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Maine’s two casinos opened this week after four months of closure because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Oxford Casino was the first to reopen, letting guests through the doors at 9am Tuesday, while Hollywood Casino Bangor followed at noon on Friday.

As we have all come to expect by now, there are a myriad of health and safety protocols in place to try to prevent the spread of the virus. Nobody exhibiting any symptoms of COVID-19, including coughing, chills, a shortness of breath, or a temperature over 100 degrees (staff members will take people’s temperatures before entering) will be allowed inside. Social distancing and hand sanitizing stations will be the norm.

Only video gaming machines like slots will be available at first, with select machines turned off to accommodate social distancing.

Public Safety Commissioner Michael Sauschuck told Maine Public Radio: “Technology wise, we can actually shut off games, so we can work with them [the casinos] to provide social distance because we do have a central monitoring system.”

Dining will be available, but limited.

Quadrant system

To help with social distancing while at the same time allowing for as many people as possible in the casinos, the Maine Department of Public Safety came up with a unique idea. The hurdle that needed to be jumped was that state health regulations currently limit gatherings to 50 or fewer people. That is obviously a problem for casinos.

What the two casinos are doing is dividing the gaming floor into quadrants. Each quadrant is permitted to hold a maximum of 50 people, so 200 patrons in total. That is a far cry from what a casino would like, but it is still four times as many people as the state would normally allow to get together.

There are checkpoints between each quadrant. If someone wants to traverse from one section to another, they must be cleared by a staff member at the checkpoint, who will be sure the numbers will work in the destination quadrant.

Oxford Casino General Manager Jack Sours said the discussion at the checkpoints will be as simple as: “‘Yes you can go into that one, there’s availability,’ or ‘No this one’s full, you’ll have to go to the next quadrant to find a game.’”

Local economies get a boost

The reopening of the casinos will be a financial shot in the arm for the communities they serve. Combined, they have 800 employees, though not all of them will be returning to work this weekend, as not all areas of the properties will be open right away.

They also contribute much-needed revenue to local governments. Oxford Town Manager Butch Asselin told WMTW that the casino generates $35,000 to $39,000 per week for the town in typical times.

“The town, we projected $2 million, and we are going to come in slightly under at $1.5 million for the fiscal year,” he said.

Fortunately, the town had a surplus balance, so Asselin still thinks they will be able to break even.

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