It’s safe to surmise that every corner of the casino enterprise has been influenced by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. What may come as a surprise however is that some areas of the casino business are navigating the coronavirus crisis quite well, at least from an economic standpoint. One of these business segments has been the slot floor, which, for a growing number of properties, is close to capturing pre-pandemic revenue levels.  

One such facility experiencing a surge in slot business is MGM National Harbor Resort & Casino, located just outside of Washington D.C. in the community of Oxon Hills, Md. The 24-story, 308-room resort features a two-level, 160,000-square-foot casino with 3,100 slots, table games and poker; a world-class spa and salon; an entertainment theater with flexible seating for up to 3,000; high-end branded retail; 50,000 square feet of meeting space; and restaurants from renowned chefs. MGM National Harbor reopened from its COVID-mandate closure in late June and, like many gaming facilities across the U.S., is now operating under strict capacity and coronavirus safety measures.

Alex Alvarado is vice president of operations for MGM National Harbor, where he also oversees slot service, M life desk, technical operations and slot performance for the $1.4 billion property. He recently took some time to answer questions from Casino Journal Contributing Editor Joan Mantini regarding how MGM National Harbor is operating during the COVID-19 pandemic while addressing the safety concerns of employees and guests on the slot floor. What follows are some excerpts from his responses:


How is MGM National Harbor coping with COVID from a slot perspective—how many machines are you operating? 

ALVARADO: At MGM National Harbor, our focus is the health and safety of our employees and guests. When we reopened in late June, we introduced our seven-point health and safety plan to highlight our plans to provide a safe gaming environment.

We currently have approximately 1,800 slots in service, and to encourage appropriate social distancing, we have placed every other machine out of service.


How has slot performance been since reopening? What are you doing to boost it?

ALVARADO: Slot performance has been very strong. We are nearly at prior-year levels. We have taken the approach of ensuring the most popular games are available to play. 

We also immediately jumped back into the performance management of our facility, and, through the optimization process, are creating more comfortable and socially distanced spaces to make guests feel safe, while simultaneously engaging them with something new.


What types of games are preforming best right now and why?

ALVARADO: Game preferences haven’t changed significantly… what worked well pre-shutdown works well now. With the strength of our table games business however, we have noticed that electronic versions of traditional table games have gotten increased demand on the slot side.


How are you choosing which machines to operate or close?

ALVARADO: Outside of making sure our most in-demand games are available to play, it really comes down to safety through social distancing, and maintaining comfortable levels of occupancy in the casino at all times. We only open as many seats as we feel comfortable occupying in every section or pit area throughout the gaming floor.

What social distancing and COVID-prevention practices and products have you put in place?

ALVARADO: We require face coverings, and temperature check both guests and team members at the casino entrances. Two hand washing stations have been installed on the casino floor itself, and hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipe dispensers are prominently placed throughout the facility.

Additional health and safety measures we have implemented at MGM National Harbor include plexiglass separators at all our table games, including poker, while reducing the spots available at each table. We have placed every other slot machine out of service in order to reduce the number of guests and team members in any space at one time, and offer an MGM branded stylus to reduce hands-on contact with the slot machines. The touchless offering continues throughout our dining experience as well, with the implementation of QR codes, for both reservation queuing and access to our menus. 


How are you marketing the slot area during the COVID crisis?

ALVARADO: We’ve gradually ramped up our marketing efforts since reopening. For us, the priority has always been bringing our teams and guests back safely. We are running limited promotions and are holding off on most events for the time being.


How have revenues been (compared to pre-COVID)? Are you satisfied with this under the circumstances?

ALVARADO: Revenues have come back well. We are near prio- year volumes and expect to continue ramping up. I would not say we are satisfied (because we always want to grow and do better), but the facility has performed very well. 


What is your timeframe and strategy for regaining post-COVID slot numbers and how are you defining “post-COVID”?

ALVARADO: We are staying lockstep with our team of health and safety experts, as well as the authorities. Keeping the spread of the disease under control is obviously critical, so safely operating our resort is a top priority. With flu season upon us, we are very focused on that. 

Ultimately, a vaccine is certainly a pivotal next step towards public safety and enabling more parts of our business and team to come back online, so that is something we are watching closely. 

Separately, MGM is always focused on the future, so we are very busy building towards “what’s next” through several exciting lines of business. Preparation is a key proponent of any success, so we are always mindful of what we need to do to remain a luxury gaming destination for our customers.