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Ask the Slot Expert: Casinos and COVID-19

3 June 2020

Red Rock has reopened some of its restaurants for takeout and limited dine-in, so I went there on Sunday to get takeout from Lucille's BBQ. I was surprised at how crowded the parking lot was. Then I saw that 90% of the parking lot was still blocked off and we had only a couple of aisles in which to park. Many cars in a small area.

Only one of the entrances into the casino was open and only one set of doors at that entrance. Red Rock had people there to open the outer and inner doors for you, so I never had to touch a door handle. After the inner door, stanchions guided you into the line for the temperature check. No other visitors were there, so I didn't have to wait. The guard told me to stand on the big dot that was about six feet away from the thermal imager and to pull down my mask. A few seconds later he said that I passed and I could enter the building.

Red Rock had set up stanchions and slot chair barricades to prevent people from entering the slot floor. I saw very few machines turned off and very few disabled. A few slots techs were on the floor working on the machines. It will be different when the casino reopens June 4.

I took out my phone and took a picture. The guard inside, who was about 20 feet away from me, said that they weren't allowing pictures now, so I put my phone away.

Though it would have been fun to wander the slot floor with no players on it, the experience wouldn't have been much different from being there on a low-visitation day at a low-visitation hour. It's not like being the only one on a 747.

I had to work at JFK occasionally when I worked for Pan Am. I was able to go on some planes when there were no passengers on them. Pan Am handled MGM Grand Air at the time. A co-worker and I went on of their planes while it was sitting at a gate to check it out. The seats were comfortable, but the decor was bit gaudy. Another day, I had some free time and there was a 747 that had a few hours before its next flight sitting at a gate. I took the opportunity to give myself a private tour of the plane. You don't realize how big a 747 is until you've been the only one on it with free rein to walk from nose to tail.

I had a longer walk at Red Rock. The greeter at the front desk at Lucille's told me that I had to go all the way back out the way I came in to go to their takeout window on the outside of the restaurant. I went back to the main entrance. The set of electrically operated doors were the only ones you could leave through. I pressed the Door Open button for the inner doors with my elbow and then one of the ladies working the doors pressed the next button for me.

This is as close as I'm going to get to a reopened casino until they reopen for gaming on June 4 in Las Vegas.

Question: This probably isn't practical or perhaps even possible...Like most players we have those days when the machine will not return a dime no matter how long we play. It's all random.

My concern: If the casinos block off ever other slot machine I am 100% sure, certain without a doubt that people will say: "They block off the paying machines." I know I would say that, well, I would, no one wants to lose.

My suggestion: Remove the machines or take away some of the less used space and spread out the machines to those areas. I do not like the idea of casinos shutting down what I know to be the winning machines.

This virus will be with us a long time, so why not take an extra couple of weeks to redesign the casinos for safety, fun and also give the impression that all machines are pretty much equal in pay outs. Just an observation.

Our casinos are not yet open in Florida, but when they do, I'll be there and if I see every other machine shut off ... well, you already know what I will think ... it's only human. Thanks for listening because I feel the casinos will not.

Do you agree?

Answer: This virus won't be with us for a long time. It will be with us forever. Measles, whopping cough, mumps, tuberculosis, and more than 100 influenza A subtypes are all with us, though we have vaccines and treatments to limit their effects today.

Any time a casino touches a machine, someone will lose on it and think the casino did something to the machine. Come to think of it, the casino doesn't even have to touch a machine to have a losing player think something has been done to it.

Ceasars Palace, more years ago than I care to remember. I was doing okay on a machine when a slot tech asked if he could lower the volume on it. I said that was okay and watched him work his magic on the machine. The machine was an old reel-spinning slot, so the only feedback from the machine were the codes displayed in the credit meter, coins played and win windows. I didn't do as well on the machine after the tech left. Even though I knew that there was no way that the virtual reel layout could be changed with what the tech did, I couldn't help feeling that his actions changed my luck.

Some (maybe all) casinos in Las Vegas started social distancing on the slot floor a few days before the shutdown. Suncoast, for example, disabled about half of the machines on its slot floor. On Monday, the machines in group A were enabled and the machines in group B were disabled. On Tuesday, group A was disabled and group B was enabled. On Wednesday, the casino was closed.

I think casinos will vary which machines are enabled each day so everyone's favorite machines will be enabled on some day -- though your favorite might not be enabled on the day you visit.

Some casinos will remove games from the slot floor so they can spread out the remaining machines. Distancing four machines in a row would require disabling half of them. Rearrange them in a circle and all four can be active.

Question: I see you are in favor of mask, well they are ok to a point. The mask that most people wear does not stop the virus, the virus is so small that goes through the mask. The Surgeon General says not to wear them. Most people don't know the proper way to use a mask, they will reach up an adjust it, wrong. For the most part they do more harm than good. But, it makes people feel safe. Take care.

Answer: I am so glad that you sent this comment because it is a perfect introduction to a point I want to make.

We're learning more about this virus every day. We've learned that what we thought was true a week or a month ago was wrong. Many recommendations have changed with new information.

When you search for articles on Google, pay close attention to the dates the articles were published. Anything specifically about SARS-CoV-2 or COVID-19 that was published more than 30 days ago may have been superseded by new information. Look for updates at the top or bottom of the article. Better yet, find something more recent and look for sites that keep their pages updated.

The Surgeon General and Dr. Fauci did both say in early March that they didn't think it was necessary for the general public to wear masks. At the time they did not know that from 25% to 40% -- or maybe even higher -- of the people who are infected and contagious are asymptomatic or presymptomatic. A month later they changed their recommendation. Both doctors now recommend wearing masks in public.

The virus is too small to be stopped by a mask, but the mask is effective at decreasing the spread of droplets and aerosols in the breath you exhale. Wearing a mask is about protecting other people. (Here's How Wearing a Cloth Mask Helps Fight the Spread of Coronavirus)

Wearing a mask is just one part of a three-pronged approach to slowing the spread of the virus. The other two are physical distancing and frequent handwashing.

Question: I sent you the different plans for reopening casinos in the Phoenix area. Despite reservations about going on my part, I decided to visit Harrah’s Ak Chin yesterday. I wore a mask and had wipes and hand sanitizer just in case I wasn’t able to avail myself of those in the casino. I also thought that going on a Tuesday morning would be less crowded as weekdays used to be fairly empty there.

Well for starters I was wrong about the crowd size as it seemed more like a weekend crowd. I would say more than half of the customers had masks on. All employees wore masks and some wore gloves. There didn’t seem to be any limits in terms of crowd size either. And no screenings of customers nor any visible signs of them trying to control crowd size. There were decals on the floor to keep people 6 feet apart when queuing in various places.

I started playing in the smoking section but then quickly moved to the non-smoking section after smokers on either side of me were both chain smoking. Despite the fact that in most sections every other machine was turned off, the machines placed in a circular pattern didn’t have such separation so smoke easily wafted from one machine to another. It was much better in the non-smoking section and it appeared that a higher number of people wore masks there. They also expanded the non-smoking section, which I appreciated, although they didn’t advertise this. I later learned how they were able to do it. Since Poker was shut down, they moved several machines into the space that had been the Poker room. This space was smoking, which I was surprised to see since it had been non-smoking the entire time it had been open. I don’t know if my hubby will be happy to go back in there after it reopens with the smell of residual smoke -- if it reopens?

The one thing they had advertised all over the casino was “We are frequently cleaning high touch areas throughout our properties”. Despite this statement on signs all over the casino, I did not see a single machine cleaned the entire time I was in the casino and I would say I was there two hours. I looked at their Facebook page and several people have speculated that they are down staff, either due to concerns about personal safety or the fact that with current unemployment payments they can make $21 per hour staying home. Regardless of the cause of the staffing shortage, my personal hand sanitizer came in handy and I used it frequently.

Being a frequent cruiser who usually manages to avoid illness even when there are coughing/sneezing people all around me, I am very careful and think I did enough to keep myself safe. But judging from the habits of other non-masked customers I observed yesterday, if one person in that casino was spreading the virus, there will soon be quite a few new Covid-19 cases. Some didn’t change and were touching the machines, the straw in their drinks, their mouths, etc. I sure hope that everyone who went there yesterday stayed healthy.

I think I will wait a bit until I go back. While it felt good to do something “normal”, being on high alert the entire time that I was there was a little more stress than I expected. I will let things settle down a bit before my next visit!

Answer: Thanks again for sharing the links and further thanks for sharing your experience at Ak-Chin. I'm trying to catch up on all of the emails I have received, so I'm a bit behind on posting them. Your visit occurred about two weeks ago. If you've been back since, I hope Ak-Chin has stepped up its measures to keep patrons and employees safer.

I'm not surprised by the large crowds you and others have reported. Stating the obvious here, there is a lot of pent up demand. I know many people who are going to let things settle down and wait a few days or more to make their first return visit.

I'm not that concerned about catching the virus from a casino employee. Depending upon the casino, they undergo some combination of temperature checks, questioning about their health and that of they people they are in contact with, frequent testing, and additional training. In addition, it seems like every casino is requiring their employees to wear masks.

Like you, I'm more concerned about getting it from other patrons. The source of the outbreak from the choir practice in Washington was traced to one person (How a superspreader at choir practice sickened 52 people with COVID-19). The situation at the choir practice isn't analogous to that in a casino. Despite early reports to the contrary, it looks like they did not practice distancing and only avoided touching others. In addition, no one wore a mask, they were singing, and the air volume of their rehearsal space is surely much smaller than that of a casino. The point though is that one person can infect many other people.

Last week I said that I wanted to hear more about any changes casinos are making to the HVAC systems. The spokesperson in the video embedded on the Boyd Clean B Safe page on the Boyd Gaming site says that they will be cleaning the systems and changing the filters more frequently and setting the systems to maximize the exchange of fresh air.

Question: Not a question but I hope an answer to your garlic problem. The garlic you are probably looking for is in China.

Wish us luck as the Oklahoma Indian Casino are scheduled to open on the 29th of May and we plan on going, mask in hand.

Answer: Wow, I had no idea that most of our garlic is grown in China. I usually buy a bag of garlic at Costco. Christopher Ranch in Gilroy, California has always been the supplier -- no surprise there. But Costco had no garlic the last time I was there.

I always assumed the supermarket garlic was domestic because I've never seen a country of origin notice for it, like other items in the produce section. I checked the USDA site for the rules about country of origin labeling and learned that only fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables require the label.

In any case, my garlic shortage is over. The grocery store I go to most frequently finally had a full bin of loose heads of garlic last week. That was the first time I had seen garlic there since mid-March. It seemed to be an extremely localized shortage. I found tons (well, pounds really) of garlic at a store in a different chain a few blocks down the street while my usual store was still Dracula-friendly.

I hope you had good luck on your casino outing.

Please keep sharing your experiences and comments.

John Robison

John Robison is an expert on slot machines and how to play them. John is a slot and video poker columnist and has written for many of gaming’s leading publications. He holds a master's degree in computer science from the prestigious Stevens Institute of Technology.

You may hear John give his slot and video poker tips live on The Good Times Show, hosted by Rudi Schiffer and Mike Schiffer, which is broadcast from Memphis on KXIQ 1180AM Friday afternoon from from 2PM to 5PM Central Time. John is on the show from 4:30 to 5. You can listen to archives of the show on the web anytime.

Books by John Robison:

The Slot Expert's Guide to Playing Slots
John Robison
John Robison is an expert on slot machines and how to play them. John is a slot and video poker columnist and has written for many of gaming’s leading publications. He holds a master's degree in computer science from the prestigious Stevens Institute of Technology.

You may hear John give his slot and video poker tips live on The Good Times Show, hosted by Rudi Schiffer and Mike Schiffer, which is broadcast from Memphis on KXIQ 1180AM Friday afternoon from from 2PM to 5PM Central Time. John is on the show from 4:30 to 5. You can listen to archives of the show on the web anytime.

Books by John Robison:

The Slot Expert's Guide to Playing Slots