By Marc Arcas
San Bruno, California, Sep 10 (efe-epa).- Six months into the Covid-19 pandemic that forced California’s casinos to shut down, a century-old establishment in this San Francisco suburb is offering blackjack, pai gow, bacarat – but no Texas Hold ‘Em, for the moment – in the open air.
Artichoke Joe’s, one of the oldest businesses in San Bruno, renewed operations last week under a giant white tent in the parking lot.
“If you would ask me literally a month ago about going outdoors, I would have laughed. It was not heard-of in California. But we all realize, in the California business of casinos, that basically we’re not going to be opening any time soon,” casino president Vincent DeFriese told Efe.
Joe’s is open 24/7 and the casino was bustling when Efe paid a visit before mid-day.
Everybody was masked and a staff member stood at the entrance checking temperatures and handing out individual bottles of hand sanitizer with the Artichoke Joe’s label.
Each of the tables is equipped with a clear barrier separating the players from each other and the dealer. And next to each table is a cart with cleaning supplies and disinfectant wipes.
Tony, one of the regulars at Artichoke Joe’s, took his attention away from the game for a few moments to talk to Efe.
“I’ve been coming here a long time, playing in this club. What they did here was phenomenal,” he said. “This is outstanding on their part as far as Joe’s was concerned. To do this like this brought all the people back.”
When a player leaves the table, an employee is immediately on the spot to wipe down and disinfect everything, including the chips and cards.
A week into the experiment, DeFriese is satisfied with how things are going, not least because most of the casino’s more than 400 dealers, wait-staff, cashiers and cooks have been able to return to work.
“We decided to endeavor into an outdoor casino. The mayor and the city manager said ‘why don’t you guys go outdoors,’ taking the concept of outdoor dining, that’s where it all kind of stemmed from,” he said.
“Our customers were lined up at 6 o’clock last Friday to come in the door and to play and they love to be back,” he said.
But DeFriese is anxious to make the re-opening complete by bringing back poker, which presents special challenges in the coronavirus era.
“Unlike our other games, like pai gow poker and blackjack and all that, they play against the dealer, you’re basically in your own little bubble, if you will,” the casino boss told Efe. “A poker game, you’re playing against other players.”
“So in order to have a viable poker game you want to start off with like eight or nine players so, basically, how do we protect them? how do we make sure that they’re protected?”
Artichoke Joe’s solution is “a fancy shield that goes around the table,” DeFriese said.
“We’re basically working on (the shield) right now to protect our players as well as our team member and get the poker open. We hope to have it open in a couple weeks, or maybe even as soon as this weekend, if we get it all together,” the casino president said.