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Wind Creek Bethlehem Reopens With Fewer Slot Machines, More Cleaning And No Smoking In The Casino

Celeste Danzey wasn’t sure what to expect when she made the 70-mile trip Monday morning to Wind Creek Bethlehem from Newark, New Jersey. A casino regular, Danzey used to make the same trek a couple times monthly — but that was before a pandemic that upended the industry and forced Wind Creek to close for more than three months.

When she arrived at the casino at 11 a.M. Monday, about five hours after Wind Creek reopened to the public for the first time since March 15, Danzey was relieved to walk in and see temperature checks at the door, distanced mask-wearing guests and cleaning crews circulating the floor.

“I was looking forward to coming back,” she said from behind an Adidas mask while her gloved hands rested atop a slot machine.

Others were, too. In fact, about 100 people waited in line for the casino to open Monday morning, said Kathy McCracken, the property’s executive vice president and general manager. Still, crowds were a little light by midday Monday, not typically a stellar day of the week for a casino, especially on its first day back from a 100-plus day hiatus. While some guests used the casino’s online reservation module, many walked right in.

“I think we could use a few more people but, in general, I think it’s going well,” said McCracken, elevated to the casino’s top post in late February. “So far, we’re really happy. We’re keeping our team members safe. We’re keeping the guests safe, and we’re happy to be back and operating.”

What guests saw Monday was a little different than prepandemic Wind Creek. The bright lights and noises from slot machines are still there, but only around 1,200 slots — out of a usual 3,045 — are up and running. The casino deactivated many slots and removed chairs, ensuring guests stay apart. Table games dealers wear face shields and sanitize often. At blackjack tables, only two players are allowed per table.

In a major change, smoking is not allowed on the casino floor, or in public spaces or bathrooms. A designated smoking area directs patrons to an outdoor space.

With Wind Creek’s reopening, followed by the opening of Parx Casino in Bucks County at 9 a.M. Monday, 11 of Pennsylvania’s casinos have now reopened. The only one not yet open is Rivers Casino Philadelphia, which has not set a reopening date as local officials there have opted to maintain additional restrictions until Friday.

In Atlantic City, New Jersey, several casinos have announced reopening plans for Friday following Gov. Phil Murphy’s announcement authorizing gambling halls to reopen with capacity restrictions.

It all brings relief to a casino industry hammered by the pandemic, which at one point forced the temporary closure of all 989 commercial and tribal casino properties across the country. As of Monday, 794 casinos are open in the United States, while 195 remain closed, according to the American Gaming Association.

During the pandemic, Wind Creek Bethlehem paid its roughly 2,400 employees through the end of May but furloughed 2,095 of them June 1, as the downturn entered its third month.

The casino has brought back almost 1,400 employees and plans to recall more as capacity increases, McCracken said.

The casino’s employees also are now dressed in T-shirts, easier to wash than the usual uniforms. That includes the casino’s Clean Team, wearing green T-shirts and pacing the floor, wiping down and cleaning surfaces. Daniel Mies, typically part of the casino’s sales team, chipped in by spraying sanitizing solution out of a power drill-like device.

“Team members are really going above and beyond and volunteering to help out,” spokeswoman Julia Corwin said.

One of the Lehigh Valley’s largest employers, the casino did have some employees test positive for the coronavirus this year, but has not disclosed the total number. One of those employees was Jonathan Shen, a 31-year-old table games supervisor who died April 22 following a four-week battle with COVID-19.

Moving forward, the casino expects to make changes as necessary. Wind Creek had a soft opening over the weekend, with small groups of invited guests who tested the site’s new policies.

Among the changes already planned: The casino’s hours of 6 a.M. To 3 a.M. Will be pushed this weekend to 7 a.M. To 5 a.M., allowing the casino to extend its overnight hours but still leaving enough time for a deep cleaning while closed.

Plexiglass barriers also could follow soon between slot machines.

Elsewhere on the property, The Outlets at Wind Creek Bethlehem reopened Monday but the Event Center remains closed. Some of the site’s restaurants also are closed, including Steelworks Buffet & Grill.

Daily

The daily update for the Lehigh Valley business person.

McCracken said there’s no return date yet for the casino’s busing programs, which bring in people from New York City and northern New Jersey.

Even amid the uncertainty, the casino hopes to start construction on a few projects before long. That includes starting work in mid-August on its sportsbook in the home of Buddy V’s Ristorante and breaking ground by late summer on its $100 million hotel expansion.

Placed on the backburner, however, is Wind Creek’s original $250 million plan to transform the crumbling Bethlehem Steel No. 2 Machine Shop into an indoor water park and entertainment complex.

For now, some gamblers, such as Danzey, are just happy the property is open. It’s early on in Wind Creek’s new normal, but Danzey liked what she saw Monday — even if the House was beating her as of midday.

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