” who the state will not tolerate in its reopening.

Murphy explained that the reopening of gambling halls will allow thousands of New Jerseyans to get back to work, and that reopening has been a long-time coming, but it’s been delayed to make sure it can be done safely with minimal risk and health damage done to casino staff and patrons.

Stay Tuned

It’s unfortunate to see the rise of  COVID-19 cases across Arizona and various states throughout the country.

Hopefully, casino operators will find a way to keep their doors open while ensuring that casino staff and patrons remain healthy. We also hope that casino guests will continue to conduct themselves responsibly while out in casinos and other public establishments.

What do you think? Do you think casino operators in Arizona need to do more to ensure staff and guest safety, or do you think patrons need to practice more coronavirus safety measures?

We hope that casinos in other states won’t have to shut back down and that patrons will be able to enjoy themselves responsibly.

Please remain safe out there, and continue to wear your masks and wash your hands! Be sure to check back for more updates regarding casinos reopening amid the pandemic.