Coronavirus: Ohio casino says open; DeWine's office says 'maybe not'

Friday 13th March 2020

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine's office says its ban on public gatherings to protect the public for the outbreak of the new coronavirus doesn't include an exemption for casinos.

This contradicts reassurances by Jack Casino Cincinnati that it will remain open for business for the time being.

Earlier Thursday, DeWine's office announced a ban on "public gatherings" of more than 100 people until a current state of emergency is rescinded or modified.

The order bans events that bring "together 100 or more persons in a single room or single space at the same time such as an auditorium, stadium, arena, large conference room, meeting hall, theater, or any other confined indoor or outdoor space." DeWine's office said it specifically includes parades, fairs, and festivals.

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Exempted are: "normal operations of airports, bus and train stations, medical facilities, libraries, shopping malls and centers, or other spaces where 100 or more persons may be in transit."

Also exempted are: "typical office environments, schools, restaurants, factories, or retail/grocery stores where large numbers of people are present, but it is unusual for them to be within arm's length of one another."

But casinos, including regular gambling floor operations, are not exempted, said Dan Tierney, a spokesman for the governor.

"The order does not exclude casinos," Tierney told The Enquirer. He added the casino industry has requested "clarity" on the order, but so far DeWine's office hasn't signed off on waiving the ban for gambling destinations.

This contradicted the impression left by officials with Jack Casino (which is planning to change its name to Hard Rock Cincinnati following an acquisition of the property by the Florida-based gambling company), which indicated they were remaining open for business.

"Our highest priority is always the health and safety of our team members and guests," casino officials said in a statement.

Casino officials said they had stepped up regular cleaning throughout the casino to keep customers and employees healthy. They were also making hand sanitizer readily available for all.

"We support the Governor's leadership and are following the Executive Order set forth by the Director of the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) and its definition of 'mass gatherings,'" the casino said, adding they interpreted the order to ban special events as gatherings. But the casino stated it believed "normal operations" were exempted.

Tierney said "No." DeWine's office indicated local law enforcement could shut the place down if they deemed it in violation of the gathering ban.

Casino officials said they believed they were in compliance with the order, though it doesn't include casinos specifically as exempted. They said they would comply with any orders by DeWine's office.

"We feel our building is no different than a retail shopping mall," a casino spokeswoman said.

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