Casino requires masks for all visitors as COVID-19 spreads

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You’ll need a mask if you want to test your luck at The Casino @ Dania Beach, possibly the first casino in the region to require masks — and one of few businesses willing to do it.

The longtime gambling venue said it reinstated the mask requirement for customers and employees to help combat the dramatic rise of COVID-19 cases.

The move comes as Florida turns into a new epicenter for COVID hospitalizations, politicians grapple over mask mandates for schoolchildren and the state battles the federal government over cruise line sailing rules.

Most consumer businesses in South Florida have declined to require masks for customers. In most places, people can still dine out, shop for groceries and attend events without a mask.

Businesses have been reluctant to challenge the freedom customers enjoyed for months after COVID numbers declined, even after the pandemic worsened and health officials advised everyone to wear masks indoors.

The Casino @ Dania Beach took a different stance, deciding that businesses should play a role in taming an outbreak fueled by the delta variant.

Anyone without a mask will be asked to leave, the casino said. Visitors also must abide by social distancing guidelines and be at least 18 years old to enter the building.

“Our main priority is keeping our guests and staff healthy and safe,” Arnaldo Suarez, CEO and general manager, said in a statement. “We’ve worked tirelessly this past year to create a safe environment for our patrons and want to keep it that way.”

Suarez was unavailable for comment. A spokesman said management is evaluating the situation for its jai-alai operation, which will resume Sept. 1.

The mask requirement did not seem to dissuade hopeful gamblers on Friday.

McCoy Turner, 83, of Hollywood, said he was on board with the decision.

“I don’t mind if that much,” he said as he prepared to walk inside to play poker. “It’s a pain; I don’t like it; I want to go back to the old ways; but I got no problems” complying.

The Casino @ Dania Beach reinstated a face mask policy for all visitors due to the resurgence of COVID-19 cases in South Florida,

The Casino @ Dania Beach reinstated a face mask policy for all visitors due to the resurgence of COVID-19 cases in South Florida, (Michael Laughlin/Sun Sentinel)

Chris Hibberd, 33, of West Palm Beach, didn’t know about the mask mandate until told by a reporter so he turned around to fetch a mask from his car.

“I’m understanding. I’m fine with it,” he said. “It’s nice to have a feeling of normalcy, but with the new strain you got to do what you got to do. I’m OK with that.”

Some customers said they took comfort in the mask requirement.

Margaret Demos, 84, of Dania Beach, a retired nurse, said she feels safer playing the slots.

“Right now there are more and more [cases] and hospitals are full,” she said. “I think it’s for the safety of everyone.”

Ike Benson, 63, of Hollywood, said the mask rule encourages him to return, after two hours of slots on Friday.

“I feel protected,” he said. “If I do not feel protected I will not come. … Why do I need to go to other places where people don’t care?”

Other casinos are still giving gamblers a choice on masks.

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Masks became voluntary at the Hard Rock after an update to the casino’s “Safe + Sound Program guidelines,” which strengthened COVID-19 protocols such as cleaning and social distancing, according to the Hard Rock’s website.

The CDC said in April that vaccinated people need not wear masks indoors, but the agency reversed itself in July and suggested masks for everyone.

The website for Isle Casino says: “In accordance with updated CDC guidelines, Isle® Pompano Park will no longer require guests who have been fully vaccinated for COVID-19 to wear a mask on property. … We do ask that guests who have not been fully vaccinated follow CDC guidance and continue to wear a mask while on property.”

Spokesmen for Gulfstream and Isle Pompano Park could not be reached for comment.

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