The COVID-19 pandemic spared almost no industry from significant impact, but casinos suffered particularly cataclysmic effects on revenue and the 1.8 million industry jobs. In building back occupancy, revenue, and jobs, one of their core operational hurdles is that casino design standards fly in the face of many coronavirus recommendations.
Many casinos, especially older facilities, are built to focus attention on the game and essentially disconnect the gambler from the outside world. The low ceilings, loud carpets, flashing lights, and labyrinthine designs that are the signatures of famed designer Bill Friedman’s classic approach to casino design are, in some ways, the antithesis of what gamblers need to ensure safety during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Labyrinthine wandering through massive spaces? Not when a centralized entry is needed to screen guests for fever, and one-way traffic circulation is the best strategy to promote social distancing.
Embracing smoking to create the hazy air quality many gamblers associate with the casino environment? With inhaling various forms of tobacco being a risk factor for more severe COVID-19 symptoms, casino air quality is now top of mind.
An emphasis on a tactile experiment, from the nostalgic pull of a slot machine’s unnecessary handles to requiring handling chips and cash instead of digital payment solutions? It’s no longer so enticing when reducing contact and increasing surface disinfection is the first step for a safe experience.
And those crazy, loud casino carpets specially designed to keep eyes on the game and off any dropped drinks or chips? Well, those carpets are likely here to stay, but will require more upkeep to reduce the buildup that can host viral particulates.
As a result of these challenges, owners facing tremendous revenue losses must rethink casino design standards and operation to meet and exceed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) guidelines for maintaining healthy environments. After all, the American Gaming Association’s Commercial Gaming Revenue Tracker reported a 78.8% year-over-year contraction in the second quarter of 2020. Its most recent data identified an 84.1% drop in revenue in Nov. 2020 compared to the same period in the prior year. It’s a drop that impacts not only the 1.8 million jobs nationwide directly supported by gaming establishments, but also the broader economy. The industry’s 2019 revenue of $43.6 billion contributed to $10.2 billion in gaming taxes to state and local governments, with billions more supported in sales, income, and other taxes.
By making changes today to design and air quality, casinos will be better able to keep visitors safe and encourage a return to pre-COVID levels of traffic in the near future.
Strategizing Casino Disinfection
While many casinos have embraced the social distancing recommendations for the hospitality industry’s safe reopening, these facilities may face some unique challenges in meeting the CDC’s cleaning and disinfection guidelines. First, casino design standards encourage creating eye-catching and intimate spaces. These spaces are full of high-touch surfaces that now require frequent sanitation.
In addition, labor is currently the single biggest challenge facing casinos struggling to reopen. As a result, pushing for more stringent disinfection and cleaning routines will only stretch the remaining staff. For this reason, many casinos are turning to technology solutions to support more frequent cleaning and disinfection of high-touch surfaces.
For example, Philadelphia’s new Live! Casino & Hotel, opening in Feb. 2021, has installed a Reel Clear slot management system that ensures sanitation on machines after every player. The system shuts down slot machines after play and can only reactivate by an attendant who has sanitized the machine. It also allows players to request the machine they are using be cleaned at any time.
Other properties are finding that autonomous vacuum cleaning robots like Whiz from SoftBank Robotics support casino staff by allowing them to offload monotonous yet critical vacuuming on their cobot assistants. At the same time, staff can focus on more high-level disinfection. The cobots vacuum more extensively and frequently than human time allows, even in pre-pandemic conditions. Performing basic carpet cleaning before disinfection plays an essential role in lowering the risk of transmitting viral particulates. Research indicates that clean carpets help filter allergens and some airborne pathogens by trapping contaminants within carpet fibers, potentially improving casino air quality. A square foot of carpeting can trap up to a pound of dirt and dust, but those contaminants must be regularly removed to remain an effective filter.
Core cleaning tasks can then be combined with sanitizing solutions that rapidly cover broad expanses. Wynn Properties reports using electrostatic disinfectant sprayers throughout its high traffic areas, guest rooms, and high-touch surfaces. Simultaneously, ultraviolet light technology adds another level of disinfection in large public restrooms and guest rooms with confirmed cases of COVID-19.
Improving Casino Air Quality
Many casinos are also making changes to their ventilation systems in line with CDC’s recommendations to increase outdoor air circulation as allowable by system constraints. For example, MGM Resorts notes that its HVAC systems have been programmed to circulate up to 100% outside fresh air, with as many as 12 air exchanges per hour.
Other properties are focusing on air cleaning and purification. For example, Resorts Casino Hotel in Atlantic City has installed an ionization air purification technology on its casino floor to neutralize the presence of coronavirus. (ASHRAE continues to review the efficacy of bipolar ionization and advises facilities to consider manufacturer data on each system before purchasing carefully.)
Other properties are making changes that can improve the efficiency of their filtration. A significant number of casinos are shifting to become smoke-free in a big move to improve casino air quality. This shift encourages more significant mask usage, reduces occupants’ risks of respiratory illness, and potentially enhances the efficacy of filtration systems that capture particular matter.
Finally, in-duct filters that carry a MERV-13 or higher rating and vacuum systems that use HEPA filters to trap dust and other particulates are recommended to reduce the transmission of viral particles.
Making Cost-Effective Decisions
Despite a rough year in 2020, the casino industry may be turning a corner as casinos in some states see traffic return. In fact, in Nov. 2020, Colorado, Delaware, Mississippi, and South Dakota outperformed revenue in the previous November. Keeping this traffic going—and keeping staff and visitors healthy—will depend on how casinos rethink design and operation factors.
Fortunately, not all of these cleaning solutions have to break the bank. For example, Whiz is available both for purchase and with a subscription model that allows casinos flexibility in how they integrate robotics into their capital or operational budget.
If you’re ready to discover how Whiz can work for you, contact SoftBank Robotics today.