In late May, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak announced the lights could go back on in statewide casinos, which was music to the ears of gaming officials and the gambling public alike.
Of the 989 casinos operating in the U.S., 766 have reopened and 223 remain closed as of June 23, according to the American Gaming Association’s COVID-19 casino reopening tracker.
That’s enough of a data set to see what gaming centers have done right and done wrong after reopening their doors to the public. It’s also enough of a dataset to provide some lessons for other businesses looking to reopen—especially those that tend to draw large numbers of people in close quarters.
“Overall, what casinos have done in the new reopening phase is to communicate safety properly to customers,” said Flinn Flexer, chief operating officer at Runtriz, a technology solutions provider in Los Angeles that works with major casinos like Caesars Entertainment Corp. on its consumer experience. “The new term on the Las Vegas Strip is ‘safety as a strategy’—that’s what the reopening was all about.”
Big Changes for Casinos
Flexer noted that casinos have taken a page out of other reopened companies’ books—especially overseas—and are changing the way they engage with consumers in a post-pandemic world.
“For example, when you walk into a Vegas casino, you’ll see thermal cameras at the entrance,” said Flexer. “In other countries, like Asia, thermal cameras are more accepted and even expected by consumers.”
Gaming customers are now starting to see that in Las Vegas.
“If customers have a temperature of 100.4 or over, they are discreetly pulled aside and asked to test again,” Flexer said. “If their temperature is still 100.4 or over, they are politely asked to leave.”
Flexer and other casino experts say there are a slew of additional changes casinos are undertaking to keep customers safe and engaged, and those changes are expected to become permanent.
“Most casinos focused on threats of cross-contamination through ventilation ducts and had to put in extensive filtering systems to massively upgrade their air conditioning and vents,” said Sam Zietz, chief executive officer at GRUBBRR, a Boca Raton, Fla.-based company that works with casinos to create self-ordering gaming table kiosks, which allow customers to order food and drinks, play games and even cash out without having a human-to-human interaction. “Casinos also focused on physical separation between customers and casino personnel with Plexiglas barriers and an emphasis on enforcing social distancing by reducing overall capacity.”
That’s just for starters. Here’s what company managers in other industries can learn from what casinos changed as they opened for business.
Lesson 1: For customers who want to return, they must see clear safety measures in place. A few of the safety precautions that casinos are taking are highly visible to the average patron.
“Upon entering, patrons see safety signage, sanitation stations and employees wearing appropriate [protection]. Casinos also have made masks and gloves available to all patrons and have implemented a number of sanitation protocols on the gaming floor,” said Tammy Kleinman, a senior consultant for Notion Consulting, a global change leadership company. “Cleaning staff is also using sanitizing spray on high-touch surfaces as often as possible.”
“After taking the mandatory temperature check, they also have their photo taken so that they can be tracked down inside the casino if their temperature is high and they try to enter the casino despite this risk.”
Kleinman has a warning for managers looking to open their own businesses to the public:
“The danger, of course, is that patrons will feel so secure that they ignore the ongoing risks altogether and begin to relax their personal protocols, like removing masks—which are now mandatory in Las Vegas casinos except when a guest is eating or drinking—when they become uncomfortable sitting close to other patrons or shortening their hand-washing regimen.”
Lesson 2: It’s OK to take it slowly. While it may seem as if Las Vegas is wide open for business, sports arenas, large performance venues and buffets remain closed for now.
“Even the poker room, which is a staple of the casino scene, remains closed,” Kleinman said. “This is because management has yet to find an effective way to keep players safe while maximizing the quality of play. A typical table includes about 10 players, and due to distancing and congregating rules set out by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control [and Prevention], this is not an option for now.”
“Corporate America must recognize that reopening businesses fully will take time and patience and schedule their reopening on a phased approach that’s based on science, not emotion, politics or economics,” she adds.
Lesson 3: Customers and employees need to see management enforcing the rules. Without clear policing, consumers—and particularly younger patrons who believe they are at lower risk—will not take the new rules of engagement seriously, Kleinman said.
Mandatory masks will help, but social distancing continues to be an issue, especially at local bars and larger casino games that tend to attract a crowd, like craps tables.
Lesson 4: Engage with experts. The science of sanitation and containment is complex, and businesses that host the public may have to follow the lead of casinos and bring in outside experts to manage critical situations.
Kleinman said if a guest room, for example, has been occupied by someone who tested positive for COVID-19, Station Casinos, a gaming company that owns 17 casinos in Las Vegas, uses the following protocol for “room recovery.”
Lesson 5: Changing behavior takes time. Gaming is by nature a social activity, but it will take many months for people to change their idea of what “social activities” look like.
Kleinman cites a recent study of 50 Fortune 500 executives that stated “the biggest challenge for any change is to … show them it’s worth the investment.”
“Until people internalize the need to routinize new patterns and accept that our world has changed for the foreseeable future, there will be resistance and noncompliance,” she said. “Corporate leaders must come to terms with this and bring customers and employees along on the change journey.”
Brian O’Connell is a freelance writer based in Bucks County, Pa. A former Wall Street trader, he is the author of the books CNBC Creating Wealth and The Career Survival Guide.