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No full house as Tampa Seminole Hard Rock casino reopens

Capacity limits. Thermal imaging at the doors. One slot machine on, two others off. Plastic dividers at the gaming tables.

TAMPA — Reopening a casino in the midst of a pandemic means everything from installing thermal-imaging cameras to watch for gamblers with a fever to sanitizing the poker chips.

On Thursday, the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa welcomed customers back. First to arrive were about 1,000 invitees, the casino’s best customers. Doors were scheduled to open to the public at 7 p.m.

Related: Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino re-opening with 'safety first mentality'

Jim Allen, the chief executive officer of Seminole Gaming and the chairman of Hard Rock International, expected that even at half-capacity, the casino might see 3,000 to 4,000 patrons over the course of the evening. As he waited Thursday afternoon, he spoke with the Tampa Bay Times about what it took to reopen. Here is the conversation, edited for length and clarity:

How’s it going on what I imagine is a very busy day?

First of all, we’re excited about the opportunity to bring 2,000 people back to work. ... We did not mandate our employees to come back to work. So if someone felt uncomfortable, we respected their wishes. In this particular case, we revised our (attendance) policies to be compassionate to employees that just fundamentally feel that they do not want to be in this environment.

We haven’t seen the masses yet, but this morning and so far early afternoon it’s just been working very, very well.

Members of the Clean Team move through the casino disinfecting every slot machine and game as the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa re-opens to the public for the first time since March 20 to a limited capacity on Thursday, May 21, 2020 in Tampa. The hotel and casino has implemented many safety and security measures to keep guests and staff safe during the COVID-19 pandemic including mandatory temperature checks with a thermal camera as well as requiring everyone to wear masks on property. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

You’re opening at 50 percent capacity.

Fifty percent capacity’s really geared at the total count of (slot) machines and gaming positions. For every one machine on, there’s two machines off.

Certainly all of our restaurants are not open yet. And we’ll have a slow ramp up and phasing of that, making sure that we can handle the volume and create an appropriate atmosphere of social distancing, making sure people are wearing their masks and feel comfortable with the dividers we have installed at all the tables to create clear separation between the guests.

Dealers and guests are surrounded by plexiglass shields at table games as the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa re-opens to the public for the first time since March 20 to a limited capacity on Thursday, May 21, 2020 in Tampa. The hotel and casino has implemented many safety and security measures to keep guests and staff safe during the COVID-19 pandemic including mandatory temperature checks with a thermal camera as well as requiring everyone to wear masks on property. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

Tampa is the first of Seminole Hard Rock’s Florida casinos to reopen. Will the experience here influence when and how the company’s other five casinos are opened?

One hundred percent.

You’re doing thermal imaging at the entrances.

The technology is amazing. The scanner can effectively read about six to eight people coming through the queue at one time. If one of those individuals indicates that their temperature is above the 100.4 (degrees recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control) then we politely come up to them and say, “It appears you may have a slight fever.” We have a secondary private station where we use an individual hand-held unit to get a more individual reading.

Tracie Thurston monitors the temperature of guests with a thermal camera as the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa re-opens to the public for the first time since March 20 to a limited capacity on Thursday, May 21, 2020 in Tampa. The hotel and casino has implemented many safety and security measures to keep guests and staff safe during the COVID-19 pandemic including mandatory temperature checks with a thermal camera as well as requiring everyone to wear masks on property. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

The casino has said patrons with a temperature above the CDC guideline will not be allowed to enter. You mentioned that you have about 1,000 people in the building so far. Did anyone come in with a fever?

No. Everybody’s been good so far.

Have you had any coronavirus cases among employees who were working here before the casino closed on March 20?

We have not that I’m aware of. We did have one employee that there was a question about, but after the testing was done the individual tested negative. But that’s back in March.

You have 4,800 employees. Do you know what your schedule is going to be to get closer to normal operations?

I don’t think we have a specific timetable. We’re kind of starting at ground zero here. There’s a lot of the restaurants, retail and live entertainment that is still closed, including half the hotel. So as business volumes hopefully continue to grow and we can be effective at creating a safe environment, then we’ll slowly look at opening that valve. Our goal is to get as many people back to work as soon as possible.

Blackjack dealer Roland Miyares wears a face mask and gloves while dealing to a guest as the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa re-opens to the public for the first time since March 20 to a limited capacity on Thursday, May 21, 2020 in Tampa. The hotel and casino has implemented many safety and security measures to keep guests and staff safe during the COVID-19 pandemic including mandatory temperature checks with a thermal camera as well as requiring everyone to wear masks on property. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

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