Many Cherokee And Tunica Casinos Now Requiring Customers Wear Masks

Posted on June 25, 2020 - Last Updated on October 27, 2020

The American Gaming Association (AGA) now reports close to 80% of the country’s commercial and tribal casinos have reopened. That’s after all 989 of them were closed as part of the effort to limit the spread of COVID-19.

The list of casinos now open for business includes those in close proximity to Tennessee.

Across the eastern border in North Carolina, the two Cherokee properties have been operating since the end of May. Meanwhile, near Tennessee’s western border, the commercial casinos in Tunica had already opened for business during the previous week.

Like most casinos throughout the country, the Cherokee and Tunica properties are operating at limited capacity. They are also finding it necessary to keep adjusting and adapting how they operate amid the still-present coronavirus.

Masks required in all indoor public spaces at Harrah’s Cherokee properties

Yesterday, Caesars Entertainment Corporation announced a new policy affecting all of its properties. Everyone while indoors must wear a mask at all times. The only exceptions are when people are eating or drinking.

Previously Caesars had only required that employees and those playing table games had to wear masks.

The new “universal mask requirement” applies to all Caesars businesses now open across the country. That includes both Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort in Cherokee and Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River in Murphy.

That said, a change had already been in the works at both Cherokee properties.

Earlier in the day on Wednesday and before the Caesars announcement, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) had issued its own executive order requiring guests to wear masks when in all public places, not just in the casinos.

As reported by WBIR-TV in Knoxville, the EBCI delivered its order after several people within the tribal lands tested positive for COVID-19, including one death from the virus.

The tribe’s order was similar in most particulars to Caesars’ announcement, including allowing taking off masks while eating.

Experiencing the new normal at Harrah’s Cherokee

The Cherokee casinos continue to operate at 30% capacity in response to both state and tribal guidelines.

A couple of weeks ago writer Melissa Ruggieri of the Atlanta Music Scene Blog took a scouting trip to Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River and filed a report of her experience.

Upon arriving, staffers asked Ruggieri if she had been sick or had tested positive for COVID-19. Next came a temperature check, after which she received a wrist band indicating the length of her stay.

When the Cherokee properties reopened May 28, they already required guests to wear masks while in the casino.

Ruggieri tells how she took advantage of the many sanitizer stations and followed the social distancing guidelines in place. She noticed increased cleaning procedures from housekeeping in the hotel as well.

To encourage distancing, the casino deactivated more than half of the slot machines. Table games also have a three-player limit.

Tunica casinos reopen to eager gamblers

All six of Tunica’s commercial casinos are now open for business, albeit with restrictions including only operating at 50% capacity per the Mississippi Gaming Commission‘s phase one guidelines for casinos to reopen.

Sam’s Town Hotel and Gambling Hall first welcomed back visitors May 21. Hollywood Casino Tunica, 1st Jackpot Casino Tunica, Fitz Casino and Hotel, and Horseshoe Tunica Hotel and Casino all reopened that day as well. Gold Strike Casino Resort followed with its soft reopening on May 25.

Horseshoe Casino Tunica is a Caesars property, and thus will be implementing the new mask-wearing policy.

MGM Resorts has similarly announced that effective Friday, June 26, all guests and visitors will be required to wear masks inside public spaces. As an MGM property, Gold Strike Casino Resort will be following that requirement.

Meanwhile, a check of other Tunica properties’ websites shows that all continue to encourage the wearing of masks, though none require doing so.

In terms of gross gaming revenue, after earning nothing at all in April, total revenues for Mississippi casinos added up to $68.8 million in May. That’s a little over a third of what would be typical for a full month. It is also more than what might be expected given many casinos were only open for the last week of May.

Such numbers reflect how even at reduced capacity and with slots providing almost all of the revenue, MS casinos had a bigger Memorial Day weekend than last year.

Martin Harris Avatar
Written by
Martin Harris

Martin Harris is a writer and teacher who has reported on poker, online gambling, and sports betting since the mid-2000s. Once a full-time academic (Ph.D., English), he currently teaches part-time in the American Studies program at UNC Charlotte. His book Poker & Pop Culture was published by D&B Books in 2019.

View all posts by Martin Harris