BY Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino’s sweltering gaming floor is filled with the sounds of bells, winners’ squeals and chitchat among the guests on a recent Saturday. They’re all socially distanced, even in the busy restaurants.
Michael Kintner, the casino’s senior vice president and general manager, is proud of how the complex has been able to survive the pandemic.
He chalks it up to Caesars Entertainment’s affiliation with Harrah’s. Players can sign up for Caesars Rewards, which can be collected at any of the company’s nearly 40 U.S. properties for casino gaming or entertainment activities.
“It doesn’t cost anything to sign up,” he says. “Right now, if you sign up, you get $25 in free play. You can use your credits in the restaurant, nongaming or gaming. It keeps people coming back.”
Approaching his 16-year anniversary with Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino, Kintner enjoys the venue as much as the guests. He shares his joy when strangers ask about his occupation.
“People ask me, ‘What do you do for a living?’ I say, ‘Well, I play games for a living,’” he says with a laugh.
“Seriously, I get to work for 864 very talented people. They like to provide great service as part of our culture and who we are at Harrah’s Ak-Chin. We like to say we inspire grown-ups to play.”
Stellar customer service is part of the Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino experience, he says, although it’s hard to tell the mask-clad employees are smiling.
“Normally, we smile, make eye contact and say, ‘Hi, how are you doing?’”
A few years ago, Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino underwent a $10 million expansion. Now the resort has more than 529 hotel rooms and suites.
“On the weekends, we can run 100% sold out,” he says. “It’s a little down during the week. For the most part, people are getting vaccinated and case numbers are going down. We’re starting to see some people come back.”
Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino is doing its part to keep guests safe. The facility has sanitation stations, masks, temperature checks and employees who clean the slot machines.
“We’re keeping everything as clean as possible,” he says. “We’re social distancing in our restaurants. We’re actually down to about 27% of our seating capacity, and our buffets are completely closed. It’s worked out. Guests have been able to come back and play.”
Management decided against keeping plexiglass in between the games because it causes “all sorts of vision issues.”
“We’re only running at about 72% of our machines,” Kintner says.
“Our slot performance manager has gotten really creative. We only have so much floor space, and plexiglass wasn’t working for us. If there’s a dispute on a jackpot, like, say a machine has something funky happen to it or a customer says, ‘I won $1,000’ and there’s really only $800, surveillance has to be able to see it.
“We were working with our tribal regulators and they weren’t very comfortable with that. We decided not to have as many games so we could socially distance and spread out as we could.”
Cameras are also placed throughout the casino and hotel to ensure guests — and workers, for that matter — are socially distanced.
“If we ever have an issue, we are able to contact trace and find out whether it’s employees or whoever and deal with it,” Kintner says.
The casino, he says, is perfect for local folks as well as travelers. Kintner is used to Spring Training or Waste Management Phoenix Open visitors, the numbers of which have dwindled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re also missing our Canadian visitors right now,” he says. “As you can see, though, we’re pretty busy.”
The restaurants are bustling as well. For casual dining, there’s Agave’s Restaurant, which serves traditional and Southwestern fare, and the tapas-style Oak & Fork.
Those wanting something a little more upscale can check out Chop, Block & Brew. Featuring a wood-burning mesquite grill, Chop, Block & Brew boasts a rustic and relaxed environment and serves steaks, prime rib and seafood.
For quick bites, check out Dunkin’ or Copper Cactus Grill.
“The restaurants are fantastic,” Kintner says. “Oak & Fork has small plates and a wine bar. We have all the wine taps on the wall. I want to say there are 16 of them. So the wine comes out at the perfect temperature. The small plates are amazing.
“It’s a really great space with the outdoor patio when the weather’s beautiful. We have heating lamps out there, along with a fireplace and televisions. This is a real favorite.
“Agave’s is a three-meal restaurant that’s back by the pool. It’s our café, if you will. It has a bit of a Southwest flare to it. Copper Cactus Grill is our 24-hour quick serve. You can get a hamburger quickly or a bite-sized pizza.
“Chop, Block & Brew is our signature steakhouse. People rave about the wood-fired grill. We also have craft cocktails in the lounge.”
Want to play more games? Next door — connected via an elevated walkway — is the Ak-Chin Circle Entertainment Center. A movie theater, bar and grill, bowling, laser tag and arcade fill the 165,000-square-foot entertainment mecca.
“It’s like a great little oasis here in the desert where people can come out and have a good time,” he says.