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Patrons line up to enter the Nisqually Tribe's Red Wind Casino on Monday, May 18. The casino had been closed since mid-March because of the coronavirus, but decided it was safe enough to open now provided patrons followed social distancing guidelines and wore masks.

The Nisqually Red Wind Casino officially reopened in limited capacity Monday morning to lines of eager players in an effort to slowly reopen the tribe’s economy.

The gambling and entertainment destination originally closed two months ago as a precaution amid the COVID-19 outbreak, but has reopened to the public in order to keep revenue streams coming in for the sovereign nation as the state slowly reopens its economy as well.

The casino held a soft opening for tribal members on Sunday.

“As a sovereign nation, Nisqually has determined the Red Wind Casino to be an essential business,” a media release from the Nisqually Indian Tribe and Medicine Creek Enterprise Corporation, its business division, read. “Essential to the Tribe and community to provide resources that maintain government operations, tribal programs, and tribal member support.”

Little Creek Casino Resort in Shelton, owned and operated by the Squaxin Island Tribe, also reopened Monday to visitors.

Customers will likely notice a number of changes in operations at Red Wind. Half of all machines will be turned off to encourage social distancing, table games and the gift shop will be closed, and the facility will be smoke-free, among other precautions.

The Nisqually Tribe and Medicine Creek also say they’re monitoring data and developments from multiple organizations, including the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the University of Washington and state health officials.

“The information provided by these organizations has given Nisqually leadership the confidence to be comfortable with reopening the casino on a limited basis,” the groups said in a statement, adding that visitors will be required to wear face masks and temperature checks will be conducted at the doors.

This comes as Thurston County Public Health and Social Services has seen a slowdown the last couples weeks in the number of newly confirmed COVID-19 cases. During the week of May 11 to May 17, the county recorded four new cases of the disease.

At about 10 a.m. on Monday morning, close to 100 people waited in line to enter the casino. A steady stream of cars came into the large parking garage attached to the facility, and about a quarter of the first-floor garage was roped off to form a line to the entrance.

Residents from around the south Puget Sound — both young and old — were present for the occasion. Casino staff took temperatures of each customer that walked through the door, checked that individuals had their mandatory masks, and staggered entry to ensure social distancing.

Jon Bolger, 61, of Centralia, was one of the people in line. He was waiting toward the end and said he had been waiting for about five minutes.

The line was moving fairly fast, and Bolger, a regular at Red Wind, estimated it would only be another 30 minutes before he was in the casino.

“I like this type of casino,” he said.

The Nisqually Valley News was unable to interview other individuals as casino management intervened and asked a reporter to let customers go about their business. Tyson Kruger, director of marketing at Nisqually Red Wind Casino, said they generally direct all media inquiries through Medicine Creek Enterprise Corporation.

“What I can tell you is things are going very well and we have a lot of happy guests,” Kruger said.

In an email, Medicine Creek CEO Bob Iyall said the casino hit maximum occupancy by noon on Monday.

Red Wind is currently allowing only 30 percent of its maximum occupancy in at a time, and Iyall said the casino hit that maximum of 715 players by noon. First customers arrived at about 6 a.m. that morning.

Iyall also said that the focus of Red Wind’s reopening is to adhere strictly to guidelines that have been developed by the nation’s Tribal Council.

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