Southland Casino Racing reopens in limited fashion amid COVID-19
Monday 18th May 2020
For the long line of patrons waiting outside Southland Casino Racing, Monday morning wasn't too early for the West Memphis casino to reopen -- or for a round at the slot machine.
"I love it when I win, I love it when I lose," said Lloyd McKinney of Memphis, who was among the dozens in line for Southland to reopen at 9 a.m. after being closed since March 17 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. "... I'm sure glad they opened back up."
Two hours prior to reopening, Southland Senior Director of Marketing Jeff Strang led news media on a tour of the casino, detailing various safety measures Southland has put in place to curb any potential coronavirus spread.
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Those measures have significantly altered Southland's operations -- no table games, live racing or sports betting is available yet. The number of slot machines in service has been reduced to keep patrons socially distanced. Casino operating hours have been reduced to 9 a.m. to 3 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and 9 a.m. to 5 a.m. Friday through Saturday so staff can deep clean the facility.
Southland has also reduced the number of guests allowed inside the casino at once, abiding by the Arkansas Department of Health's 33% capacity limit. Regular capacity is around 6,000 for the entire facility and 3,000 for the first-floor gaming area specifically, Strang said. Southland staff is keeping track of who's coming in and who's leaving the building's lone available entrance, so they know when to stop letting people in, he said.
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"It is for health reasons, so I'm going to make the best of it," said Renae Carnes, a longtime Southland patron who was waiting in line since 6 a.m. "I'm just glad it's back."
Additionally, no smoking will be permitted inside the building -- those who want to smoke will do so by the racing apron outside, Strang said. All visitors must wear face coverings.
"We want to make sure the right amount of people are inside so the right amount of distancing takes place," Strang said. "We don't want crowds. We want to make sure people stay safe, but we want to make sure it's fun for all during this time."
To enter Southland, guests will be temperature screened and have their names stored on a guest registry. A person can't enter Southland if they have symptoms of or risk factors for COVID-19, Strang said.
Many of Southland's slot machines have been deactivated to prevent users from being too close to each other. Visitors playing the slot machines can press the "change" button on a machine to request a sanitary wipe down of it by one of Southland's "Clean Team" members, who are conducting ongoing sanitization throughout the casino.
McKinney said he and his wife stick with the slot machines -- "Money Ball" is a favorite of theirs -- so their Southland routine won't be too affected by the new rules.
Southland's sports bar is open, but seating is "very limited" to comply with social distancing, making dining "more of a grab-and-go scenario" there, Strang said. Social distancing markers and barriers are in place throughout the facility to make sure people are adequately distanced in lines.
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Southland is keeping an eye on the state's directives, coronavirus case count and how its current safety measures play out to see what next steps to take, Strang said.
"We're learning from this process," Strang said. "We're going to learn together and make sure we do the right thing."
Casinos in Mississippi, including those in Tunica that compete with Southland for Memphis-area customers, are allowed to reopen May 21.
Max Garland covers FedEx, logistics and health care for The Commercial Appeal. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 901-529-2651 and on Twitter @MaxGarlandTypes.