100s line up as some Oklahoma casinos reopen despite virus
Jimmy Tearney on May 11 plays a game at the Thunderbird Casino for its soft reopening in Norman. The casino is operating at a third of its capacity and spacing out machines six feet apart while implementing temp checks at the door and enforcing face masks. CHRIS LANDSBERGER/THE OKLAHOMAN
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) – Hundreds of people stood in line on May 12 waiting to enter a casino in central Oklahoma that has been allowed to reopen with social distancing restrictions and sanitation safeguards in place to protect against a resurgence of the coronavirus.
“It was time for everyone to get back to work, we were ready to get back to work,” said Sam Caruso, general manager of the Thunderbird Casino in Norman. “It just seemed like the right time to do it. We decided to do what we call a soft opening without a lot of fanfare.”
The reopened casino in Norman limited the number of patrons to 200-225, while a sister facility in Shawnee allowed about 100 inside – both about one-third of capacity, Caruso said. No table games are open, he said.
Those inside must wear masks and maintain 6-feet of distance from others, although couples are allowed to sit together, he said.
“Every guest that has come in the facility has been very appreciative. They understand and when we tell them to put a mask on they put their mask on,” Caruso said.
Several other tribal casinos in the state remain closed. Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby said in that tribe’s casinos will remain closed at least through Friday.
“Health professionals advise that recent measures enacted to help mitigate the spread of the virus are beginning to work because of widespread participation,” Anoatubby said in a statement.
The Cherokee, Choctaw and Muscogee (Creek) nation casinos also remain closed.
“Local health benchmarks do not suggest that now is the time to reopen ... the Muscogee (Creek) Nation casinos,” Principal Chief David Hill said in a statement.
Of approximately 130 tribal casinos statewide, five have reopened on a limited basis, according to Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association director Sheila Morago. Nationwide, some 500 Native American casinos have shut down.
The state Health Department on May 12 reported more than 4,700 confirmed cases of the virus and at least 278 deaths, an increase from at least 4,613 cases and 274 deaths reported May 11.
The number of actual infections is thought to be far higher because many people haven’t been tested and studies suggest people can be infected without showing symptoms.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.
Gov. Kevin Stitt on May 12 announced a committee of legislators, including House Speaker Charles McCall and Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat, will advise him on distributing approximately $1.2 billion in federal funds provided to respond to the coronavirus.
“The legislators on this committee have the pulse of the communities they serve. ... Our priority is to ensure these dollars intended for COVID-19 response are deployed swiftly and on target,” Stitt said.
Stitt, a Republican, and the Republican-dominated Legislature have been at odds in recent weeks over the state’s coronavirus response.
All employees of a pork processing plant in the Oklahoma Panhandle will be tested for the coronavirus, the company has announced.
Seaboard Foods said 206 of more than 2,700 employees at its plant in Guymon had tested positive as of May 9, including 90 active cases and 116 who have recovered.
The Seaboard plant has not closed.