Following the re-opening of Louisiana’s casinos this May, Scott Sirois, general manager at Coushatta Casino Resort, discusses how his property addressed some of the challenges currently facing the gaming and hospitality industry, such as how best to facilitate social distancing.
Coushatta Casino Resort had to decide quickly on what amenities to open and when. The casino, 24 hours, yes; food services, some but not all, e.g. no buffet …How many hotel rooms to reopen? Which retail stores? What about the golf course? How many employees needed for reopening? How to pre-screen guests? How to keep track of how many were in the building at any given time? Yes or no to using Plexiglas barriers? The list of considerations was long and varied.
However, the larger question was this: how much business could we expect? In the end, we opted for the conservative approach and to phase in business units.
We reopened our convenience store and our golf course on 1 May 2020 because they were “essential business” and we could use them as a “canaries” to trial how customers would respond. Our state, Louisiana, lifted the stay-at-home order on 15 May 2020 with 25 percent occupancy limits and safe distancing required for gaming devices. Some amenities were not allowed to reopen, such as buffets, nightclubs, and entertainment venues etc.
We reopened the casino with limited operations on 20 May. Business has been steady, albeit not comparable to last year, but decent. On the day we reopened, we pre-empted long queuing lines by opening earlier than advertised. Good thing, too! It was hot and humid, typical weather here in southwest Louisiana. Opening a little earlier is one of those “blinding flashes of the obvious” that people generally realise in hindsight.
We made a few adjustments right away, adding more dining options, specifically seating, because at 25 percent our “planned” seats filled up fast. We have since repurposed our nightclub as an option for additional seating.
Louisiana required two main social distancing elements for casino restrictions:
1) Deactivate every other slot machine, which translates into a 50 percent machine reduction, and
2) A limit of a three guest maximum at table games.
The table games restriction netted out to be a larger reduction because to achieve social distancing, we had to spread the tables apart. This necessitated removing one table from each side of all of our pits, resulting in the table games gaming position reduction to total 60 percent.
Moving forward, the slot floor will continue the breakup of slot banks, evolving into different geometric shapes to accentuate the “slot bank feel” where some popular themes thrive.
My personal opinion is our businesses won’t normalise until there’s a medical solution. In the short time we’ve been reopened that is my one takeaway; the majority of our customers are still staying-at-home. Regardless of when we normalise operations, people’s behaviour has definitely changed. Even the obstinate mask-less guests are leery of anyone being inside their six foot radius. Americans will need to add queuing to their skill set.