EVERETT — As Marcia Hamilton drove into Encore Boston Harbor for the casino’s reopening Sunday morning, she saw employees outside, waving at her.
“It put a big smile on my face,” said Hamilton, 73, of Cambridge, who came to the casino for the slot machines — and just to get out of the house after months of quarantine. “I’m glad I’m back. I’m glad they’re working.”
Encore Boston Harbor, which had been shuttered since March when the state ordered business closures because of the coronavirus pandemic, reopened Sunday to a steady trickle of guests, excited to don masks and slather on hand sanitizer for a chance to get back on the floor.
The casino looked in many ways the same as it has — bright lights, colorful video slot machines, and people milling about, trying to find a lucky spot.
But reminders of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which has left more than 8,000 people dead in Massachusetts since March, are everywhere. All employees and guests had to wear protective face coverings. When a gambler left a slot machine, a staff member swooped in with cleaning supplies.
The goal is “fun done safely,” said Eric Kraus, Encore’s head of public affairs.
Encore’s return, part of Phase 3 of the state’s reopening plan, came after careful consideration from casino administrators and the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, which set minimum standards for Encore Boston Harbor, MGM Springfield, and Plainridge Park, from the dimensions of plexiglass dividers between slot machines to where and when guests can have a drink.
The Encore resort, which had about 4,200 employees in March, closed its doors but kept paying employees through the end of May, Kraus said. They furloughed about 11 percent of them at the beginning of June and another 3,000 at the start of July, before their reopening date was announced.
When the state gave the green light to the casino floor’s reopening, Encore brought back 1,700 employees. Every employee back at work has been tested for the coronavirus in the past week, Kraus said. They, like guests, have to have their temperatures taken when they come in, and anyone with a fever higher than 100.4 degrees will be sent home.
Though most people coming in Sunday brought their own protective face coverings, Kraus said staff have disposable paper masks on hand to give patrons who came without. Anyone not willing to wear a face covering will be asked to leave, he said.
Encore was able to learn from other casinos operated by its parent company, Wynn Resorts, in Macau and Las Vegas, Kraus said.
“We want you to leave your concerns behind and have a fun, enjoyable experience,” Kraus said.
As guests left the parking lot Sunday morning to enter the casino, they saw a large sign by the elevators to the casino floor reminding them not to enter if they feel sick or have recently come into contact with someone who had contracted the virus. Staff checking IDs at the entrance asked them to briefly lower their face masks and scanned them for high fevers. There were the newly installed plexiglass barriers between video slot machines and similar barriers keeping dealers and gamblers separated at tables.
It was not yet business as usual: Poker isn’t available. Neither are roulette and craps. Gamblers at table games are not touching the cards.
The Center Bar and nightclub remain closed, under state orders, and so is the spa. Gamblers can drink while seated at their machines but have to finish or throw away their drinks and put their masks back on when they move around the floor. Eating is allowed only in designated areas, and guests have to use their phones to pull up a menu and order.
Keronnie Leftdwrige, 42 of Chelmsford, came to Encore Sunday morning in a Caroline Panthers mask, a small tribute to his North Carolina roots. He noticed the new hand sanitizer stations, too.
“I’m out of the house,” he said. “That’s good.”
Before the pandemic, he typically came to play slots every other weekend, but while Encore was closed he made the significantly longer trip to Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut, he said.
He was glad to be back, he said, trying his luck at the slot machines.
“It’s up and down right now,” he said Sunday morning. “I’m not trying to give too much money away on the first day back.”
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