Arkansans Await Reopening of Casinos, Officials Review Coronavirus Data

Posted on: April 27, 2020, 11:14h. 

Last updated on: April 27, 2020, 12:29h.

Arkansas has yet to specify a date to reopen the state’s three licensed gaming venues. In the meantime, state officials are monitoring the number of COVID-19 cases and want to see health precautions in place at casinos before they allow players to visit.

Arkansas Casino Reopening Conditions
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson has yet to approve reopening of casinos in his state. Officials want more information before any action is taken. (Image: Andrew DeMillo/Associated Press)

State authorities may not let casinos reopen until the number of coronavirus cases begins to decline, according to the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, told the newspaper last week, “I am confident we will get there.”

Arkansas Department of Health Secretary Nate Smith confirmed to the Democrat-Gazette he has concerns about casinos “just because they are particularly high-risk. They are indoors.”

“A lot of people in a small amount of space. Often times, people with significant risk factors. Oftentimes, there is smoking going on as well, and you’ve got a lot of people touching stuff, so if you wanted to design a setting to optimize the spread of COVID-19, it would look a lot like a casino,” Smith added.

He further explained that one of the early deaths from coronavirus in Arkansas was someone who had visited an Oklahoma casino. They later were diagnosed with the illness.

Exchange of Emails Shows Thinking on Casino Closings

In mid-March, soon after the first COVID-19 case in the state, Hutchinson emailed Smith and asked for a “draft directive eliminating table games and requiring social distancing and temperature monitoring. Then we can go further if needed,” the Democrat-Gazette reported.

Smith replied that he was uncomfortable with those limited restrictions “from a public health perspective.” A few days later, on March 17, Hutchinson ordered Oaklawn in Hot Springs, Southland in West Memphis, and Saracen Casino Annex in Pine Bluff to close.

The Department of Health later extended the shuttering of casinos until the end of April. Officials explained they were concerned about the number of casino workers who might lose paychecks if venues were closed.

Also, if Arkansas closed its casinos, players may go to neighboring states to visit their casinos. Nearby states have multiple gaming properties.

Casinos in Neighboring States Remain Closed

Since then, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Mississippi have closed their casinos. Oklahoma casinos may reopen as soon as May 1, but that date remains questionable. Mississippi and Louisiana have yet to announce a reopening date for their casinos. Some information may be released this week.

None of the three Arkansas casinos have come up with a date to reopen. They apparently are awaiting guidance from the state.

The number of people in Arkansas with COVID-19 was 2,938 as of Sunday. Some 48 people in the state have died in connection with the illness.

Elsewhere, in Idaho the Coeur d’Alene tribal gaming property will reopen to the public on May 1.

Health precautions will be in place at Coeur d’Alene to limit the risk of transmitting coronavirus as gaming there resumes. That includes everyone on the property needing face masks or coverings.

Players and other guests should come with their own masks. The casino will have only limited facial coverings.

The casino will also implement strict social distancing. There will be beefed-up cleaning on the gaming floor, too, according to television station KHQ.

Among the other safety protocols in place will be having every other gaming machine turned off. Additionally, there will be limited seating in casino lounges or restaurants.