BATTLE CREEK, MI — What does social distancing look like at a casino? Patrons at Firekeepers Casino Hotel will find out soon.
As tribal casinos across Michigan set to reopen, new safeguards have been put in place at FireKeepers Casino Hotel near Battle Creek before its Monday, June 1 reopening, in an effort to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
“We’re really excited to be reopening Monday and have people come back, have some entertainment, have some great food,” FireKeepers Casino Hotel CEO Kathleen George told Thursday. “The Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi, our owners, have always been great partners with our community and they look forward to continuing that, as well as us being the leader in helping reestablish the economy as a whole.”
FireKeepers is among seven tribal casinos that plan to reopen in the coming days, including Gun Lake Casino in Wayland and Soaring Eagle in Mount Pleasant.
Four Winds Casinos in New Buffalo, Hartford, Dowagiac and South Bend, Ind., remain closed but say on their website they are “working on plans for reopening.”
While tribal casinos across the state closed voluntarily due to health and safety concerns amid the pandemic, because tribal governments have sovereign control over their territories, they can reopen despite Gov. Whitmer’s stay-at-home order.
When the seven tribal casinos announced their reopening, they highlighted some changes they said patrons should expect:
- Poker tables, Bingo, Mijem Buffet and Chi Mon-ee’s will remain closed.
- Self-service beverage stations will be closed
- Parking garages will be closed.
- Valet parking will not be available. The valet area can still be utilized for drop off/pick up.
- Hotel pool and fitness areas will be closed.
- Bus group visits will not be available.
- Sanitizer stations are available throughout the property.
- Designated smoking area will now be outside of the casino.
- TITO (slot) vouchers from pre-closure will be honored for 60 days from opening.
- Additional “cleaning ambassadors” have been deployed to continually clean high touch areas throughout the property, including gaming areas, hotel corridors, and more, 24/7.
On Thursday, FireKeepers leaders said guests should not only be prepared for the safety measures, but also the way social distancing might affect gambling. Slots will be open spaced apart, so will blackjack tables, which now only allow for up to two players.
“We’ve taken all the recommendations from the CDC, as well as other casinos that have already opened across the country, we’ve used what’s worked really well and worked with things that didn’t work and tweaked them,” George said.
Half of the tables and chairs in the restaurants as well as on the gaming floor will be removed at FireKeepers, George said.
FireKeepers will also deploy a meter on its website that will monitor the casino’s capacity for the public to track before they decide to go.
“It’s kind of on a flow, we have a number in mind, but we’re really going to monitor more person to person,” George said. “We know what number we’re not going to go past but if it needs to be lower, we’ll make it lower.”
FireKeepers will work with tribal police and Emmett Township police to help control traffic and to combat any possible lines that may form, George said.
“We want everyone to feel comfortable and safe, if someones not comfortable to come back Monday, in a few weeks or a few months when they are, we’ll still be here ready to serve them,” George said.
George also noted guests should not be expected to be provided masks upon entering the casino.
“We will have a few (masks) on hand we can provide, but we’re recommending everyone bring their masks, since we have to wear them out in public, everyone should have them,” George said.
The more than 1,800 FireKeepers employees will also see some modifications coming to their workplace. Some have been reassigned in order to properly sanitize the machines.
George said FireKeepers employees will also be subject to temperature checks and be required to wear face coverings just as guests are.
“I can tell you overwhelmingly our employees are very happy to be back,” George said.
FireKeepers Casino Hotel will be open to the public at 11 a.m. Monday, June 1.