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More Oklahoma casinos reopening, others extend closures

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everal casinos across Oklahoma state will now be closed at least through the end of May, but some tribes have decided to reopen earlier, citing low infection rates and armed with new protective technology.

As of Wednesday, at least five casinos were open in the state. Hundreds of people were reportedly lining up outside the Thunderbird Casino in Norman, where the Absentee Shawnee Tribe reopened its facility to a limited number of guests. The Thunderbird in Shawnee has also reopened.

“Friday, you’ll see probably another eight open,” said Sheila Morago, of the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association, as reported by Tahlequah Daily Press.

The Tonkawa Hotel and Casino, the 7 Clans First Council Casino, and the 7 Clans Red Rock Casino and Perry Casino were expected to open Thursday, May 14. Peoria Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma Chief Craig Harper recently announced the Buffalo Run Casino and Resort would reopen Friday, with hours of 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. through June 5. The StoneWolf Casino in Pawnee is expected to open Friday, as well as all remaining Osage Casinos, including the flagship location in north Tulsa, with limited capacity and truncated hours of operation. Food services openings will likely be delayed.

The Sac and Fox Nation will reopen two of their casinos on Friday but limit the capacity to 25%, including employees, and conduct temperature checks of everyone entering the facilities.

Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribe-owned Lucky Star Casinos are opening Friday morning at 10 a.m. “Most of our casinos are located in western Oklahoma,” said Lucky Star Casinos COO Andy Rednose, as reported by KFOR. “A lot of our counties have very few if no cases in the counties.”

He said that’s played a large role in deciding whether and when to reopen. For the past two months they’ve been discussing what measures to take when the day finally comes. “We want to set the example basically on how to operate a casino under these conditions,” he said. 

Starting Friday, the moment a guest or employee walks inside the building, their temperature will be checked manually, by new thermal imaging cameras, or both. When a guest sits at a machine, the two on either side will disable, and when they get up, the machine will alert the staff who will come clean it before it’s used again.

Table games will be closed for the time-being. Plexiglass shields have been set up at locations where staff contact customers, and guests will be provided with masks and gloves if they want to join the staff in wearing protective equipment.

On Tuesday, the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma announced June 1 as a tentative date to re-open casinos and resorts. In addition, Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby announced on Wednesday the tribe’s offices and casinos will remain closed at least through May 29. They have not yet set a date to reopen.

“As we develop plans for a phased reopening of our operations, the health and safety of our employees and patrons remain our highest priorities,” he said in a release. “With that in mind, we are evaluating and enhancing our operational policies and protocols to enable us to reopen our operations as safely as possible. While we are contemplating a reopening date, no decision has yet been made. When we begin reopening, we plan to implement extensive employee testing and contact tracing to help contain any resurgence of the virus.”

The Muscogee (Creek) Nation has made no announcement as to when the River Spirit Casino Resort or its other casinos will reopen, but it will not be before June 1, Tahlequah Daily Press reports. Brandon Scott, Cherokee Nation Businesses spokesperson, said there’s much more to take into account when reopening a casino, as opposed to closing one down, since many also have restaurants, spas, pools and other features. He said he does not anticipate any of the properties opening before June 1, including the Hard Rock in Catoosa. But a more detailed plan will likely be announced within the next week or so.

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