Massachusetts Gaming Commission Prepares for Reopenings, Considers Impact from George Floyd’s Death

Posted on: June 8, 2020, 06:15h. 

Last updated on: June 9, 2020, 10:14h.

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission is expected to hold a public meeting, possibly on Thursday, on the path for reopening the state’s three casinos following closures because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Karen Wells Mass Gaming
Massachusetts Gaming Commission Interim Executive Director Karen Wells is leading the commission in preparing for casino reopenings. (Image: Christopher Evans/Boston Herald)

The commissioners will likely provide more details on the reopening process during the proposed meeting. The reopening date remains unknown.

We continue to work on the guidelines for casino reopening,” Interim Massachusetts Gaming Commission Executive Director Karen Wells announced during last Thursday’s commission meeting. “We are expecting to have a public discussion on … June 11.”

She noted how the coronavirus pandemic has impacted-both casino employees and casino vendors. Many of the vendors are small businesses, which were particularly hard hit by the closing of gaming properties, Wells explained.

The gaming commission has yet to set a reopening date for the state’s casinos. Gov. Charlie Baker has predicted casino floors will reopen in Phase 3 of the state’s reopening plan. On Monday, June 8, the state entered Phase 2 of the reopening plan.

Wells noted that many employees will need to be on-site before the casinos reopen to prepare for the return of guests and players. Gaming Enforcement Unit (GEU) members, who provide security, have been on-site all along during the closures.

Wells adds the commission needs to give notice to employees so they can talk with human resources staff or supervisors if they have concerns about returning to work. There could be some health-related concerns, as is the case in other casinos nationwide, as they reopen.

Gaming Commission Will Prepare Before Reopenings

“We’ll work with people to find solutions,” Wells told the commissioners. “A lot of people have anxiety.”

Beyond that, personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect against coronavirus spread needs to be ordered. Employees will need to be trained on new protocols, social distancing needs to be implemented, and cautionary signs need to be installed, Wells said.

On the other hand, “people miss being in the office,” Wells acknowledged. “This distancing does have a psychological impact.”

Last month, the state’s three commercial casinos, the Encore Boston Harbor, MGM Springfield, and Plainridge Park Casino were to send their preliminary reopening plans to commission staff. The gaming commissioners are also following the progress of statewide guidelines from Gov. Baker’s office and the Massachusetts Reopening Advisory Board.

Advice: Diffuse Situations When Casinos Reopen

During Thursday’s meeting, one gaming commissioner, Enrique Zuniga, cautioned that given the events surrounding the death of George Floyd last month, casino workers and officers need to continue to use methods to diffuse situations when casinos reopen.

“As we begin the opening of the casinos, I think it is at least conceivable that our employees are going to be dealing with at least some people who might be a little bit angrier than before,” Zuniga said during Thursday’s commission meeting.

That’s why it’s very important to remember that usually it is much, much better to diffuse a situation, deescalate, like I know our people often do,” Zuniga added. “That in most cases when it comes to interactions at the casinos, those situations resolve into somebody needing to go home. I think that will continue.”

He adds that when viewing the video, which showed a Minneapolis police officer placing a knee on Floyd’s neck for over eight minutes, despite pleas that he could no longer breathe, the need for “proportionality” becomes important in reactions.

“The good people, the excellent people, we have in the GEU — I think that recent events, should be a very strong reminder of why it’s important to always adhere to … mutual respect and the values like understanding,” Zuniga said.