The Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribe's casino-hotel will reopen on Monday. Here's how

Thursday 28th May 2020

KINGSTON - Chris Placentia gives a wave to the camera and on a connected screen his temperature floats above his head like a halo, flickering around 98 degrees. On an adjacent screen, his thermal image mirrors the wave, glowing shades of red, yellow and orange.

A few minutes later Placentia, CEO at the Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribe's Noo-Kayet Development Corporation, walks past banks of slot machines, some of them switched off, through now-empty spots where other machines used to sit, as employees at the tribe's casino ready the facility to reopen for the first time in weeks. As he talks, Placentia dutifully tugs a bandanna-like face covering up over his nose after it slips down.

The Point Casino and Hotel in North Kitsap closed down in mid-March because of coronavirus concerns but will reopen on Monday with a range of new safety procedures in place, including a COVID-19 testing program for employees.

As of Monday, both of Kitsap's tribal casinos will be open again. The Suquamish Tribe's Clearwater Casino Resort opened earlier this month with similar safety procedures in place.

More: Suquamish Clearwater Casino Resort reopens after weeks of COVID-19 closure

Throughout the S'Klallam casino, hundreds of slot machines and chairs have been put away into storage to encourage distancing. Limits will be placed on the number of people allowed in the property at one time.

"You spend your whole career fighting to get more and more customers," said Sam Cocharo, general manager of the facility, "and then you spend weeks trying to figure out how to control, 'No, I don't want that many customers. I don't want that many customers, period.' That's the answer."

Employees and guests will wear face coverings. At hotel and casino entrances, everyone will be temperature checked by new thermal imaging cameras. If someone runs hot as they enter the property, they'll be pulled aside, and if the high temperature is confirmed, they'll be asked to return at a later date. Of the property's 750 gaming machines, 275 will be active. Many have been switched off and put away, and employees will regularly clean the machines that are left.

With table games closed, 22 blackjack dealers were retrained as safety ambassadors who will help to keep the property clean and make sure guests are maintaining adequate distancing, Cocharo said.

"You can't get a better personality than a blackjack dealer to be able to handle difficult situations in a more fun way, at least to try to make a difficult situation a little more comfortable," he said. "And we kept all our people employed as well, no one went out the door."

Employees will rotate every two weeks through a COVID-19 testing program the tribe established earlier this month, and testing will run into mid-July, Placentia said.

"I think as of now, we could be the only property in the state that's doing that," he said. "I've been asked, 'Well, what if we have somebody who doesn't want to get tested?' My response is, 'If they want to come to work, they're going to be tested.' Simple as that."

More: S'Klallam Tribe launches regular COVID-19 testing for employees at drive-through site

Hotel rooms will be disinfected by an electrostatic sprayer system designed to coat surfaces with cleaner, hitting every nook and cranny. Hotel guests will be able to check in with a new app, which also allows a phone to serve as a room key and as a player's club card, reducing points of contact, Cocharo said.

Even with all the safety procedures, will patrons return? Placentia said the corporation conducted a survey of its customers, and out of about 1,000 responses, around 60% of responses ranged from saying they felt very comfortable about returning to the gamble at the property to feeling neutral.

"That gives us an indication as kind of a testing model, how much of our overall audience is likely to come out and gamble," he said. "We're really encouraged, and we think the demand is there. We need to start adding more machines as soon as we can."

The Point won't be back up and running at full capacity, but on Monday the company will take a step back toward regular business at the facility, which is critical to funding the tribe's operations.

"That's critical for every tribe in the state," Placentia said. "Their gaming operations supply probably I'm guessing the lion's share of the funding that goes toward social programs for the tribe. You cut that revenue supply off, and now that puts the tribe in a precarious position in terms of continuing services that they ordinarily provide."

Nathan Pilling is a reporter covering Bainbridge Island, North Kitsap and Washington State Ferries for the Kitsap Sun. He can be reached at 360-792-5242, or on Twitter at @KSNatePilling.

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