MICHIGAN CITY — With any luck, the near-absolute silence pervading the gaming floor Friday at the Blue Chip Casino in Michigan City never will be heard again.
After being closed for an unprecedented three months due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Blue Chip is ready to welcome back its patrons beginning at 11 a.m. Monday, along with the cacophony of sound they'll make simultaneously playing hundreds of slot machines, flipping cards, stacking chips, rolling dice and counting their winnings.
While the LaPorte County casino as a whole looks largely unchanged from its appearance March 16, when all Hoosier casinos were ordered closed by the Indiana Gaming Commission to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the experience of visiting the Blue Chip will be like nothing anyone has seen before.
"As we prepare to reopen Blue Chip, the health and safety of our guests, team members and the community will be our highest priority," said Brenda Temple, Blue Chip vice president and general manager. "Central to this effort is 'Boyd Clean,' a set of comprehensive health and safety protocols that fully meet the highest standards set forth by federal, state and local health officials."
Named for the Blue Chip's parent company, Boyd Gaming Corp., Boyd Clean aims to provide casino patrons what Temple described as as "an enjoyable experience in a safe environment."
It begins before visitors even enter the gaming floor. They must walk single file, spaced 6 feet apart, past a camera-like, no-contact device that checks their body temperature.
If it's over 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, they'll be pulled aside and discreetly asked to leave.
Visitors also must affirm they are not currently ill or been recently exposed to COVID-19, they must provide an identification card to a security agent and are required to remove any mask or face covering and look into a security camera before being allowed into the casino.
On the gaming floor, just 726 of the Blue Chip's 1,612 slot machines will be available to maintain social distancing between players.
Large round signs cover the machines that cannot be played and seats at those machines have been removed.
Likewise, seats have been removed from table games to comply with Gaming Commission rules limiting blackjack to three players, roulette to four and craps to six.
Temple said minimum bets at table games will be hiked to match the demand for the limited number of seats.
All casino employees and everyone participating in a table game is required to wear a mask in the casino. Individuals only playing slot machines or visiting the sportsbook are not required to wear a mask, but it is recommended.
Smoking is limited to certain slot areas and is prohibited at table games, while hand sanitizing stations are in place throughout the casino.
Restaurants at the Blue Chip have been deep cleaned and are limited to 75% capacity in accordance with Gov. Eric Holcomb's "Back on Track" reopening plan. Nearly undetectable plexiglass also has been installed to protect diners from those not in their group, and to ensure the safety of hosts, hostesses and casino security staff.
In addition, casino cleaning staff will be deployed to try to wipe down each machine after a player leaves, the air in the casino will be fully exchanged eight times an hour instead of four, Blue Chip will close from 3-8 a.m. each day to more fully clean and sanitize all surfaces, along with other measures to minimize the risk of COVID-19.
"With the comprehensive set of guidelines that we have, with the frequent sanitation, the wearing of masks, (employee) gloves in required areas, the social distancing, we feel that the measures we're putting in place with Boyd Clean are more than adequate to address the concerns," Temple said.
Similar policies and cleaning procedures are being implemented at the Horseshoe Casino in Hammond, the Ameristar Casino in East Chicago, the Majestic Star Casinos in Gary and the Four Winds tribal casino in South Bend.
All Northwest Indiana casinos are reopening Monday.