Slots in a pandemic, and how they work for players and for operators is the theme at Sunday Readings from this week.
Those with access to advanced analytics may be able to quickly see what works and what does not. But for now, it is interesting to see the different types of ideas operators have introduced to ease the fear of COVID-19 spread while also allowing their customers to enjoy slots.
Slots in a Pandemic
Certainly, mask-wearing is the cornerstone of any opening. More or less all over the world Authorities have made mask use mandatory, and health officials across the nations have urged everyone to take this simple step. Most tribal casinos, which are under no legal requirements to follow state law, are also requiring masks. However, eating, drinking and, especially, smoking, complicate what seems like an easy standard.
Another common defense many operators are employing is frequent and thorough cleaning. Never have so many team members, from housekeeping to senior management, had rags and spray bottles at the ready to clean any surface recently vacated by a customer. Two other common tactics now in widespread use are social distancing markers and hand sanitizing dispensers. These range from custom artwork on vinyl stickers on carpets to simple masking tape stripes spaced every six feet.
But that’s about the end of the uniformity that we have seen in terms of casino countermeasures to ward off the virus and restore gambler confidence. At some casinos, every other chair on slot banks (except tripods, quads, and other rounds) has been turned 180 degrees, with the back facing outward. This has been a standard customer trick to try and reserve a hot machine for quick bathroom sprints. It offers the benefit of allowing family units to remain close together simply by turning the chair around and playing. While slightly restrictive, it is probably the least effective in stopping germ spread. On busy nights, chairs will most certainly be turning around (and around, and around.)
Next up the anti-infectious ladder would be a closely related technique of removing every other chair at the banks, again skipping rounds. This would seem to be effective, as virtually no one has stood to play a slot machine since the 1960s. However, with 28” wide slots, players are still closer than six feet from one another, but this technique does allow family units, and anyone else who chooses, to slide their chairs together. One negative for greedy operators is that this does not allow peak play to ever exceed 50% occupancy (as noted above, those willing to stand up while playing a slot machine are all likely in their late 90s and probably shouldn’t be in your casino during the pandemic anyway!)
The final, and perhaps the best, technique we have seen was observed at the opening of the Peppermill Casino Resort in Reno, NV a few weeks back. Between each slot machine – again, excepting rounds – is a sheet of extremely clear Plexiglas. These barriers are so clear that they had to add decorative frosted designs and edge guards so that patrons will not mistakenly bump into them. They are attractive and seem to be a big hit with players. The shields extend about two feet outward from the outer edge of the play deck, exposing only a small portion of one’s backside to a neighbour.
Several players commented to us that they hope that once vaccines – or drinking bleach, or Dr. Fauci, or whatever – finally stops COVID-19, that these shields stay in place. They like seeing folks around them, but not sharing their air or their fragrances.
While the 28-inch width might seem a bit tight, the extremely clear barriers do not feel all that restrictive once you’re seated at a machine. Visibility is the key, of course, and none of that works if the shields are full of fingerprints or goo. The Peppermill seemed to have an army of spray bottle-bearing attendants at the ready when we visited. In addition, in smoking areas, the air at least seems to feel better for non-smokers when there is a shield between you and the puffer.
The system vendors have also chipped in where they can by introducing automated cleaning alerts that are triggered when a loyalty card is removed and the guest has departed a machine. Those with the new Acres system can actually have the system shut off adjacent machines once a card is inserted.
Again, there is no real data yet available regarding whether any of these techniques is working or not. If we had to place a bet, it would be for the Plexiglas jungles. However, we learned long ago to wait for the numbers, and the analytic story they tell, before jumping one way or another too soon.