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Black Bear Casino climbs out of hibernation


June 19, 2020

Jana Peterson

The view from the second-floor balcony at Black Bear Casino Resort shows slot machine chairs spaced for social distancing. The casino reopened to the public on Monday, June 15 and the hotel was supposed to reopen Thursday, after this issue of the Pine Knot News went to press.

Nearly three months after shutting down, Black Bear Casino reopened to the public Monday.

It was a wonderful feeling, said general manager Dan LaPrairie.

"The vast majority of our Players Club members are local people. We know them," said LaPrairie. "We consider this community our family, so we had some of our team members up on the second-floor balcony, cheering and welcoming everybody."

Signs proclaiming "Welcome Back Friends!" decorate the front doors of the Black Bear Casino Resort, along with others outlining the new procedures for the casino in the age of the coronavirus pandemic. Staff are checking temperatures. Customers are asked to wear masks except when eating, drinking or smoking, and to follow social distancing floor decals and policies, use hand sanitizers and tell staff if they'd like their area or machine sanitized. Patrons should have valid IDs and Players Club cards ready when they enter.

LaPrairie said the reopening has been a work in progress since the entire facility shut down March 18. Although most staff members were furloughed, a core group stayed on to clean and sanitize the building and plan for the day Black Bear would reopen.

"The most important thing in this process was to make sure our employees and guests are safe," he said. "We want people to know that everyone has been scanned, and we're working to remind people of social distancing."

Black Bear is doing a phased reopening, the general manager explained. They started with the casino Monday, June 15. The hotel (tower only) was set to open for guests on Thursday, June 18. The Cobalt Nightclub is open for quick food and beverages, but most of the other restaurants and the coffee shop are still closed. The bingo hall, table games, swimming pool, workout facility, arcade and golf course also remain closed for now.

Concerts and other events are also still in limbo.

"At this point, it's a waiting game," LaPrairie said. "We don't know when we can have an event where we host 2,000 people. Our entertainment is one of the things we built our brand on - we try to give our guests that 'wow' factor. And there's not a bad seat in the house."

On a walk around the casino floor Tuesday afternoon, the vast majority of customers were wearing masks - some cloth, some disposable masks provided by the casino. Staff were masked, and cashiers were behind new plexiglass barriers for protection. About every other chair was missing, creating space between guests at the slot machines.

They're also focusing more on air quality, and have increased the no-smoking area of the gaming floor significantly.

"We are unique in that we have the highest ceilings of any gaming floor in the state," LaPrairie said. "We've ramped up our air filtration system and HVAC, and we're looking at different ways to get head of the game when the traditional flu season starts. We're definitely going to be safer here."

Jana Peterson

A sign welcomed customers to the Black Bear Casino this week. Casino patrons must have their temperatures scanned before passing through the inside doors. Masks are also required of all customers and public- facing staff members.

Owned by the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, the casino and resort management team had been working with the Band's Emergency Operations Center to determine what needed to happen since February to keep people safe moving forward. They also had to work hard to purchase personal protective equipment during the shutdown, and that wasn't always easy, as PPE was in short supply.

"Masks, gloves, plexiglass ... those are important building blocks, just as important as slot machines," LaPrairie said. "It's the new normal."


Reservation slowly reopens

On Monday, June 15 the Fond du Lac Reservation Business Committee voted to lift its stay-at-home order and curfew effective 10 a.m. June 15, while keeping the state of emergency and the public health emergency declarations in place. In addition to opening Black Bear Casino Resort, Fond du Lac Transit will have a soft opening June 22, with limits on passengers and routes.


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