MS Gaming Gives Tunica And Biloxi Casinos The Greenlight To Reopen May 21

Posted on May 15, 2020 - Last Updated on May 17, 2020

Although specific details about how and when remain unofficial, the approval for Mississippi casinos reopening is in place. The Mississippi Gaming Commission, which shuttered all of the state’s riverboat gaming facilities in March, announced those same facilities could resume operations at 8 a.m. Thursday, May 21.

Thus far, none of the state’s operators have announced what that relaunch will look like or exactly how they will reopen. In some locations, the state government is making those decisions for the casinos.

What we know about Tunica casinos reopening

Other than the fact the Gaming Commission’s approval for reopening the Thursday before Memorial Day weekend, not much is certain right now. The state’s continued approach to the COVD-19 pandemic varies by location.

The state continues to impose additional restrictions on businesses in seven counties. One of those is Neshoba County. Two MS casinos, the Golden Moon and Silver Star, both in Philadelphia, MS, are subject to county rules.

Among those restrictions are requirements for customers and employees to wear masks. The state also calls for businesses to screen employees for symptoms in those seven counties.

Casinos in other states, like Oaklawn in Arkansas, plan to reopen with similar protocols in place. At that property, all employees and guests must submit to temperature checks and wear masks.

MS Gaming Commission Executive Director Allen Godfrey said Thursday that protocols for all casinos, regardless of county, for reopening are forthcoming. They may exceed or mimic the heightened requirements that the casinos in Neshoba County face.

When the commission lays out those standards, casino operators will get to work to meet them. How quickly that will happen and whether patrons will feel secure enough to return is up in the air right now.

What we don’t know about casino reopenings

Depending on how astringent the commission’s requirements are, Thursday may not be feasible for some properties. The casinos still have a lot to address.

One of the challenges to reopening is the labor situation. A major labor union representing casino workers in MS has concerns about the safety of its members.

Among labor leaders’ demands are:

  • Personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • Testing at the casinos’ expense
  • Stricter sanitation requirements
  • Extra time allotted toward maintaining those standards

It’s uncertain whether casinos in places like Biloxi and Tunica are ready to meet those demands.

“My son works at a small hotel property. Is he going to bring a virus home to me?” asked Brenda Tucker Cassity, a bakery worker at Beau Rivage Casino in Biloxi. “I have elderly parents. I worry I might be bringing it home to them.”

Casino employees may not be the only party concerned with safety. There’s no guarantee that just because MS casinos open their doors again, anyone will walk through them.

A Reuters poll showed 72% of respondents would pass on joining large crowds until a vaccine for COVID-19 is available. While limits on capacity could help alleviate those fears for patrons, there’s a trade-off for operators there.

After over two months with zero revenue, turning guests away means turning revenue away. Still, it’s a lesser of two evils situation. Some revenue is better than none, and if the relaunches are successful in terms of safety, that will lead to a greater easement of restrictions.

Mississippi’s casinos have the authorization to reopen next week. Whether they will be ready and knowing what patrons should expect are all matters that operators and regulators will decide over the coming days.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a freelance journalist who resides in Chicago. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.

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