Opening night for the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Tampa was a huge success, especially if you look at just the poker room. Running at only half-capacity, the 46-seat poker room had a running list all night and apparently went off without a hitch. On the other end of the spectrum, however, is the revelation that the casinos in Pennsylvania, once they reopen, will not immediately open the poker rooms until a future date.

Seminole Hard Rock Tampa Poker Room Thrives Upon Reopening

Closed since mid-March because of the COVID-19 outbreak and resulting quarantine, Floridians were ready for poker when the bell sounded. Right at 7PM, the doors opened to the public for the second largest of the Seminole Hard Rock properties (the Seminole Hard Rock Hollywood is still closed) and the poker room was immediately swamped. The poker room would remain at near capacity throughout the evening, with some stunning numbers coming out.

At 11PM on Thursday night, 21 of the 23 tables that the poker room was permitted to open were in play, running a wide assortment of games including $1/$3 No Limit Hold’em and $1/$2 Pot Limit Omaha on tables that featured a cubicle-type setup to segment the players and prevent direct breathing contact with other people. It was plausible to assume that the only reason to believe that all 23 tables weren’t in action was the factor of a lack of qualified dealers to spread more games. More impressive, however, might have been the tote boards over the check-in desk; 135 players were waiting at 11PM to get in a game, with one stalwart holding out for a $20/$40 Mixed Game to be spread.

It also appeared that people were fine with the new regulations put in place by the Seminoles and their “Safe & Sound” program. All personnel in the room were wearing masks and all players on the felt were also masked up (without complaint, it must be noted). There was not anyone checking temperatures and for a good reason: the Seminole Hard Rock Tampa was temperature screening through thermal imaging as patrons walked in the door.

If there was a downside to the opening, it did seem that the “six players” max at the tables was disregarded – there have been photographs of eight player tables making the rounds of social media. There was also photographic evidence of a dealer improperly wearing a mask below their nose, defeating the purpose of the mask. Additionally, as the holiday weekend approaches, will the Seminoles hold to their guidelines and risk alienating some players through long waits before they can be called to the tables.

Pennsylvania Casinos Face “Phased” Reopening

Many of the same things that the Seminole Hard Rock Tampa has put into action will be seen in Pennsylvania once they reopen. Instead of thermal imaging, however, guests will face a mandatory mask rule and be questioned as to their health and actions over the previous two weeks. While these questions are being asked, there is no indication as to what steps will be taken should a prospective customer fail any of the examinations.

In a nod to social distancing, Pennsylvania casinos will see slot machines have a plexiglass barrier between them or they will be shut off. This will enforce the “six-foot rule” that has been put in place by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and is going to be enacted throughout Pennsylvania’s gaming properties. There will also be no “gathering” (once again, not designated as to what that term means) around slot machines nor table games.

“As conditions throughout the commonwealth improve and the reopening of casinos is authorized, the PGCB (who issued the directives) desires to assure that re-openings occur in a manner which promote the safety of casino patrons and employees alike as well as assure an environment conducive to proper regulatory oversight,” Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board Executive Director Kevin O’Toole said in a news release.

The problem facing the Pennsylvania casinos is exactly when they can reopen. Pennsylvania is taking a three-step approach – red, yellow and green – but many of the counties in the Keystone State are still in the “red” stage of the state’s planning. Casinos, according to PGCB board spokesman Doug Harbach, will not be allowed to open until the “green” phase has been reached and firm guidelines have not been established for that phase at this time.

While there is some success in Florida and a “wait and see” approach in Pennsylvania, it all could come crashing down and rather quickly. A resurgence in the COVID-19 virus – or a “second wave” in the fall – could see such activities shut down once again. It is going to be a very tenuous time for the casino industry because they won’t get a second chance to get it right.

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