Arkansas to allow its 3 casinos to reopen May 18
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas is allowing its three casinos to reopen May 18 but with new capacity limits and rules to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Thursday.
The Republican governor said the casinos will be limited to one-third their capacity. The casinos — located at a dog track in West Memphis, a horse track in Hot Springs and a third standalone casino in Pine Bluff — have been closed since March 17.
“They have presented proposals as to how they can socially distance in that environment and they can manage the population there,” Hutchinson said.
The decision is the latest in a series of moves Hutchinson has taken to ease restrictions that temporarily closed businesses because of the pandemic. Gyms, barbershops and hair salons were allowed to reopen this week, and restaurants can resume sit-down service on Monday. The casinos are being allowed to open the same day as other large indoor venues, such as movie theaters and arenas.
Health officials said at least 3,665 people in the state have tested positive for the coronavirus. That is an increase from the 3,568 reported on Wednesday. The true number is likely higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected and not feel sick.
The state said three more people have died from COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, bringing the state’s death toll to 88.
Hutchinson said the casinos will face “stringent” social-distancing rules that would be issued later Thursday or on Friday. He didn’t say whether the requirements would restrict or prohibit certain types of games. Plans to reopen other Arkansas businesses have included mandated disinfecting of facilities and requiring at least 6 feet of distance between people.
Efforts to reopen casinos elsewhere have prompted calls for more protections and gear for employees. Nevada regulators are requiring casinos there to regularly disinfect cards and chips, and to limit the number of players at tables.
“Our planning for reopening has been focused on a comprehensive program that features additional ways that we will help keep our guests and employees safe from COVID-19 and provide them peace of mind while they are in our facility,” Delaware North, the parent company of Southland Casino Racing, the West Memphis dog track, said in a statement.
Carlton Saffa, project manager for Saracen Casino Resort in Pine Bluff, said the casino’s protocols will include requiring customers to wear masks and to show identification. The overall capacity for Saracen — a smaller annex that only offers slot machines and sports betting while a larger casino is under construction — is a little under 900 people.
“We want to be able to participate in contact tracing if there’s a request from the health department,” Saffa said.
The Economic Development Commission also said Thursday that it received more than $147 million in requests from businesses for grants to help comply with new coronavirus safety rules, nearly three times the amount the state has set aside for the program.
The commission said 12,233 businesses applied Tuesday and Wednesday for the $55 million Ready for Business grants the state set up using federal coronavirus relief money.