TULALIP — Hundreds gathered here Tuesday with masks on and IDs in hand as the Tulalip Resort Casino and Quil Ceda Creek Casino reopened at partial capacity after closing for two months because of the coronavirus pandemic.
To get inside, guests must enter a code and are put in an online queue. They’re asked to wait in their cars until they receive a text telling them to get in line with their mask on. When guests are ready to enter, a casino employee takes their temperature with a touch-less thermometer. Inside, floor signs guide guests, glass sneeze guards are in place, table game seating is limited and visitors are asked to maintain social distancing while playing slots.
“It’s been smooth so far,” said Ken Kettler, Tulalip Resort Casino president. “I think people are pretty mature about it. They want to protect themselves, as well, so they’re cooperating nicely.”
The number of guests is limited at both locations — 1,500 at Tulalip Resort Casino and 600 at Quil Ceda Creek.
Some restaurants and bars in the casinos also reopened, with limited dine-in capacity. All slot machines are turned on and available for play, with hand sanitizer stations nearby.
“One of the things we learned from a competitor in Eastern Washington was when you turn on all the machines, you have more access to clean them,” Kettler said. “People would line up to get on the machine when the next player got off and they were going to fight for that spot. A cleaning person isn’t going to get in the middle of that battle.”
The tribes’ third location, Tulalip Bingo and Slots, is still closed. So are the Tulalip Resort Casino pool, salon, spa and fitness center.
Across the state and country, tribal governments rely on casino and resort revenue to fund services and programs for members. They’re also major employers.
In total, about 900 of the tribe’s 2,400 previously furloughed employees came back to work at the two casinos.
“Everybody’s glad to see each other,” Kettler said. “Air hugs, bumping elbows. People are excited.”
Statewide, several other tribal governments have also reopened casinos, starting with Angel of the Winds Casino Resort in Arlington, which welcomed back guests on May 13.
State and local leaders have advised tribes not to reopen too quickly.
Gov. Jay Inslee is in weekly conversation with tribal leaders. If the casinos were under his jurisdiction, they’d likely be in Phase 3 of his plan to reopen the state, his office has said.
Of late, virus hot spots are occurring in the agricultural and food industries, state Secretary of Health John Weisman said at a news conference Tuesday. That includes meat packing and food processing plants including at several sites in the Yakima Valley.
Outbreaks at long-term care facilities continue to be a problem too, he added.
“We have not heard of an outbreak at this point for a casino, yet,” said Scott Lindquist, a state Department of Health epidemiologist for communicable diseases.
However, it can take one to two weeks for an infection to become a confirmed case.
In Tulalip, leaders are monitoring local and state health numbers, as well as their own.
They started devising the plan to reopen the casinos as soon as they closed in March, Kettler said.
“It was kind of eerie out there on the floor when we turned all the electricity off on the machines,” he said. “It’s so vibrant, typically. For it to go suddenly quiet, you’re looking around going, ‘Wow, this feels a little chilly.’”
Herald writer Jerry Cornfield contributed to this story.