Business

Reopened Riverside Casino sees 'brisk' traffic on first day back open

'There was a really good amount of guests coming in with masks'

A lighting feature is seen March 20, 2019, above a central bar on the casino floor at Riverside Casino & Golf Resort in
A lighting feature is seen March 20, 2019, above a central bar on the casino floor at Riverside Casino & Golf Resort in Riverside. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Riverside Casino & Golf Resort management isn’t necessarily betting on making up for 11 weeks of lost revenue.

But it’s all-in on reopening and trying by returning to some degree of normal across the sprawling campus that includes a casino, golf course, spa, pool, restaurants, entertainment and other amenities.

“The amount of hand sanitizer stations has increased dramatically,” General Manager Dan Franz told The Gazette. “All the sanitation machine protocols are definitely in full force down here.”

Gov. Kim Reynolds revised her emergency order May 26, easing restrictions so that casinos and other entertainment venues — amusement parks, outdoor performance spaces, bowling alleys, pool halls and arcades — could reopen starting Monday but only at half capacity and with health precautions.

Riverside — among its many coronavirus-related changes — is making workers wear masks, attend training and follow strict cleaning protocols at their work stations and jobs. The casino is limiting its floor to 600 patrons at a time — following the governor’s order to limit capacity.

With those new measures in place — including entrance and exit software allowing it to track “ins and outs so that we make sure we’re in compliance” — Riverside at 12:01 a.m. Monday welcomed back VIPs to kick-start its resumed operations following a monthslong COVID-19-compelled hiatus.

From about 100 on the casino floor at any point during the overnight hours to about 425 just before 1 p.m., Franz told The Gazette numbers pretty quickly ticked up starting about 6 a.m. — although they had not yet reached the 600-person-at-a-time limit.

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“It’s been pretty brisk this morning so far and in the early afternoon here for a Monday,” he said, calling the 425 count at midday “really good” and predicting closing in on the limit by later in the day.

“Once you get to the point where people are done working … I don’t know if we’ll get there or not, but we’ll get a lot closer certainly,” he said.

Reynolds’ proclamation requires that casinos space “wagering and gaming positions” at least 6 feet apart.

“Positions closer than 6 feet may satisfy this requirement if the positions are separated by a barrier of a sufficient height to fully separate patrons at each position,” according to the governor’s guidance, which also requires the venues’ food and beverage establishments comply with earlier restrictions imposed on bars and restaurants.

Riverside’s reopening complies with state mandates, although Franz said the casinos tables are not yet open.

“We haven’t figured out how to open table games yet,” he said. “We think that we’ll probably be requiring masks for everyone at table games, once we get those open. And we’re working on that here this week.”

Patrons, as of now, are not required to wear masks — although they’re strongly encouraged to do so.

“And a good amount of them are,” Franz said. “Overnight, there was a really good amount of guests coming in with masks.”

Considering casinos are rampant with oft-touched surfaces, Franz said, Riverside is leaving a lot of the cleaning up to its 700-strong workforce, which had to return to the campus last week for training. Of course, sanitizer and other cleaning products will be available for guests before they begin on a machine.

“But it’s hard to require people to wipe down machines when they’re done,” he said.

The casino also isn’t amending its smoking allowance — something patrons have asked about online, considering COVID-19 is a largely respiratory illness that attacks the lungs, among other body organs and systems.

“How come you are not making masks mandatory?” one person asked on Riverside’s Facebook post Monday about its reopening. “Why are you not making the casino non-smoking?”

In that Riverside like other casinos long has permitted smoking in its facility, Franz said, it is actually well-positioned to limit viral spread.

“We have an air-handling system that moves fresh air in and out of the building 12 times an hour,” he said. “That’s more than some hospitals. So our protocols have been in place for a long time, and we’re adding on to a few of those things.”

That includes more signage and dining-related changes. Drinking fountains will be closed; groups can be no bigger than 10 people; food items will be individually plated and served; condiments will be provided in individual packets; cup refills are prohibited; and food and beverages will not be handed directly to a guest — but placed on a table or counter.

Despite the massive financial blow the COVID-19 closure dealt to Riverside and its sister establishments under the Elite Casino Resorts umbrella — including Grand Falls Casino and Golf Resort in Larchwood and Rhythm City Casino Resort in Davenport — it has not laid off workers, Franz said.

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Instead, Riverside paid employees — who were sent home March 16 — an average of their hourly wages through April 30 and then put them on furlough for the last month before recalling them upon Reynolds’ announcement.

Losses from those staff expenses and extra COVID-19 costs that persisted have been monumental, according to Franz.

“It’s substantial and significant,” he said. “When you’re closed for two and a half months with no revenue, and you still have operating costs even with a closed facility and you’re paying employees and you have extra costs with these additional steps you take, I haven’t even quantified it yet.

“But I’m not even sure I want to at this point,” he said. “It’s very very significant cost-wise. That’s why we’re excited to get open again.”

And patrons were, too, with many enthusiastic guests sharing their excitement online.

“We are here now, eating at Ruthies, waiting for midnight to play slots,” one woman wrote late Sunday.

But even as activity resumes, Riverside remains hamstrung by COVID-19 — with concerts curtailed, as many acts are paused; and sports betting off, as most leagues are still stalled.

“We need to get sports going again so people can have something they’d like to bet on,” Franz said.

Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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