LINCOLN, R.I. – There’s only one guarantee for your next visit to Twin River casino: You’re going to leave smelling like Twin River casino.
Even after the coronavirus kept its doors closed to the public for 86 consecutive days, that distinct aroma — which kind of smells like a stew of Marlboro cigarettes, well liquor, and the cologne sample from GQ magazine — was still in the air when Twin River in Lincoln welcomed back a select group of its prized players Monday morning.
The look and smell of the casino may be familiar, but it’s hardly business as usual. From temperature checks at the door to social distancing restrictions that leave two or three slot machines between players, the casino is slowly adjusting to the new normal while still trying to entice customers after months with virtually zero revenue coming in — for Twin River, and the state.
This is what it was like to be at Twin River on day one of its reopening.
Not every Joe from Cranston, R.I., was allowed to visit the casinos in Lincoln and Tiverton on Monday. Twin River sent invitations to 4,000 players, and officials expect roughly 1,500 people to visit each day over the next two weeks. Craig Sculos, a vice president and general manager at Twin River, declined to say exactly how the 4,000 people were chosen, but he acknowledged that frequent use of their player rewards cards played a role in the invitations.
As visitors drove into the parking lot shortly before 10 a.m., they were stopped by security and asked to show their invitation. A woman in a Jeep with a Massachusetts license plate was told to leave because she wasn’t invited. Those with a golden ticket (or a reporter’s notebook) were instructed to park in one of three parking lots because the casino is now separated into sections called “north,” “south,” and “west.”
The longest lines were at the north casino, considered by many gamblers to be the main entrance, where about 50 people backed up into the Twin River hotel as they waited to get in.
At each entrance, every player and employee was required to stand in front of a thermal camera (which costs $10,000 to $15,000 each), to have their temperature taken, which is over in less than five seconds. The temperature pops up on a screen, and if you’re over 100.4 degrees, you’re not allowed to enter.
If you do find yourself running hot, Twin River is actually a convenient place to be: CVS Health has a coronavirus rapid testing station set up in the parking lot. (Note: At this point, if you have a temperature but test negative, you can’t just use a doctor’s note to get inside.)
From there, visitors are required to hand over their driver’s license so they can be checked into the casino’s contact tracing system. If a player tests positive for the virus, Twin River will send an e-mail to everyone who was in the casino that day to inform them of the infection.
“It’s no different than going to Whole Foods,” Sculos said, referring to the extra precautions that all businesses are taking in a world of the coronavirus.
Once you’re in, and wearing a mask (the casino will provide one if you don’t have it), you’re free to gamble like its 2019 all over again. Kind of.
There are no table games (no one wants to touch your sticky betting chips), poker games, or off-track betting allowed for the time being. Even sports betting, Rhode Island’s best advantage over the casinos in Connecticut, is out unless you have the Sports Book Rhode Island mobile app.
Before you ask whether there are even sports to bet on right now, you should Google “Russian table tennis.” In April, while the casinos were still closed, the sports book accepted just under $600,000 in wagers, and cleared $27,000 in revenue. More than 65 percent of the bets were for table tennis, and 32 percent were for soccer, according to Paul Grimaldi, a spokesman for the Rhode Island Lottery.
At the casino, the games include slot machines, video table games (you haven’t lived until you watch a Rhode Islander cuss out a scantily-clad digital blackjack dealer), and stadium games, which allow you to play blackjack, roulette, and mini baccarat with dozens of other players while the dealers stand behind tables set up several feet away.
With the exception of a handful of two-seater slot machines located throughout the casino, it’s nearly impossible to avoid social distancing. For every one machine that is running, the two or three next to it are turned off and the chairs have been removed.
And you know how casinos are famous for their eyes in the sky, the thousands of cameras placed in almost every section of their facilities? In addition to catching cheaters, they’re now being used to ensure that players are keeping a safe distance from one another, Sculos said.
“Our mantra is, play smart, stay apart,” Sculos said.
If you don’t want to gamble, you probably won’t want to visit Twin River during its first few weeks of reopening. With the exception of the food courts, restaurants are closed. The hotel still isn’t welcoming visitors. And the Julio Iglesias concert that was scheduled for July 3 is already canceled, as are any other events scheduled for the near future.
The good news is that Twin River has never been cleaner. The casino will close at midnight every night for the time being, and undergo a thorough scrubbing. It even has an electric thermal fogger that is supposed to sanitize entire rooms in minutes.
And yet it still smells like Twin River.