Harrah’s Cherokee Casinos Announce ‘Gradual Reopening’ Beginning May 18

Posted on May 12, 2020

Last Friday, Harrah’s announced its intention to “begin a gradual reopening” of its two North Carolina casinos starting Monday, May 18.

According to Harrah’s, both the Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort and Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River Casino & Hotel will begin a “phased reopening.” Both properties closed their doors on March 18 in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Invite-only casino reopenings come with precautions, restrictions

According to the announcement, the reopenings will come “with extensive health and safety precautions in place for the safety of employees and guests.”

Areas of the casino where staff and customers can practic social distancing will be the first to open. That includes “the gaming floor, hotel, and some restaurants,” albeit with “significant limitations on occupancy.” Meanwhile, those areas were it is not possible to social distance, “such as the spa, valet, poker, buffet, and concerts, will have to remain closed until it is appropriate to reopen.”

To ensure that people follow such precautions, “access to the casinos will be by invitation-only at first with small groups of customers receiving the invitation by mail starting as early as May 13.” During this initial period, only guests and members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians can access either casino.

The casino furloughed the majority of its employees starting April 16. When that occurred, they were allowed to retain their medical benefits “through reopening or June 30, whichever comes first.”

Furloughed employees will return to work as their respective sections reopen. Casino employees will undergo screening and temperature checks. They will also have to wear facemasks while working.

Announcement coincides with first phase of North Carolina reopening

The announcement regarding North Carolina’s Harrah’s Cherokee casinos came on the same day Gov. Roy Cooper moved the state into Phase One of its reopening. It is the first of three phases following a model designed to prevent hot spots or viral spread.

Under the first phase, the state continues to observe the governor’s previous stay-at-home order. However, it does introduce a few differences, including eliminating the distinction between “essential” and “nonessential” businesses. It allows most retailers to open at 50% capacity, enabling individuals to leave their homes for a wide range of purposes, including for nonessential goods or services. It permits gatherings of up to 10 people while continuing to follow social distancing guidelines.

Meanwhile, most of the previous restrictions remain in place. Restaurants and bars still cannot offer dine-in meals. Other facilities that need to stay closed include movie theaters and performance venues, as well as health clubs and gyms.

Operators across country contemplate phased reopenings

“This is uncharted territory for the casino industry, but what is clear is that when we return to work, it will not be exactly as it was prior to closing,” said the Senior Vice President and General Manager of Harrah’s Cherokee casinos Brooks Robinson.

We look forward to welcoming back our guests and team members, also understanding that social distancing is going to be a part of our business and lives for a while,” added Robinson.

On Monday, Caesars Entertainment announced plans to reopen some casinos, particularly tribal properties.

“Across its network, Caesars properties will encourage social distancing practices consistent with recommendations from domestic and international authorities, including federal and applicable state and local public health authorities, and implement other enhanced health and safety protocols.”

The announcement specifically plans to reopen properties in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, Council Bluffs, and Lake Tahoe. These will occur “in line with anticipated business demand,” but which also will follow a cautious, phased approach.

According to the American Gaming Association, all 989 commercial and tribal casinos in the US are closed due to the pandemic. As of today, the AGA reports 20 of those casinos are open in a limited fashion, just over half of which are commercial casinos in South Dakota. A few tribal casinos have reopened as well in Oklahoma, Idaho, and Washington state.

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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.

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