Virtual G2E: Property leaders discuss ‘the ‘scramble drill’ in closing and reopening casino

October 14, 2020 8:00 PM
  • Howard Stutz, CDC Gaming Reports
October 14, 2020 8:00 PM
  • Howard Stutz, CDC Gaming Reports

When word came down in mid-March that Ohio’s gaming market was closing due to the spreading coronavirus pandemic, Hollywood Casino Toledo General Manager Justin Carter sent members of his team to the neighboring Home Depot to purchase heavy-duty locks for the building’s front doors.

The property operates 24/7, so the deadbolts were rarely used.

“When you have to lock the doors to a casino, that’s never a good thing,” Carter said during an hour-long panel discussion Wednesday, which served as a prelude to this month’s Virtual Global Gaming Expo.

“Fortunately, we had an idea (the closing would be announced). We were able to move quickly because we had to close by midnight,” Carter said. “The scramble drill started.”

Nearly 1,000 commercial and tribal casinos in 43 states closed throughout March when governors, regulators, and tribal governments ordered the shutdown in an effort to slow the pandemic. Roughly 90% of the properties have reopened.

Laura Stensgar, CEO of Coeur d’Alene resort in Idaho, said her state’s shutdown was only anticipated to last a couple of weeks but went on for five weeks until the property reopened in early May. Coeur d’Alene, which is operated by the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, was the first casino in the country to reopen.

“We wanted to ensure safety and always be looked upon as a good community member,” said Stensgar, noting the tribe and management reviewed numerous government and Centers for Disease Control health and safety guidelines and the protocols authored by Wynn Resorts in Las Vegas.

Carter and Stensgar were joined by Kathy George, CEO of Firekeepers Casino in Michigan, during the discussion titled. “Leading through COVID-19.” The session was moderated by social influencer Brian Christopher, who publishes

The Virtual G2E is scheduled for Oct. 27-29 and is a substitute for the annual G2E conference and tradeshow in Las Vegas, which was canceled due to the pandemic.

The discussion covered both the issues surrounding closing down a property during an emergency, but also how to reopen safely under new guidelines. At the outset, Christopher asked the three property leaders if the casinos’ revenues had increased year-over-year. All three answered yes.

Top left, moderator Brian Christopher; bottom left, Hollywood Toledo GM Justin Carter; top right, Firekeepers CEO Kathy George; bottom right, Coeur d’Alene CEO Laura Stensgar.

George said the key was the Firekeepers’ employees, who had many additional job duties in wake of the ongoing pandemic.

“They embraced all the business protocols and we hired extra staff to clean and sanitize areas of the property,” George said. “We felt the need to increase communication more with both our customers and our employees.”

She added that some of the new communications efforts will continue beyond the pandemic.

Carter said he found himself doing different jobs to help get the Hollywood property open. The casino was one of the first entertainment locations to open in the Toledo area when the state allowed gaming to restart in early June.

“We were able to learn from what others were doing,” he said. “It was all hands on deck to do any job we could so we could reopen our facility. We wanted to create an environment of fun and service while protecting people and making them feel safe.”

That said, Hollywood Toledo had “gallons of hand sanitizer” and “secured very bit of alcohol wipes” to add to the health and safety guidelines.

All three executives their customer make-ups had changed, with properties skewing younger and others attracting an older crowd. Stensgar said a good portion of the Coeur d’Alene’s customer base comes from neighboring Canada, the border crossing has been closed due to the pandemic.

“We have been able to regain revenues because we’re attracting true gamers. Some customers came from competitors that had not opened,” Stensgar said.

The return of non-gaming entertainment is being viewed as a potential boost for next year.

George said Firekeepers’ entertainment line-up all picked out new dates for 2021. Stensgar said comedian Bill Engvall is the property’s first planned headliner for Feb. 26, 2021.

“We’re keeping our fingers crossed,” she said.

Howard Stutz is the executive editor of CDC Gaming Reports. He can be reached at Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.