Mystic Lake coutesy Aerial Nspirations.jpg (copy)

Roadways and parking lots are unusually empty around Mystic Lake Casino Hotel earlier this year after it closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Mystic Lake and Little Six casinos will reopen for gaming and dining on Tuesday, May 26, according to a release by the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community. The casinos plan to use a phased approach to welcome guests for the first time since the venues closed on March 18 in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Guests and staff will be required to wear masks, maintain physical distancing and have their temperature taken to check for fevers in order to enter the casinos, according to the release. Community officials said any staff or guests exhibiting signs of illness will be required to leave. “Our tribe has many enterprises, some of which have reopened already, including The Meadows at Mystic Lake, the Organics Recycling Facility, and the ice rinks at Dakotah! Sport and Fitness,” Mdewakanton Chairman Keith Anderson said in a statement. “We have learned how to make the proper modifications to ensure safety and will use what we have learned when reopening Mystic Lake and Little Six.” The casinos will reopen with with a new layout, additional safety features and reduced visitor capacities. Casino staff are removing every other seat at the slot machines and reducing the number of seats at table games and bars by half. All point-of-sale locations will be equipped with plexiglass barriers to separate staff from guests, and dining will be limited to pre-packaged items for now. Mystic Bingo will have a delayed opening date of May 29. “We are taking a phased approach to this reopening and feel confident that we can welcome guests back to our enterprise and bring team members back to work in an environment that is safe for everyone,” said Angela Heikes, president and CEO of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community’s Gaming Enterprise. The coronavirus has spread around the state, causing more than 16,000 known infections and leading to more than 700 deaths as of Monday, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. It can spread through coughing, talking and otherwise being near other people, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say. Physical distance, face masks and hand-washing can help slow its jump from person to person. The community said its approach stems from recommendations of its tribal public health department, the CDC, the state and National Indian Gaming Commission. Reopening means a more intensive cleaning regime for the public areas, slot machines, tables, restrooms and ATMs. According to the SMSC’s plan, casino surfaces will be cleaned multiple times a day, and guests will be able to request additional cleaning of any slot machine. The adjoining Mystic Lake Hotel and concert venue will reopen more slowly, according to the community. The hotel will reopen in phases beginning June 1 as the demand for rooms returns, but features like the spa and pool will remain closed. Concerts through the week of June 21 have been cancelled or postponed, and the release states that there are no initial plans for large-scale gatherings.

Meg Britton-Mehlisch

Mystic Lake Casino Hotel and Little Six Casino will close for at least two weeks starting noon Wednesday, March 18, amid the coronavirus pandemic, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community announced late Tuesday.

“We have now determined that it is in the best interest of our team members and guests to temporarily close Mystic Lake and Little Six casinos, as their health and well-being is our first and highest priority,” Angela Heikes, president and CEO of the community’s Gaming Enterprise, said in a written statement.

All reservations during the closure will be canceled and refunded automatically, according to a news release from the community. Employees, meanwhile, will receive up to two weeks of pay during the closure.

Community leaders said they plan to reassess the situation in two weeks to decide whether to continue.

The Scott County Public Health Department announced Wednesday that the county’s first confirmed case was a Prior Lake man over the age of 50 who had likely been exposed to travel.

The disease is likely to continue spreading, prompting orders from Gov. Tim Walz closing schools and other gathering places across the state.

“We have been balancing our responsibility of providing jobs and benefits to the thousands of people who depend on us with the rapidly developing guidance from the federal and state government,” community Chairman Keith Anderson said in a statement.

“We have been working diligently on this by the hour to make the right decisions at the right time for our members, employees, team members and guests.”

The community, Scott County’s largest employer, had previously closed some portions of its operations, such as Mystic Lake’s buffet and spa, and limited crowding and close contact among guests. Shows at the Mystic Showroom have also been postponed until at least April.

The community has made other changes across its array of businesses. Hot food service stopped at all the Shakopee Dakota Convenience Stores after Tuesday, and classes at Mazopiya and Dakotah! Sport and Fitness have been halted.

The service changes didn’t stop guests from visiting the casinos earlier in the week. Matthew Soule said he visited Little Six Tuesday night and had friends who were at casinos until they closed Wednesday afternoon.

“I’ve been there on the busiest of busy days, when it’s jam-packed and you can’t find a machine,” Soule said of his visit on Tuesday. “I would say that it was easily at half of what it normally is.”

Soule said that he’s always been impressed by the cleanliness of Little Six and noticed staff taking extra precautions ahead of the closure.

When Soule went to cash in his winnings with a cashier, he was told to put his ticket in a bucket instead of handing it to the staff member who was wearing gloves.

But he said he was still able to walk right up in front of the staff member; health officials have recommended people in public stay 6 feet away from each other.

“You know I’m still standing right in front of you, if I begin to cough you’re out of luck,” Soule said.

Some residents took to social media before the closure criticizing the casino’s decision to stay open on Monday and Tuesday and accusing the Mdewakanton community of a lack of concern for patrons and employees.

“I was really kind of disappointed that they didn’t close sooner,” Soule said, adding he followed news of other casino closures in the days before the announcement.

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Dan Holtmeyer contributed to this report.

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