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Seminole Gaming updates safety guidelines at Tampa Hard Rock and other casinos

The new precautions are aimed at making the company's mask order more effective
Members of the Clean Team move through the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa reopened to the public May 21.
Members of the Clean Team move through the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa reopened to the public May 21. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Jul. 27, 2020|Updated Jul. 31, 2020

Guests at Seminole Gaming casinos will now be required to stay in one place when removing their face masks for smoking, eating and drinking, the company announced Saturday.

The latest addition to the company’s “Safe + Sound” guidelines are meant to prevent guests from moving around in shared spaces without masks, implemented just shortly before Florida surpassed New York to become the state with the second-highest number of COVID-19 cases.

Jim Allen, Seminole Gaming’s CEO and chairman of Hard Rock International, said in a news release that the changes would help the company improve customer and employee safety.

“Seminole Gaming is committed to the health and safety of its guests and team members, and we are upgrading our comprehensive ‘Safe + Sound’ program to further limit the threat from COVID-19,” he said. “We are making sure our resorts and casinos are safe and sound so our guests and team members have peace of mind when they return.”

The Seminole Tribe of Florida closed its six Florida casinos on March 20, a few days after State Rep. Jackie Toledo, R-Tampa, called for Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa to close its doors temporarily as businesses across the nation began shuttering to protect against the spread of the coronavirus.

With new social distancing and safety guidelines in place, Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa was the first of the company’s Florida casinos to reopen in May. Rep. Toledo expressed confidence in the casino’s new guidelines, which included temperature checks, mask requirements and reduced capacity, among other precautions.

Seminole Gaming spokesperson Gary Bitner said the company decided to update its public safety guidelines in order to make its mask requirements more effective, alongside similar moves by other popular tourist attractions such as Disney. About a week ago, the company also began playing a recorded message that reminds its patrons to practice safety guidelines.

“It’s Seminole Gaming’s goal to maximize the safety of the environment,” Bitner said.

The company also announced the closure of “an interactive golf and games restaurant tenant,” PLA, for failing to uphold its coronavirus prevention guidelines.

Jay Wolfson, a senior associate dean at Morsani College of Medicine, said it’s important for large gathering venues like casinos to implement strict social distancing and mask requirements. Right now, he said, the growing number of coronavirus cases in Florida is concerning.

“The fact is that this is on the verge of getting out of hand,” Wolfson said of the rising numbers of those infected.

Wolfson isn’t opposed to people going to businesses, but said they need to do so responsibly and wear face coverings. He pointed to Disney’s monitoring to prevent crowds as an example of how businesses can reopen more cautiously.

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Customers have been largely supportive of Seminole Gaming’s social distancing measures, Bitner said. The main challenge has been keeping up with the constantly changing circumstances of the pandemic.

“There’s no playbook for any of this,” Bitner said.

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