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Casino responds to coronavirus with two-week closure

Casino responds to coronavirus with two-week closure

For the first time in its 23-year history, Harrah’s Cherokee Casinos is closed. 

The announcement came on Monday, March 16, three days after President Donald Trump’s March 13 declaration of a national emergency and five days after the World Health Organization’s March 11 declaration of a global pandemic in response to the worldwide proliferation of COVID-19. 

“This has been an evolving situation that we monitored closely,” said Brian Saunooke, regional vice president for marketing at Harrah’s. “The decision to close was a precautionary measure, to ensure the safety of our employees, guests and local communities.”

The casinos in Cherokee and Murphy closed at 6 a.m. Wednesday, March 18, following announcement of its intentions at 2 p.m. Monday. When asked about the reasoning behind the lapse between the announcement and the actual closure, Saunooke reiterated that the closure overall is a precautionary measure, as no cases have been reported in the casinos at this time, or in any of the counties surrounding them. The casino is not aware of any guests or employees who have been tested for the virus, he said. 

“This was a precautionary response. We have already begun the process of closing parts of the operation,” he said in a statement Monday night. 

The closure will last for two weeks. Employees will continue to receive pay and benefits during that time. 

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Caesars Entertainment, of which Harrah’s is a part, has appointed a senior management team to meet daily and make decisions about how best to manage the situation. The company has implemented enhanced cleaning and sanitizing protocols throughout its facilities based on recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control.

The casino’s closure came on the heels of a series of cancellations and changes in response to the unfolding pandemic. It began with cancellation of the Sebastian Maniscalco show slated for March 13 and escalated with the March 15 closure of the Chefs Stage Buffet. The April World Series of Poker Circus events have been cancelled. 

Harrah’s is not alone. Casinos currently operate in 41 of the 50 states. In 28 of those 41, all or some of the casinos are currently closed, according to the latest update from CDC Gaming Reports as of press time. That organization is unrelated to the Centers for Disease Control. 

The closure is extremely significant, as casino revenues account for the bulk of the tribal budget, as well as for per capita payments issued to tribal members twice per year. The casino does not publicly disclose its profits or revenues, but it’s safe to say that it’s responsible for providing tribal members and tribal government with hundreds of millions of dollars each year. In 2018, the tribe paid out nearly $200 million in per capita checks to tribal members. 

The casino has never closed before, though on its opening night in 1997 operations did pause for two hours. Guests were still allowed on the property at that time, however.

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