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Coronavirus: Seminole Hard Rock Tampa to close poker room, create space between slots

The Tampa casino also has postponed shows and is sanitizing high-touch areas. But it’s open, while some Las Vegas casinos are closing for two weeks.
The Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa's poker room, shown here on a Thursday in January 2017, is a non-smoking area with 46 tables, 40 televisions and a bar serving drinks and snacks. (Times files)
The Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa's poker room, shown here on a Thursday in January 2017, is a non-smoking area with 46 tables, 40 televisions and a bar serving drinks and snacks. (Times files)
Published Mar. 16, 2020
Updated Mar. 16, 2020

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TAMPA — The Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa remains open, but is closing its poker room at 7 p.m. Tuesday until further notice, has turned off many slot machines to add “significant distance” between gamblers and limited the number of players at table games.

“Seminole casinos in Florida are currently open and constantly monitoring the coronavirus situation,” Seminole Hard Rock said in a statement issued Monday through spokesman Gary Bitner.

The steps follow Seminole Hard Rock Tampa decisions last week to postpone concerts, shows and pool parties at the casino near Interstate 4 east of Tampa because of the spread of the coronavirus. The company said turning off slot machines aims to create social distancing between players.

On Sunday night, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommended that gatherings of 50 or more people be suspended or cancelled. The Los Angeles Times reported that companies that own more than a dozen hotels and casinos in Las Vegas announced they were closing for two weeks starting Tuesday.

Meanwhile, casino operations have been suspended or curtailed in Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.

On Monday, a couple of patrons said they think the Seminole Hard Rock Tampa should follow the lead of other businesses.

“They need to close that place,” said Millie Conard of Tampa, who goes to the casino to play slots about once a month. She last went about three weeks ago and said she always takes a bottle of Purell with her to clean the button on the slot machine.

By allowing thousands of people to pass through the place, the virus could quickly be passed to people who could spread it to their families and in the community, and “it would be worse than it is now," she said.

Michelle Goodwin of Orlando, who has hotel reservations for next week, said the casino “should close down for the safety of everyone that’s in the community.”

“Selfishly, I would like them to stay open because I would like to enjoy our 25th wedding anniversary like we had planned, but I think they need to follow the CDC guidelines,” she said.

The Tampa casino, which late last year completed a $720 million expansion, has nearly 5,000 slot machines, 179 table games, a poker room with 46 tables and 10 restaurants.

Typically, the casino said in 2018, 10,000 to 15,000 customers a day come through the property, more than 20,000 on weekends. The hotel and casino have about 4,800 employees.

By comparison, the cruise ships that last week suspended sailings out of Port Tampa Bay tend to carry a little more than 2,000 passengers and a crew of perhaps 1,000.

Related: Coronavirus reshapes travel around Tampa Bay: Norwegian, Royal Caribbean and Carnival suspend cruises. Tampa airport sees quiet spring break.

The Seminole Hard Rock Tampa is the flagship of Hard Rock International, generating $1 billion a year in revenue for a corporation with total revenues of nearly $6 billion annually.

From a profitability standpoint, the Tampa casino is the most successful casino in North America and ranks fourth or fifth in the world, according to Jim Allen, chairman of Hard Rock International and president of Seminole Gaming.

The Tampa casino is popular with retirees, and it’s not unheard of to see a gambler with a motorized scooter or a portable oxygen tank on the casino floor.

That said, Seminole Hard Rock management believes the expanded 245,000-square-foot casino is laid out so that patrons can put some distance between themselves if they wish, especially during off-peak hours. Slot machines are not arranged in continuous rows that create a canyon of machines with one center aisle, but include spaces between smaller banks of several machines.

That’s a different seating option than is available at the casino’s new concert venue, where shows have been postponed, Bitner said. Local musicians have continued to play at the resort’s bars and restaurants.

On Friday, when the Seminole Hard Rock Tampa announced the shows were suspended, casino management said it was committed “to intensive cleaning of the resort, with special attention paid to high-touch" areas like lobbies, front desks, slot machines, table tops, table game surfaces, restrooms, hotel rooms, door knobs and elevators.

Related: Tampa's hard rock postpones Hulk Hogan, Mike Tyson and more

Hand-sanitizing stations are available on the casino floor, at the entrances and throughout the property, and disinfectant wipes are available on request, the company said. The casino is using a peroxide-based disinfectant that it says kills 99.9 percent of all viruses and bacteria, and its employees apply disinfectant with an electrostatic sprayer that delivers faster and more complete coverage.

Seminole Hard Rock also said it:

• Eliminated the use of self-service utensils at all buffets.

• Restricted casino team members who have traveled to or through any restricted countries from its facilities for 14 days.

• Would compensate team members quarantined by health officials and waive charges for coronavirus tests ordered by a doctor. In addition, the company said Monday, team members can stay home and use paid time off, even if they have a zero balance of paid time off.

• Allow Tampa and Immokalee hotel guests with bookings through April 30 to modify their reservations as long as the stay is completed within a year of the original stay date at the same hotel.

• Increased communications with guests, employees and business partners, with an emphasis on hand-washing and hygiene.

“We have no reports of actual or suspected coronavirus cases among our team members or guests,” Bitner said in an email to the Tampa Bay Times.

On a conference call Monday with Broward County officials, Florida Division of Emergency Management director Jared Moskowitz said casinos will be getting some new guidance.

The state of Florida’s gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe mostly concerns issues like what games are allowed at the tribe’s properties, what the minimum average payouts of the slot machines will be, when and how state inspectors do their business and how much of the revenue the tribe must share with the state.

But part of the compact says the tribe will take reasonable measures to “assure the physical safety of facility patrons.” Another part of the agreement also touches on the health of patrons.

“The tribe and the state recognize that opportunities to engage in gaming in smoke-free or reduced-smoke environments provides both health and other benefits to patrons,” the compact says.

To that end, the 2010 compact said the tribe already had opened a non-smoking section at its Hollywood casino, would include ventilation at new facilities to remove tobacco smoke “under existing state-of-the-art technology” and would designate non-smoking areas for gaming at all of its facilities within five years.

Mary Ellen Klas of the Times/Herald Tallahassee bureau contributed to this report.

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