Robert Washington was working as a security guard at Gila River Lone Butte Casino near Chandler, Arizona, and told his family he was fearful of being back at work. Now, they're calling on Arizona leaders to do more as cases continue to spike. Casino employees throughout the United States are increasingly being affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The casino reopened on May 15. Mr. Washington, a cancer survivor and diabetic, told his family he needed to go back to work in order to afford his insulin. Lina Washington said her dad called her one day after the casino reopened, concerned for his own safety. “He was absolutely fearful for his future. There was no social distancing as he explained to me, there was no active sanitation,” she said.
Things only got worse from there. On May 30, Mr. Washington tested positive for COVID. Days later, he was admitted to the ICU, and eventually died.
The Gila River Indian tribe, operator of Lone Butte and Wild Horse Pass casinos, as well as the Vee Quiva Casino, closed all three of its properties in the wake of the death. Managers declined repeated requests from media organizations to confirm the number of employees who have tested positive for COVID-19, saying that they will not reveal the information to "protect the privacy" of their employees.
Lina Washington is angry that Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and other politicians are watching these Arizona COVID cases and death numbers skyrocket since the reopening of casinos, but are doing little to protect people. “The arrogance that people think it can’t happen to them. I’m telling you it can, because it happened to me. And it didn’t have to happen,” she said. “I’m at a loss for words that there are politicians and people in power who are allowing people like my dad to die like this.”
Casino Morongo employees claim more of their co-workers are positive for COVID-19 than the casino is saying, KESQ, a California TV station, reported. On Monday, a spokesperson for the casino refused to release an updated number for the workers who were positive for COVID-19.
“More of our employees, our co-workers, are coming out positive and we’re not being told anything,” an unnamed worker said. “We knew more employees were tested positive because we know them, we work with them,” according to another worker.
“These people that they’re saying don’t have any contact with the guests -- they actually come in contact with a lot of guests,” another employee claimed. The casino, which is in Cabazon, some 15 miles from Palm Springs, was closed for about two months. It resumed operations on May 22.
Also, Washington state’s Ilani Casino Resort announced that a worker there tested positive for COVID-19. The worker is getting appropriate medical care and is undergoing self-quarantine, reported KATU, a local TV station.
Workers who may have come into contact with the sick employee will get a COVID-19 test. They will be required to be at home until test results are known. Any other people who were in contact with the sick worker will be contacted.
The Nevada Gaming Control Board ordered Nevada casinos to require players and spectators of some blackjack as well as other table and card games to wear masks, which seemingly should have applied to all patrons since the reopening, in the view of many Nevada residents and public health experts.
The update to the board’s Health and Safety Policies required for the reopening of casinos during the COVID-19 pandemic was posted on the Control Board’s website.
Nevada casinos began reopening June 4 after being closed for 78 days since March 18 to help slow the spread of the coronavirus. Control Board Chairwoman Sandra Morgan said that board agents observed rapidly declining usage of masks in casinos and that the three-member board collectively agreed to issue the new order.
“In the first week (after the June 4 reopening of casinos), we wanted to take an approach of communicating and encouraging compliance and talk to licensees about what our expectations were, but in the second week, it became abundantly clear based on our agents’ observations that patrons’ usage of masks was significantly declining,” Morgan said.
The new rule takes effect immediately. “Licensees must require patrons to wear face coverings at table and card games if there is no barrier, partition or shield between the dealer and each player,” the new guidance said. “This requirement applies to table and card game players, spectators and any other person within six feet of any table or card game.”
The new rule applies to players of blackjack, roulette, craps, poker, and all other table games. All casino employees are required to wear facial protection. Incongruously, masks aren’t required of other casino patrons, including slot machine players, but casinos are required to offer them to customers and encourage their use.
“When you have a dealer that’s standing in front of up to five people and there are significant others behind them and then there are people watching for an hour at a time, it was concerning, not only for me but other board members as well,” Morgan said. She noted that while many casino workers have the ability to move around their properties, dealers are confined to one location for up to an hour at a time and are exposed to hundreds of people every day.
“We were at least able to agree that face coverings (were needed) at table games, if there’s not going to be plexiglass or any other kind of barrier,” she said. “The lack of individual patron responsibility is disappointing to say the least, so we have to do at least what we can to ensure that the gaming employees have some protection as well.”
Several properties have plexiglas barriers between players and dealers, including Wynn Las Vegas and Encore and MGM Resorts International’s high-end Bellagio. At Bellagio, the Mayfair Supper Club restaurant has been closed because of an employee there testing positive for COVID-19.
Caesars Entertainment Corp. properties have required players at its tables to wear masks when they sit down to play.
Morgan said that the board would consider changing its existing policy if coronavirus data trends changed and the percentage of positive cases increased. “I would consider additional measures to ensure our healthcare system is not overburdened,” she said.
Fermin Leguen, the lead health care adviser on COVID-19 in Southern Nevada, issued a statement encouraging the use of facial coverings and noting that there had been a decline in the use of protective masks. He said businesspeople “have a moral obligation to protect this community.”
“Unfortunately, as more businesses are opening and people are beginning to resume their normal activities, it is easy to forget that we are still responding to a pandemic and precautions need to be taken,” Leguen said. “Many businesses have taken proactive measures to ensure the safety of their employees and their guests. While some of these measures have been mandated, many of them have been voluntary and go beyond what is required.”
Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak, who previously praised Morgan for moving quickly to respond to rapidly changing conditions, said Monday that mask-wearing was going to remain voluntary, but he also said reconsideration would be based on health data.
Morgan said the actions taken Wednesday by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission had nothing to do with the decision to require masks at table games.
The Massachusetts reopening plan, which appears to take the pandemic more seriously than its counterparts throughout the country, will require plexiglas barriers at the table games that will be allowed to be played. Massachusetts has no reopening date scheduled, but regulators agreed that all casino patrons will have to wear masks and six-foot barriers will have to be installed for blackjack games. Whenever that state’s three casinos open, craps, roulette and poker will be temporarily banned.
“Chandler casino security guard dies from COVID-19 weeks after going back to work”, Briana Whitney, azfamily.com, June 16, 2020.
“Control Board requires masks at casino table games in Nevada”, Richard N. Velotta, lvrj.com, June 17, 2020.