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Patience is essential for visitors to Northwest Indiana's reopened casinos

Patience is essential for visitors to Northwest Indiana's reopened casinos

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Money and luck are two things everyone should bring with them when they go out to have a good time at Northwest Indiana's casinos.

But gamblers visiting the Region's five gaming facilities, which reopened Monday after a three-month shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, also will want to have plenty of one more thing — patience.

Long lines to comply with state-mandated COVID-19 safety policies were the order of the day, especially at the Horseshoe Casino in Hammond, where patrons at noon waited in line about a half-hour to get from the parking garage into the casino. Vehicles also were lined up in the parking garage and on the ramp to the casino from Indianapolis Boulevard.

A number of visitors eventually just gave up and went home instead of waiting in the blocks-long indoor line to enter the Horseshoe.

One even proclaimed to the socially-distant crowd: "I'm tired of waiting. I'm going to save my money for another day."

Similar lines were seen Monday morning at the Ameristar Casino in East Chicago, Majestic Star Casinos in Gary and the Blue Chip Casino in Michigan City, primarily due to a new state requirement that casino security agents check the identification of every person entering the casino, instead of just waiving through anyone who appears age 30 and up.

In contrast, the body temperature checks mandated by the Indiana Gaming Commission to identify visitors with a fever, which can be a sign of COVID-19 infection, proceeded smoothly at the casinos.

Staff at the Horseshoe and Blue Chip used thermal imaging cameras to measure body temperature from a distance, Ameristar employed no-touch thermometers momentarily placed over visitors' wrists and Majestic Star had its patrons briefly put their foreheads or wrists near a temperature scanner before allowing them to enter the casino.

Inside, it looked like the casinos had been taken over by a convention of health care providers, with more than half the patrons and all the employees wearing face masks to minimize the potential spread of COVID-19.

The Majestic Star even provided everyone going into the casino a free "Care Kit" containing a face mask, miniature bottle of hand sanitizer and two latex finger coverings for pushing slot machine buttons. The Horseshoe offered each visitor a free face mask.

Under Gaming Commission regulations, all participants at table games are required to wear a mask, even at the Majestic Star where new, curved plexiglass separates players from dealers.

Masks are not required to be worn by slot machine players, since roughly every other machine is turned off, and its chair removed, to ensure patrons stay at least 6 feet apart at all times.

The limited number of active slot machines and the temporary cap on table game capacity — three players for blackjack, four for roulette, and six for craps — gave the casinos an energetic buzz akin to a Friday or Saturday night prior to the coronavirus shutdown, compared to the usual Monday morning crowd.

Anthony Jones, of South Holland, Illinois, was among numerous Illinois residents crossing the state line to gamble in Northwest Indiana Monday, since Illinois' casinos are due to remain closed for the foreseeable future.

He said he didn't mind undergoing a temperature check or the other safety precautions required to enter the Majestic Star Casino. He also was wearing a mask.

"I'm kind of used to it now. We've been wearing them since March," Jones said. "It makes you feel safe I guess." 

Tom, a Lowell man who did not provide his last name, said he's confident the precautions taken by the casinos will prevent the spread of COVID-19: "I feel safe."

Likewise, Tino Enguillen and Ruth Alcaraz, both of Highland, who said they visited the Majestic Star a couple times a week before the pandemic, weren't worried about coming back on the first day it reopened.

"We're coming out to see what it's like," Enguillen said. "We're taking precautions of course. From what we gather, social distancing and wearing masks helps, so we'll abide by all the laws."

Alcaraz said she also had latex gloves ready to slip on if she felt they were needed at the slot machines "because too many people touch those buttons."

"I'm excited to be back and we're taking precautions. We're going to use gloves and everything, and the masks of course, and the hand sanitizers," she said.

Not all casino amenities have reopened. Food service generally is limited, valet parking is not available, there are no concerts or shows scheduled, and promotional events likely to attract a crowd have been postponed.

Gallery: How Northwest Indiana casinos have changed over the past 20 years

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