Long Entrance Lines Await Oklahoma Players at Reopened Thunderbird Casino

Posted on: May 15, 2020, 02:05h. 

Last updated on: May 15, 2020, 02:19h.

Hundreds of players queued up to enter Oklahoma’s Thunderbird Casino in Norman, which resumed operations this week at one-third of capacity. Many got to try their luck at gambling, but some left disgruntled, frustrated by the wait or multiple safety precautions put in place to reduce the risk of coronavirus.

Thunderbird Casino Reopens In Oklahoma
Jenny Mitchell was among the players who waited in line for a chance to gamble at Thunderbird Casino in Norman, Oklahoma. The casino reopened this week with safety requirements, such as masks, in place. (Image: The Oklahoman)

The tribal gaming venue, like a handful of others in the state, reopened with many health safeguards. Those ranged from temperature checks to social distancing. Capacity is limited to between 200 and 225 players at one time.

Masks are required. People have to keep six feet apart.

Every guest that has come in the facility has been very appreciative. They understand. And when we tell them to put a mask on, they put their mask on,” Sam Caruso, general manager of the Thunderbird Casino, was quoted by the Associated Press.

He told the Oklahoman newspaper, “We continuously paid our team members throughout our closure. Now that restrictions have been loosened, our whole team was anxious to get back to work.”

Complaints About Reopenings

Not everyone was pleased with the reopening process. On Facebook, Derek Loukx called it a “complete joke” earlier this week. “This will not work without some form of regulation.”

He apparently stood outside for 45 minutes. He was then told he and others would not be let inside if they were not let in the door by 9:15 p.m.

Others were standing in line for two hours, he claims. Another guest, Marlin Virden, reported the line to get inside was 45 minutes.

Still another guest, Alex Barnishin, said on Facebook, that “None of the VGTs were on today, and they have two thirds of the machines off.”

Also, Jon Hites claimed “machines [were] screwing up cash-out tickets.” He had “to go to [the] cashier to cash. [There was a] 20-minute wait for tech to pull my ticket out of machine. Saw very few people win. Left disgusted.”

Another player, Janice Pancho Niedermeier, reported “We waited 2 and half hours” in line. Others kept “cutting in front of us.”

When security officers were “notified, nothing was done,” she claims. They went home.

The grill was open, and guests can also buy beers, Facebook posts said. Smoking is allowed.

Jami Brand, recommended in a post, “I think you should make it non-smoking for the time being. You’re requiring people to wear masks but allowing them … to smoke, which they have to raise or remove their masks to do this.”

The Oklahoman reported one player cut a hole through his paper face mask. He put a cigar in the opening.

Thunderbird Casino in Norman limited hours to 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. The first hour is only open to those over 50 years of age. The venue is operated by the Absentee Shawnee Tribe.

Another Thunderbird Casino, in Shawnee, limited the crowd to about 100. It also had limited hours.

Many other tribal gaming venues in Oklahoma remain shuttered. Chickasaw Nation casinos are closed through Friday. Cherokee, Choctaw and Muscogee (Creek) nation casinos are shuttered too in the state as of this week.

“Local health benchmarks do not suggest that now is the time to reopen … the Muscogee (Creek) Nation casinos,” Principal Chief David Hill said in a statement quoted by the AP.

As of earlier this week, five tribal casinos in Oklahoma reopened. But the vast majority of the approximately 130 elsewhere in the state were closed, the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association said.

Casino Reopenings Proceed Slowly in Oklahoma

As the week continued, some other Oklahoma casinos had limited reopenings. Osage Casino Hotel in Tulsa was to open 10 a.m. Friday. Table games are closed.

Food and bar service were unavailable. Occupancy is limited to 25 percent of recommended capacity.

Other Osage Nation’s gaming venues were scheduled to reopen Friday, the Tulsa World reported. Peoria Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma said its Buffalo Run Casino and Resort in Miami was to reopen on Friday, too, television station KOAM reported.