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Iowa Casinos Can Reopen June 1, Gaming Floor Limited to 50 Percent Capacity

Iowa casinos are being allowed to reopen on June 1, but under a series of strict regulations designed to protect employees and guests.

Prairie Meadows and the other 18 commercial Iowa casinos can reopen June 1. (Image: WHO Channel 13)

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds (R) ordered the state’s 19 commercial casinos to suspend their operations effective March 17. Several casinos, including Prairie Meadows, the richest commercial casino in terms of gross gaming revenue (GGR), announced they would close prior to her order.

The governor’s Public Health Disaster Emergency proclamation runs until June 25. But the Republican is issuing orders beforehand to allow certain businesses to reopen.

On Tuesday, Reynolds’ newest proclamation allows casinos, outdoor performance venues, bowling alleys, amusement parks, skating rinks, skate parks, and outdoor playgrounds to reopen next month if “public health measures are implemented.”

Recovery means striking a balance between getting life and business back to normal while continuing to manage the virus activity,” Reynolds said Tuesday. “Our recovery is contingent upon our ability to protect both the lives and livelihoods of Iowans. We can’t prioritize one over the other.”

For casinos, the establishment must limit the number of patrons present on the gaming floor and waging area to 50 percent. The casino must also reduce its number of gaming positions (slot machines and table game seats) by half.

Casino Restrictions

Along with reduced capacity, Iowa casinos will need to ensure social distancing, and keep all gaming positions at least six feet apart. For table games, protective barriers such as plexiglass satisfy the social distancing requirement.

Casino restaurants are not allowed to reopen buffets or salad bars, and the property must increase hygiene practices.

Prairie Meadows reported GGR of $208.28 million in 2019. That’s more than 14 percent of the $1.467 billion the 19 commercial casinos won last year. The casino and horse racetrack is owned by Polk County, and laid off nearly all of its 1,300 workers last month.

Caesars Entertainment’s Horseshoe Council Bluffs was next at $172.96 million, and Penn National Gaming’s Ameristar third at $159.13 million.

Iowa is also home to three tribal casinos – WinnaVegas Casino Resort in Sloan, Blackbird Bend Casino in Onawa, and Meskwaki Bingo Casino Hotel in Tama. Since they are Native American enterprises on sovereign territory, they do not have to follow state orders.

But all three tribal casinos closed back in March. The Winnebago Tribe says WinnaVegas will open tomorrow, May 27. The Meskwaki Nation’s Shelter-in-Place Declaration runs through June 1, and hasn’t announced a reopening for its casino. Blackbird hasn’t annoucned a reopening either.

Coronavirus Spreading

Reynolds, unlike the majority of governors in the United States, never issued a stay-at-home order on Iowans.

The governor instead closed many businesses and schools, and prohibited large gatherings. Last week, she reopened bars, wineries, breweries, distilleries, and social clubs.

Reynolds’ continued easing of restrictions comes as Iowa is seeing an increase in COVID-19 deaths. The state reported 26 deaths on Saturday, its highest single-day number. Iowa has the 12th highest per capita coronavirus rate in the US.

Perdue Farms revealed new outbreaks at its plants in Sioux Center and Sioux City today.

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