Northwest Indiana’s five casinos and the two Four Winds casinos in Indiana and Michigan will be opening their doors on Monday

by Administrator

Northwest Indiana’s five casinos and the two Four Winds casinos in Indiana and Michigan will be opening their doors on Monday following a three-month closure, but like with many businesses in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the experience won’t quite be the same.

Under minimum standards set by the Indiana Gaming Commission, a reduced number of guests will be allowed into the casinos, there will be fewer slot machines and limited table games during this first phase of casino openings. Some popular features including poker, Pai Gow rooms, buffets, coat checks and valet service won’t be available during this first phase.

There will be no concerts, nightclubs, live events, promotions or food and drink on the casino floor. Smoking will be in designated areas only. Safety is a top priority at all the casinos, with each operator following minimum guidelines and some going even further.

For instance, all guests will be required to wear masks at the Four Winds Casinos in South Bend and New Buffalo, Michigan. At Ameristar in East Chicago, Blue Chip Casino in Michigan City, Horseshoe Hammond and Majestic Star Casinos in Gary, masks will only be required for guests playing table games. Others will be encouraged to wear them.

All employees will be wearing masks. Employees and guests will need to undergo a daily health screening, which for many casinos includes having their temperature taken and answering questions that include whether they’ve recently traveled to certain countries with high rates of COVID-19 cases and whether they’re experiencing flu-like symptoms.

At Blue Chip Casino Hotel and Spa, crews have been cleaning and sanitizing, markers indicating the required 6 feet of social distancing have been placed on casino floors, and identity and wellness checks have been put in place before guests can enter the casino floor.

“We’ve been planning for this day for three months, since we closed our doors,” said Brenda Temple, vice president and general manager of Blue Chip.

Now all casino operators can do is wait and see how customers will react to their new experience during this unprecedented time, she said.

“I’m just happy to be opening. Within two weeks we’ll have a sense of demand and be able to see what customers are comfortable with and what they’re not comfortable with,” Dan Nita, senior vice president and general manager of Horseshoe Hammond, said.

Jahnae Erpenbach, executive vice president of operations for Spectacle Entertainment and general manager of Majestic Star Casinos, has devised one way to keep guests coming back. With no promotions to lure gamers, Erpenbach said she will loosen the slots.

Ameristar Casino East Chicago Ameristar Casino will reopen at 9 a.m. Monday with fewer gaming and dining options. A limited menu will be available from Burger Brother and Stadium Bar and Grille, which will open this week for dine-in only. Club 38 also will reopen. The gift shop, fitness center and valet will be closed as well. The hotel will remain closed for now, but the casino operator expects to announce the beginning of hotel bookings in the coming weeks.

“While the amenities our customers have come to know and love may be somewhat limited for the time being, the ability to safely welcome back our team members and guests remains our top priority," vice president and general manager Matthew Schuffert said.

To ensure social distancing, there will be limited capacity on the gaming floor, floor decals and signage will be installed to indicate social distancing guidelines.

Blue Chip Casino The Michigan City casino will open at 11 a.m. Monday, giving team members some ample time to become comfortable with a new slot system that was installed during the closure, Temple said. After that, the casino will operate on abbreviated hours, from 8 a.m. to 3 a.m., allowing time to clean and sanitize, she said.

At a press viewing on Friday, Temple led a tour, showing how guests will walk through a roped area, following markers placed every 6 feet.

There will be only 726 slot machines on the casino floor, with many marked out of service for social distancing. Per IGS rules, poker won’t be allowed and other table games will have limited players. For instance, the craps table will only have a maximum of six players at a time.

“It’s usually shoulder to shoulder at craps,” Temple said.

Temple said more than half of the employees will be brought back in the first phase.

Although casinos are limited in the number of guests that can be allowed in the casino at a time, Temple doesn’t see this as an issue.

“I don’t anticipate turning anyone away,” she said.

Horseshoe Hammond will reopen at 6 a.m. Monday and will remain open 24/7 after that, Nita said.

“We’re in the process of calling back team members and getting them trained, when required, on social distancing to hand sanitization,” he said.

He said all team members will be wearing masks and anyone playing at a table game will need to wear one, as well.

He said guests will be provided with a mask, if requested.

Since there will be no valet service, buffet, poker room, Pai Gow poker or The Book sportsbook at this time, he said not all team members will be brought back in the beginning. 

“We’re taking a staged approach,” Nita said.

The Venue also will not open at this time. Nita said will be no beverage service. Instead, there will be bars located throughout the casino where guests can order drinks.

The two Majestic Star Casinos in Gary will open their doors at 6 a.m. Monday and remain open 24/7 as well.

“We want to be the safest and best bet,” Erpenbach said.

Since there will be no buffet, the whole lower level will probably remain closed, Erpenbach said. There will be some changes at those dining options that will open. Like with other casinos, the limited allowed options means not all employees will be returning to Majestic Star immediately, either.

“We need to wait and see how well we do when we implement our plans and what the virus will look like in the coming months. We need to do this right,” Erpenbach said.

The Pokagon Gaming Authority has announced it’s reopening its Four Winds casinos in South Bend and New Buffalo at 11 a.m. Monday with a number of regulations and safety measures in place.

“Although our closure was voluntary, due to our sovereignty and to protect everyone’s health and safety, great care was taken by our Gaming Authority, Gaming Commission, Health Task Force and casino management team on how to reopen with the proper health and safety measures in place,” said Matthew Wesaw, Tribal Council chairman and CEO of the Pokagon Gaming Authority.

Unlike at other casinos, all guests will be required to wear a mask. The age of guests will be restricted to 21 and over and non-gaming amenities will be closed.

There will be fewer active slot machines, reduced seating at gaming tables and popular games will have plexiglass dividers to ensure social distancing guidelines. The buffet will be closed and valet and group shuttle service will not be offered at this time. Dining venues will be limited with seating and hours of operation.