CASINO-OLOGY: COVID Conscious

Do we really need to worry about Covid-19 transmission through playing cards and chips and other gaming surfaces? Let’s hear what the scientists say.

CASINO-OLOGY: COVID Conscious

A recent CDC advisory indicates something most of us in the gaming business have known all along; Covid-19 transmission that would result in infection from touching objects, in the casinos case, playing cards and casino chips, is a long-shot. How long? About 1 in 10,000 chance, and that’s not just everyday chip or card playing, that is gaming equipment that has been handled by someone confirmed to have the Covid virus.

Since the spring of 2020, every gaming facility in North America has taken extreme precautions to make their operation as safe as possible from the Covid-19 virus. This includes mandating masks, eye protection, enforced social distancing, installing plexiglass barriers, temperature testing, and a host of other health related procedures. Most of these gaming facilities have done so under the watchful and cautious eyes of their state and local health departments and gaming regulators. These standards were established at the recommendation of the Center for Disease Control, the primary health advisor in the United States if not the entire world.

In many instances, casinos and their gaming and health oversight agencies have focused on a possible transmission of the virus through a customer or employee touching an infected surface such as the touching of playing cards, casino chips, dice, gaming table surfaces and chairs, and the play buttons on the slot machines. Because of these issues, playing cards are changed almost hourly, chips are washed several times a day (in some cases after player losing transactions), and dice are removed from play after every “7-out”. In addition, a small army of employees are tasked to wipe down every gaming surface with disinfectants once a customer leaves the table or slot machine.

Of course, the most important issues are to provide a safe and healthy environment for the customers to gamble, but all of these “Covid-safe” procedures come with a cost to productivity, increased labor cost, extensive cost of card and dice replacement, and the use of cleaning materials and PPE. Is this really necessary?

On April 5th, 2021, after a more than a year of fighting Covid-19 virus, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) released the following information regarding the degree of the virus infection being spread through contact with surfaces and objects (known as fomite).

“Findings of these studies suggest that the risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection via the fomite transmission route is low, and generally less than 1 in 10,000, which means that each contact with a contaminated surface has less than a 1 in 10,000 chance of causing an infection.”

The CDC report goes on to outline new guidance regarding clean of surfaces, “In most situations, cleaning surfaces using soap or detergent, and not disinfecting, is enough to reduce risk. Disinfection is recommended in indoor community settings where there has been a suspected or confirmed case of Covid-19 within the last 24 hours” (CDC – Science Brief: SARS-CoV-2 and Surface (Fomite) Transmission for Indoor Community Environments 04/05/21).

Probably the folks at the CDC have known this all along, but because of the deadliness of the Covid-19 virus have not taken any chances and have recommended extreme steps be taken regarding all forms of likely viral transmission, fomite included.

The author ran across some other interesting information on a study conducted on transmission of the common-cold virus in 1987 regarding fomite transmission. There was a pathogen study regarding fomite transmission of the common-cold rhinovirus conducted by the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1987. Researchers put healthy volunteers in a room with infected people and had them play cards games using playing chips. The healthy players were restricted from touching their faces with their hands (preventing them from virus transmissions from surfaces), but were not given masks to protect them from any airborne infection. By the end of the experiment, half of the healthy players were also infected with the rhinovirus. In a separate experiment, cards and chips that had been handled and coughed on by infected players were used in a separate room where healthy volunteers were instructed to play cards amongst each other. These players were told to touch their faces and rub their eyes during play. During this experiment, none of the healthy volunteers became infected.

The conclusion from these two experiments provided strong evidence that the virus spread through the air and not from touch surfaces like playing cards and casino chips. COVID-19 rarely spreads through surfaces. So why are we still deep cleaning? (nature.com)

Maybe it is time the casinos went back to handling cards, dice and playing chips in the way the casinos did prior to the pandemic. An uncountable amount of money has been either spent or lost due to unnecessary health safety procedures such as washing chips after every usage, removing dice from a game after every shooter, and replacing cards after only a short period of play on the table.

Regulatory agencies and local health departments are usually over cautious about situations that could come back to haunt them. Most agencies would rather over-regulate than spend the time conducting the necessary research to accurately analyze the situation. Better to be safe than sorry. Hence, the casinos need to provide their own research and information if they want to influence the different agencies that the time is right to loosen up Covid policies.

Safety always comes before profits, but why extend costly and unnecessary procedures when they really are not needed. Maybe it is time to lighten up on restrictions that deal with playing cards, dice, chips, and other gaming equipment which are subject to a 10,000 to 1 chance of infection. Even for casinos, those are long odds.

As former Nevada Gaming Control Agent, casino operator, professional card counter and casino consultant, Bill Zender has been involved in various areas of gaming and hospitality since 1976. In the past, Zender has instructed courses on game protection, card counting, advantage play and gaming operations at various colleges and institutions throughout the country. As a member of JMJ, Inc., Zender was an owner and operator of the Aladdin Hotel and Casino and has additional operational experience in card room casinos in California and is considered an expert in Asian gaming. Besides his practical gaming experience, Zender holds a bachelors in hotel administration and a masters in business. As a gaming author Zender has penned seven non-fiction books on gaming including Card Counting for the Casino Executive, and the Casino-ology series. Owner/consultant of Bill Zender and Associates, Zender spent was general manager at a major California cardroom casino from 2018-2019. For more information, visit WilliamZender.com.

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