Seminole Hard Rock’s Florida casinos could open late May or early June, chairman says

Expect temperature checks at the door, limits on the number of patrons allowed inside, some slot machines turned off and fewer players at blackjack.
A rare sight for a Thursday: An empty parking lot at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa on April 9.
A rare sight for a Thursday: An empty parking lot at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa on April 9. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published May 14, 2020|Updated May 14, 2020

TAMPA — The operator of the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa says his company is looking at re-opening its Florida casinos within a month.

“Our business is actually in 76 countries around the world, so we’ve been dealing with this situation since January,” Hard Rock International chairman Jim Allen said Wednesday in a Fox Business television interview. “Domestically, our casinos we’re thinking about opening in Florida, the end of May, early June.”

On Thursday, however, Seminole Hard Rock spokesman Gary Bitner said Allen was speaking in general terms.

“There is no confirmed date or dates and all plans are tentative at this time,” Bitner said in an email to the Tampa Bay Times.

Hard Rock, which is owned by the Seminole Tribe of Florida, closed its six Florida casinos on March 20 citing concerns about the “health and safety of guests,” many of them old enough to be at elevated risk from COVID-19.

Related: Seminole Hard Rock Tampa sees thousands of players a day. Will the coronavirus change that?

Initially, Allen said, “we’re anticipating very large crowds." When some casinos in Oklahoma re-opened over the weekend, local television stations reported hundreds of people lined up outside.

“We will be prepared for that,” Allen said. Seminole Hard Rock plans to limit the number of customers let inside to about half the capacity of the building.

“At all of our large properties we’ll be utilizing thermal body imaging,” he said. “Those devices are anywhere from $15,000 to $20,000 apiece.”

Inside, some slot machines would be turned off to create open space between players. All employees would wear gloves and masks with hand-sanitizing stations located throughout the casino. Allen said creating social distancing in the slot machines should not be a problem since even on a Friday or Saturday night there’s rarely more than 70 or 75 percent of them in use. That said, some players might not have access to a favorite machine.

The Seminole Hard Rock Tampa has a staff of 4,800 and features nearly 5,000 slot machines, 179 table games, a poker room with 46 tables and 10 restaurants. Depending on the day of the week, the Seminole Hard Rock Tampa gets 10,000 to 20,000 patrons a day.

“We can create safety at a blackjack table,” Allen said. “Normally there’s eight positions per table. We’re basically reducing that in half, and then if the guest feels more comfortable, there are plexiglass dividers.”

The Tampa casino, which Allen said is the largest in the United States, last year completed a $720 million expansion. It generates $1 billion a year in revenue — or about one sixth of Hard Rock International’s total annual revenue.

What’s unknown is how much ongoing demand there will be in an economy where more than one in five workers has lost a job.

“Frankly, we’re more concerned about, you know, third quarter, fourth quarter, first quarter of next year,” Allen said. “I think after the initial pent-up demand is behind us, then the question is, what’s the frequency and available discretionary income to come to an entertainment facility such as an integrated resort?”

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