A line of cars wrapped around the block Wednesday morning in Detroit, from the entrance to the MotorCity Casino Hotel on Temple Street to three-quarters of the way down the next block on Grand River Avenue.
For the first time since March 16, a Detroit casino was open to the public. Two miles away, at the Greektown Casino, a security guard said he heard the queue of vehicles at MotorCity stretched “all the way to New York.”
MotorCity, Greektown, and the MGM Grand Detroit all reopened to differing degrees on Wednesday, after an executive order from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer permitted the city’s three commercial casinos to welcome guests, following a months-long shutdown meant to halt the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
MGM restricted access to invite-only VIP customers for its first two days of operation and will begin admitting the general public Friday at 10 a.m. Greektown opened Wednesday morning to VIP gold-card holders and to the public at 2 p.m. Only MotorCity flung open its doors to one and all Wednesday at 10 a.m., and eager gamblers from southeast Michigan flocked to the property.
Michigamblers excited to resume normal betting lives
“It’s about time,” said Jean Manz, from St. Clair Shores, who explained that she was relieved she no longer had to travel to the Hollywood Casino in nearby northwest Ohio. “We’ve been driving to Toledo.”
For Detroit residents without access to private vehicles, however, the option of driving an hour south to Toledo or two hours west to the FireKeepers Casino in Battle Creek wasn’t an option. “If I knew how to get down there, I would’ve been there,” said Sandra Bell. “I couldn’t go anywhere else.”
And after months of locked down storefronts and social distancing, Bell said she was dying to return to the casino, sit down at the penny slots, and kibbitz with fellow bettors and casino employees. “Just being around people,” Bell said. “To sit around, have a good time — I missed it so much.”
Although mobile casino gaming and sports betting was approved by the Michigan legislature last December, online gambling remains unavailable, while the state waits for the Michigan Gaming Control Board to finalize implementation rules and grant approval to individual operators. The rollout is expected late this year or early next, but Bell said she would have welcomed the opportunity to play legal, online casino games during the brick-and-mortar casinos’ hiatus. “As long as if I win, I can get paid!” Bell said.
Limited capacity, health protocols in effect
“We have invested considerable time and effort to prepare for an opening with our highest priority being the health and safety of our employees and guests,” said MotorCity Casino President Bruce Dall in a statement released shortly after Whitmer signed last week’s executive order.
Those preparations were obvious, given the considerable time and effort it took for MotorCity guests to get into the casino Wednesday morning. One reason for the line of cars snaked around the block outside the casino was that guests had to pass a drive-through temperature check and mask inspection to gain access to the self-parking lot. Once visitors had parked, they had to line up at the casino entrance for a second mask check and to flash their IDs. For many who arrived Wednesday around the 10 a.m. opening time, the entire process took close to 30 minutes.
Inside, safety protocols included hand sanitizer stations set up throughout the casino floor, plexiglass partitions between slot machines, and limited seating at table games, with plexiglass barriers separating players at blackjack and baccarat tables from each other and from the dealers. For now, smoking is prohibited on the casino floor, and more cocktail waitresses appeared to be wearing face shields than not.
A few feet away from the roulette tables, a MotorCity pit boss could be overheard reinforcing the safety regulations for her craps dealers: “If someone walks up to your table wanting to play, the first thing they have to do is use hand sanitizer.”
The one aspect of Detroit’s reopening that differs from casino comebacks in other states and at Michigan’s tribal casinos is the strict 15% capacity limit imposed by Whitmer’s order — the lowest reported occupancy cap in the nation. When casinos reopened in Atlantic City, N.J., last month, they ran at 25% capacity. Meanwhile, Hollywood Casino in Toledo is operating at 50% capacity, and some of Michigan’s tribal casinos told the Detroit Free Press that they will admit up to 80%.
If the 15% limit remains in place for a long period of time, it could present business challenges to the Detroit casinos. Industry analysts, however, said they believe the capacity restrictions could be raised to something closer to 50% once the casinos can demonstrate their safety measures are effective.
“I think they’re all planning on a ramp to something far north of 15%,” said Alex Calderone, managing director of Calderone Advisory Group in Birmingham, Mich. “They’re in the baby-step mode right now, and the name of the game is, prove that they can open responsibly and without any significant outbreaks at 15%. Then, gradually move up from there.”
Subscribe to get the latest MI online gambling news to your inbox.