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Lines form as Valley casinos begin reopening doors Friday, see what changes are being made

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First look: Larger casino being built to replace Fort McDowell Casino near Fountain Hills
Posted at 5:10 PM, May 11, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-16 18:24:12-04

PHOENIX — The familiar sounds of the casinos -- the jingles from the slot machines and the occasional cheer from the blackjack table -- are returning as some casinos in Arizona opened their doors on Friday, nearly two months after shutting down to encourage social distancing during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fort McDowell Casino near Fountain Hills, Harrah's Ak-Chin Hotel and Casino in Maricopa, Lone Butte in Chandler, Wild Horse Pass in Chandler, and Vee Quiva in Laveen reopened on May 15, the same day that Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey's stay-at-home order is set to expire.

Aerial video Friday morning over Ak-Chin Hotel and Casino showed a line of people waiting to get inside. See Air15 video in the player below.

Talking Stick Resort and Casino and Casino Arizona, both located near Scottsdale, will reopen on June 1, a spokesperson confirmed to ABC15. The casinos previously announced that they would not reopen in May.

Desert Diamond West Valley Casino has extended its closure to May 15, but recently updated its website to say that it will remain closed through the month of May. It has not yet announced a specific opening date.

Mazatzal Hotel & Casino said it would reopen on May 21, according to its website. Bucky's Casino and Yavapai Casino plans to reopen at 8 a.m. on June 1, according to its website.

Twin Arrows Casino Resort in Flagstaff remains closed until further notice, according to their website.

As the casinos begin reopening, each has its own rules and guidelines to encourage social distancing.

Here is what we know so far:

HARRAH'S AK-CHIN HOTEL AND CASINO

Harrah's Ak-Chin Hotel and Casino in Maricopa reopened at 9 a.m. on May 15. The reopening was set to include the resort's rooms, depending on the number of reservations.

The casino said it will implement a number of changes to increase social distancing:

  • Slot machines have been rearranged to allow for social distancing and seating will be limited at blackjack tables. The poker room, keno, and bingo will remain closed.
  • Some dining areas and restaurants will open, including Dunkin Donuts, Copper Cactus Grill, Chop Block & Brew, and Agaves Restaurant, will be open and have social distancing in place. The Buffet, Oak & Fork, and Laurel Lounge will remain closed.
  • More hand-sanitizing stations will be placed throughout the casino floor, employees will wear masks, and common areas will be cleaned more often.
  • The events and conference center, fitness center, spa, and valet are closed.

FORT MCDOWELL CASINO

Fort McDowell Casino located northeast of Phoenix said it would reopen on May 15 and would implement a number of changes and protocols, including temperature checks, increased access to hand sanitizer, increased cleaning, and rules for those who take a bus to the casino.

The casino also set-up a Frequently Asked Questions page on its website, www.fortmcdowellcasino.com.

Some of the highlights include:

  • Slots and limited blackjack would begin on May 15. Bingo and Silver Platter could reopen as early as May 22, but it depends on updated guidelines; poker is closed until further notice.
  • Temperature checks will be conducted at entrances via handheld scanners and thermal scanners. Anyone with a temperature over 100.0 degrees will have to undergo a secondary screening and may not be allowed inside.
  • Plexiglass barriers will be installed throughout the casino, at service counters, the hotel, restaurants, pools, and back of house.
  • The layouts of the casino, slot machines, and restaurants have been changed to encourage physical distancing.
  • Hand sanitizer will be available at all entrances, lobbies, driveways, restaurant entrances, restrooms, and convention areas.
  • Employees will have to wear masks and/or gloves, depending on where they work in the casino.

GILA RIVER CASINOS: LONE BUTTE, VEE QUIVA, AND WILD HORSE PASS

All three of Gila River's Hotels and Casinos -- Lone Butte, Vee Quiva, and Wild Horse Pass -- will reopen at noon on Friday, May 15, a spokesperson confirmed to ABC15. The hotels at Vee Quiva and Wild Horse Pass are scheduled to reopen a month later -- on June 15.

Among the changes to protect employees and staff from COVID-19:

  • Plexiglass partitions have been installed at service counters, cashier stations, slot machines and at Blackjack tables.
  • Seating at some games, including Blackjack, Bingo, and slot machines have been limited to encourage social distancing (the poker rooms at Vee Quiva and Wild Horse Pass have been removed; Bingo is only being offered at Vee Quiva, currently).
  • All employees will be tested for COVID-19 prior to returning to work and will continue to be tested every two weeks.
  • Non-smoking areas have some slot machines.
  • Cleaning ambassadors will be assigned to the casino floor to clean high-touch areas, including slot machines, chairs, kiosks, and table games. They will also utilize technology that will alert staff when a machine needs to be cleaned.

Restaurants and buffets would reopen with social distancing guidelines. However, specifically which restaurants would reopen were not listed in Gila River Casinos' updated news release.