Washington Poker Room Operating Out of a Tent

A card room in Washington State has opened inside a tent under special protocols approved by Governor Jay Inslee. The innovation was introduced because of fears that Inslee would keep gaming halls closed through Phases 2 and 3 of the state’s Safe Start reopening plan.

Dan Baker, casino controller and co-owner of the Black Pearl Poker Room & Casino in Spokane Valley, told GGB News the property was the first in the state to reopen under Phase 2, which allowed gaming “under special protocols specific to card rooms.”

Those protocols were established as a result of lobbying by Maverick Gaming, which owns 17 casinos and card rooms in the Evergreen State, plus properties in Nevada and Colorado. Black Pearl is not part of Las Vegas-based Maverick.

“Maverick, to my understanding, has a lobbyist working on their behalf only, not for us or the other card rooms,” said Baker. “They worked out a deal with the Covid task force in order to open in Phase 2.”

The card rooms had previously been permitted to open when Inslee “decided to move card rooms from Phase 2 to Phase 4 along with other restrictions and close us,” said Baker. “From there, Maverick lobbied a compromise, which was to open with a tent or some type of two-sided enclosed awning.”

The Black Pearl is operating under a two-sided, open-air tent. Although it was the first to open in a tent-like structure, it won’t be the last. “There will be several card rooms in tents,” said Baker. “Right now, there’s a little bit of excitement because it’s different. The play seems to be on pace or even a little bit better. We’re limited in our games. We reduced poker tables and gaming tables. It appears that things are going pretty well. I hope it is more than just a novelty.”

Weather will be a consideration, he added. “It was 103 degrees Friday (August 1) when we opened. That was plenty hot. For Friday and Saturday, it was quite warm, but pleasant.”

Baker is more concerned about cold weather in the Pacific Northwest. “It’s going to play a factor sooner rather than later for us. It’s hard to keep heat in a two-sided tent. I think we’ll probably be able to accommodate it pretty well through September, and then we’ll have to decide how to operate. On really cold nights, with the sun going down early, operations could change quite a bit in the early afternoon and early evening. I hope we can come up with some creative ways” to continue operations into the fall and winter, he said. “I’m hoping the Maverick group, between now and then, can lobby for some concessions and we can go from there.”

There are limits to how many customers can be admitted and play: five players for table games and seven for poker. “There are barriers between each seat, and a Plexiglas barrier between each player and between the tables.”

Baker added, “We have a pretty stringent sanitizing protocol. The staff is in masks. We sanitize the chips and rails, and there’s surface sanitation on every down. When any player leaves the table, we sanitize the seats and the entrance podium. It’s constant sanitation. We sanitize the cards with UV lights.”

Staff members also conduct temperature checks on all patrons as they enter and check staff twice a day. “It’s very cumbersome and labor-intensive,” said Baker. “We’ve added positions to cover all the sanitization protocols.”

For the moment, he said, it’s good just to be open. “Patrons right now are excited. There have been mainly positive comments. You always have a few people who are negative, but most are pleased, which is evident in the numbers and amount of people coming in.”

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