By Ray Richardson
INGLEWOOD — After being forced to close three times in 2020 because of the coronavirus, Hollywood Park Casino management decided to get innovative.
The casino moved its gaming operations outdoors when Los Angeles County officials gave the facility approval to reopen recently.
“We never gave thought to going outside until we had to shut down for a third time in October,” Hollywood Park Casino General Manager Deven Kumar said. “Our entertainment and restaurant service is limited, but we can still market what we do for people to come out and feel safe.”
The casino reopened with a new look and atmosphere on Feb. 1. A huge tent was constructed outside the main entrance off Century Boulevard, an area normally used for valet parking. Patrons are directed to an auxiliary entrance that leads to the tent.
Before entering the tent, patrons undergo temperature checks and are informed they must wear a mask at all times. Patrons also are required to have a “Players Card” to enter. If a person does not have the card, they must apply for one at the nearby concierge desk
“The Players Card is like a registration,” Kumar said. “It allows us to have basic information on patrons to help us with contact tracing, if needed.”
Kumar said the casino spent $300,000 to construct the tent area and implement the required safety protocols. Plexiglass dividers were placed at each of the tent’s 40 tables to separate dealers from patrons. All dealers wear face shields in addition to their masks. Sanitizer stations are posted throughout the tent area.
Many of the traditional table games remain available for patrons, including poker, blackjack and Texas Hold ‘Em. The tent has a capacity for 800, but Kumar said they are limiting attendance to 400 to give the casino a better chance to remain in compliance with county guidelines.
“The inspectors have come by several times without prior notice, so we’ve taken extensive measures to make sure we’re not in violation,” casino general counsel Lauren Cole said.
Although the casino is outside, patrons are prohibited from eating and drinking at gaming tables. Servers take food and beverage orders, but patrons are required to eat and drink in a different area. Cameras are positioned throughout the tent to ensure patrons and staff are following guidelines.
Other protocols include upgraded training sessions for staff and management. Each time the casino reopened in 2020, the staff had to go through new training regimens to manage safety precautions for COVID-19.
The reopening on Feb. 1 was no different. Before employees could return, they had to successfully complete training on new procedures.
“We assured our staff that we’ve done our homework to keep them safe,” said Patricia Pollard, casino human resources director. “A lot of them were excited to come back, but it’s our job to make sure they feel comfortable.”
Attendance at the casino has been sporadic since the reopening. The casino operates 24 hours daily. Kumar said he expected it would take a few weeks before word spread that the casino was open again. He also anticipated apprehension among people still having concerns about public gatherings, which is part of the reason he has yet to fully advertise the reopening.
“We won’t be anywhere close to our normal revenue,” Kumar said. “We just want to cover payroll, pay our city taxes and break even. This is more about helping people get out and having fun again.”
Ray Richardson is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers covering Inglewood. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.