Some residents eye Oklahoma casinos with caution

The parking lot at 7 Clans Casino was full Thursday, in spite of the rainy weather and possibility of COVID-19 exposure. While precautions are being taken by the casinos, patrons are advised to practice social distancing and avoid any unnecessary risks.

The threat of COVID-19 is still keeping some people away from the border casinos, but others are rolling the dice.

Two casinos near Newkirk, Okla., reopened earlier this month after closing in late March.

Ron Raney, of Winfield, paid a visit Thursday afternoon to 7 Clans Casino. Native Lights next door is also open. SouthWind Casino, further south, plans to open June 1.

Raney said he was not worried about being exposed to the virus and wasn’t planning to take any special precautions once inside.

“I think we’re all going to be exposed to it eventually, one way or another,” he said. “My feeling is, if it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen.”

Raney said the casino itself has implemented several safety precautions. He said the facility has placed a limit on the number of occupants and they are trying to keep people separated as much as possible.

“They’ve got every-other machine turned off so that you are still social distancing,” he said.

A peek inside the casino Thursday afternoon showed just a few customers, some wearing masks. Employees wearing masks and gloves sprayed and wiped down equipment.

Katie Franklin, a First Council employee, said the machines are wiped down with disinfectant after every customer.

She said that all employees are required to wear gloves and masks, and frequent recorded announcements remind customers to practice social distancing.

“Gloves and masks are also available at the Players Club for guests if they wish to use them,” she said.

Public Health Officer Thomas Langer said he hopes the measures being taken will prove effective, but he cautions that risks still remain.

As to whether visiting a casino will result in more cases, he said he would know in a couple of weeks.

Langer said citizens should ask themselves if the lure of gaming and interacting in a casino outweighs their need to protect their health, or that of others close to them.

“Do I think it’s wise?” he asked. “Not yet — that I can say with the certainty of having facts that I see every day as they pertain to illness.”

Testing numbers in Cowley County were updated Thursday. The City-Cowley County Health Department website shows 535 test done, with 502 negative results and 29 pending results; Three people are listed as recovering.

Officially, there are four cases in Cowley County, but two others who tested positive here have since left the county. Three people are still recovering from the disease, the website states.

Langer said the real question is what will happen if increasing social activity levels leads to an increase in local COVID-19 cases, and the answer is already known.

“A tightening on restrictions and activities once again, which I hope no one wants to have recur,” he said.

Raney said he travels across the country picking up and delivering RVs. He said the parking lots of the Walmart, Lowes and Home Depot stores that he drives by are always very busy.

“If everyone is going in there and not catching it, what is the difference in going in here and not catching it?” he asked.

Langer has an answer. Few people will spend several hours at Walmart doing the same thing repeatedly.

Local residents were asked through social media Thursday if they would feel safe going to the nearby casinos. Most said that they preferred to wait.

Carrie Eaglin said she was going to wait and see if any new cases were discovered: Better to be safe than sorry.

“I’m not one of those people who think ‘it won’t happen to me,’” she said.

Chris Armstrong said First Council reported $400,000 in jackpots and another $500,000 on the first and second weekends after it reopened.

But even the high payouts don’t tempt him.

“I won’t be going back for a good, long time,” he said.

For Judy Ross, it all comes down to priorities.

“I haven’t been able to see my grandpeeps” she said. “I don’t need to see a slot machine.”

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