After Missouri's statewide closure of casinos on March 17 due to the coronavirus pandemic, casino manager Lyle Randolph said he received anxious calls every week from both regular patrons and employees asking when they were going to reopen.
"The guests were ready to get back out and have a safe place to come and get some entertainment," he said.
Randolph serves as the managing director and general manager of two Century Casinos in Caruthersville and Cape Girardeau, Missouri. Located 80 miles apart in relatively rural areas, the casinos are local hot spots for fun and relaxation. The Caruthersville location just celebrated its 25th anniversary.
However, when both casinos were allowed to reopen on Monday, returning guests were greeted with new procedures designed to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Each location has increased security at its entrances. Every person coming in now undergoes a thermal temperature screening — a temperature greater than 100.4 degrees earns a secondary screening and barred entry if it's still high. If wearing a face mask, guests have to briefly pull it down to be identified by a security camera.
Once inside, guests can see slot machines divided by transparent barriers and card tables limited to three people in order to space patrons further apart. The bars are mostly closed off except for a small area where people can order a drink in a one-time use cup. The casinos' kitchens remain closed, so only limited food options, such as prepackaged items, are available.
"During this time we were closed, we spent a lot of time trying to understand what could be done to protect our guests and our employees," Randolph said.
With health agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization advising people to avoid close contact with others and crowded spaces, safety protocols are particularly vital for indoor entertainment venues.
At places like casinos, bars and clubs, inhibitions may be lowered as people look to mingle and have a good time. The WHO has even warned that drinking alcohol can increase the risk of catching Covid-19 by decreasing immune response. In South Korea, new outbreaks were linked to clubs and entertainment venues after the country eased stay-at-home restrictions, according to the Associated Press.
In planning their reopenings, casinos have recognized serious health risks and taken precautions to protect people from infecting each other. They have implemented social-distancing measures and now offer a "a reimagined casino experience," according to Bill Miller, president and CEO of the American Gaming Association.
"To responsibly open, operators have established robust, regulator-approved protocols to safeguard the health of guests and employees," Miller said in a statement to CNBC.
Across 26 states, 519 casinos are currently open for business, representing more than 50% of casinos nationwide, according to the AGA. Nevada reopened casinos on Thursday, including in Las Vegas.
"After months of being home, there's a segment of people who are ready to travel here and recharge and relax and have some fun," said Virginia Valentine, president and CEO of the Nevada Resort Association.
Valentine said Nevada's tourism industry is the "lifeblood" of the state, and that prior to Covid-19, it generated nearly $68 billion in annual economic output. The industry contributes about 40% of the state's General Fund revenue through taxes and as Nevada's biggest employer, supports about 450,000 jobs.
Nevada casinos are often tucked within large resorts that have had to follow guidelines for reopening restaurants, retail and entertainment, according to Valentine.
Disinfection efforts have increased within the resorts, and employees are also required to wear masks, according to Valentine. Guests have the option to wear masks and will be offered them when they visit. One-time use paper menus are now being used at restaurants, while casinos have rearranged floors to allow more space for social distancing and are only allowed to operate at 50% capacity.
Caesars Entertainment, which operates the Caesars Palace resort in Las Vegas among other properties, is limiting the number of participants at gaming tables at its opened casinos and has arranged slot machine banks to promote social distancing, according to reopening guidelines provided to CNBC.
Bartenders will provide hand sanitizer to customers and "tables or other obstructions" have been positioned throughout dance floors in order to keep large groups of people from congregating together.
Caesars also said its security team will be monitoring guests to ensure physical distancing guidelines are being followed, and will instruct people not to gather in close quarters.
Though Missouri may not have massive Las Vegas resorts like Caesars Palace, the gaming industry is still important to the state. After casino licenses were suspended in March, the state suffered an economic loss of around $1 million each day, according to Mike Leara, chairman of the Missouri Gaming Commission. He said the gaming industry employs around 9,000 people in Missouri.
"The casinos also have enormous investments in our state that we want them to be profitable," Leara said.
However, in forming reopening recommendations, the commission took into account that the state's casinos often serve an older demographic who may be more susceptible to the coronavirus, according to Leara.
"We kept the casinos in suspension for a couple of extra weeks," he said. "We wanted to see the trajectory of the infection rate and the death rate continue [to decline] before we opened them up."
Casinos across the state are now implementing enhanced cleaning procedures, keeping their buffets closed and turning off every other slot machine to create space between guests among other measures, according to Leara.
New social-distancing and security procedures haven't swayed customers from coming to the Century Casinos in Caruthersville and Cape Girardeau, according to Randolph. In the early days of reopening, the casinos welcomed back most of their 500 workers, and there has been a boost in out-of-state visitors.
"We have no casinos yet that are open in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and even further," Randolph said. "We are seeing some increased traffic from out of those locations."
However, the casinos have also benefited from the return of familiar faces.
"It's a sense of coming back to normalcy," Randoph said. "They would come to the casino once a week and they want to get back to that."