One California cardroom seeks to provide hope that the industry can successfully reopen for indoor gaming.
The “Blueprint for a Safer Economy” created four color-coded tiers for counties based on coronavirus infection rates. Because Shasta County started in the orange tier, Casino Club can reopen at 25% capacity.
Ileana Harris, owner of Casino Club, spoke with PlayCA about the challenges faced by California cardrooms, new safety protocols, and her hopes for the reopening.
California cardrooms suffering from long closures
Casino Club reopens three days shy of six months closed. Other cardrooms opened in June, only to close again three weeks later on the governor’s orders.
“It’s been really devastating and extremely expensive to be closed this long,” Harris said. “I was thinking maybe we would shutter for two-to-three weeks, but it didn’t happen that way. I can’t begin to say how much money we lost when other businesses around us have been open.”
She was unable to pay the casino’s 34 employees, many of whom she said had to resort to going to food banks and make arrangements to pay discounted monthly rent. Despite the lower capacity, Casino Club will reopen with its full staff.
Casino Club’s location near the far north of the state gives it a head start in reopening over other cardrooms. Redding is a city of 97,000 people, while Shasta County has a population of 191,000.
“All along we haven’t had that much infection compared to other areas with bigger populations,” Harris said. “We want our players to experience as close as possible to the inviting atmosphere they are used to.”
Casino Club’s rules for reopening indoor gaming
Harris indicated that all games the casino offers — poker, blackjack and three-card poker — will be available.
For Casino Club, 25% capacity equates to a maximum of 50 people allowed in the casino area. When capacity is reached, patrons can wait in a game room with televisions, pool tables and darts.
Patrons will be required to wear masks in the gaming area, though they will be asked to lower their masks as they enter the facility to capture their face on camera. Employees won’t check temperatures at the door.
Additional details of the reopening:
- The 25% total capacity does not apply to individual tables. Using dividers allows blackjack tables to hold eight patrons. Poker games will play five-handed.
- Food and beverage areas, including a grill and night club, can reach 50% capacity.
- The night club features karaoke nightly. Employees will change the microphone cover for each singer. Masks are optional for staff and customers in food areas.
- Cards and chips will be removed from action each day and quarantined for seven days. Harris projects card expenses to increase by $87,000 over the first eight months.
“For a small cardroom, it’s brutal,” she said. “It will increase our expenses. I’m taking a chance that this will improve in the next six to eight months.”
Possible expansion of capacity on horizon
Harris said she is taking a gamble that Casino Club can be profitable at 25% capacity while paying 100% of rent, utilities and payroll.
Calculated into that gamble is an expectation that the area is trending in the right direction.
Shasta County already is in the yellow tier in terms of testing positivity. If the case rate drops another 0.3, Shasta County could fully move up to the yellow tier.
That would allow Casino Club to expand to 50% capacity, which Harris hopes to happen within the month.
Harris said she will not add additional capacity outdoors for safety reasons. There is a large homeless population in the area. Like many areas of California, Redding also is in the middle of a heat wave and the air quality is poor due to fires in the region.
“I made the decision two months ago that, until I could come in and give players the experience they’re used to having in a gaming establishment, I would not alter the way games are played,” Harris said.
More California cardrooms nearing reopening
Other California cardroom owners will closely watch how Casino Club fares.
North Coast Casino in Humboldt is the only other cardroom in the state located in an orange-tier county, but it has yet to announce plans to reopen. Three prominent San Diego cardrooms are in the red tier, closing in on orange-tier status.
Santa Clara and Santa Cruz were among five counties added to the red tier Tuesday. The neighboring counties are home to five cardrooms. They must wait at least three weeks to advance another tier to allow for indoor gaming.
In the meantime, Bay 101 and Casino M8trix in Santa Clara are among the many California cardrooms starting operations outdoors under tents.