Casino guests return to the slots as Detroit's gaming halls reopen

Candice Williams
The Detroit News

Detroit — For Curtis Martin, the reopening of Detroit’s three casinos was long overdue.

“I’m glad they’re opened, but I think they’ve been closed for too long,” said Martin as he looked for the entrance to Greektown Casino-Hotel on Wednesday.

The 87-year-old Detroit resident was among hundreds of casino guests making a first trip back to a Detroit casino Wednesday, more than four months after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered them closed in March to slow the spread of COVID-19.

“I’m hoping to win,” Martin said before he and his girlfriend, Rosa Jemison, 91, joined a small group waiting outside of an entrance on Lafayette.

Andrew Donaldson of Detroit wears a mask as he plays the penny slots Wednesday at the MGM Grand Detroit.

Once inside the casino, guests would find numerous safety measures including temperature checks, sanitation stations, spaced-out seating at slot machines and fewer guests on the casino floor. All casinos are to adhere to a set of state-mandated safety guidelines including 15% occupancy.

MotorCity Casino Hotel and Greektown Casino-Hotel opened their doors to the general public on Wednesday. MGM Grand Detroit welcomed back its top-tier customers in its loyalty program on Wednesday and will reopen to the general public Friday.

“We wanted our best customers to get the first taste of what the new normal is and two there are so many new safety protocols it’s definitely a different experience,” said Matt Buckley, senior vice president of marketing and operations for MGM Grand Detroit. “We wanted our team members to get used to it too before we have the masses come in and overwhelm them.”

Matt Buckley, MGM Grand Detroit senior vice president of marketing and operations, describes the precautions the casino has undertaken, including, spacing out slot machines at least six feet and turning off slot machines in between.

The reopening has meant the return to work for hundreds of casino employees.

“Most importantly, this decision allows us to initially recall up to 50% of our staff, providing critical employment and health benefit,” said Bruce Dall, president of MotorCity Casino Hotel. The casino was also able to extend health benefits through the end of the month for employees not yet called back.

MGM Grand Detroit was able to initially bring back 1,200 of the 2,800 employees it had before the shutdown, officials said.

The three casinos have struggled with financial losses since they were ordered closed March 16. Their year-to-date combined revenue of $299.2 million was down by 59.3% through June compared with $735.4 million in combined revenue reported for the same period in 2019, according to the Michigan Gaming Control Board.

The city of Detroit has also been hurt by the loss in tax revenue generated by the three casinos. In a statement Wednesday, David P. Massaron, the city's chief financial officer, said that that based on the current capacity limitations and changes in operations, its too early to predict revenues from the casinos.

The MGM Grand has installed a hand-washing station in the middle of the casino floor.  Dealer Audrey Jones washes her hands before taking a break.

"In our budget, we assumed we would be receiving $3 million per month in early months as the casinos reopened," he said. "At this point it is unclear that revenues will be at that level.”

At MGM Grand Detroit on Wednesday, blackjack dealers stood behind Plexiglas waiting for players while the cleaning crew moved throughout the casino floor wiping down machines and commonly touched surfaces. The 200 hand sanitizing stations throughout the building were a mix of sinks, wipe dispensers and hand sanitizer.

Among the gamblers on the floor was Andrew Donaldson of Detroit. He was there with his wife Julie Haung, who he describes as a "high roller." The couple would visit the casino once or twice a week before the shutdown.

"I've got to see what it's like with a whole bunch of people," he said. "It's quite free right at the moment."

Twitter: @CWilliams_DN