ANDERSON — The road back to normalcy — or some form of it — for Harrah’s Hoosier Park Racing & Casino is set to pass a key marker this weekend when the facility begins allowing horses from outside Indiana to enter its barn area.
Under a plan set forth by Gov. Eric Holcomb, Hoosier Park began the process of reopening the barn area on May 11, admitting horses from Indiana in preparation for qualifying races which began Tuesday.
“I want to assure everyone that as we embark on the start of our race meet, we will do so in a manner whereby we will take every precaution to ensure the health and safety of our employees and horsemen,” said Trent McIntosh, senior vice president and general manager of Hoosier Park, in a press release.
There was some initial confusion in the racing industry following Holcomb’s announcement of the state’s five-stage plan for easing restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic and reopening its economy. But after receiving clarification from the governor’s office through the Indiana Horse Racing Commission, Hoosier Park officials are planning on running qualifying races four days a week leading up to the start of pari-mutuel racing — without spectators — on June 14, pending regulatory approval.
As horses return to the paddock, Hoosier Park officials stressed that meticulous health and safety protocols have been put in place. Everyone attempting to enter the barn area must have their temperature taken, and anyone with a temperature above 100.4 will be denied entry, according to Rick Moore, vice president and general manager of racing. Additionally, he said, everyone in the area will need to wear a mask and maintain social distancing practices.
“This virus hasn’t gone away,” Moore said. “We have to mitigate the chances of anyone bringing the virus onto our premises. At the end of the day, we just want everyone to remain safe and healthy.”
In addition to the changes at the facilities themselves, officials at both Hoosier Park and Indiana Grand in Shelbyville are working through a host of logistical and scheduling issues pertaining to what will be an abbreviated 2020 racing season. Purses will need to be recalculated to make up for lost revenue, and racing programs will need to be adapted to fit the dates remaining in the season. Currently, Hoosier Park’s standardbred racing season is scheduled to run from June 16 through Nov. 21, with a total of 111 days of racing planned. That could change if conditions prompt state and local health authorities to modify the stages of reopening.
“This is uncharted waters for all of us as we try to navigate this new normal,” said Jessica Barnes, director of racing and breed development for the Indiana Horse Racing Commission. “At this point in time, it is hard to predict the long-term impact to racing.”
As for when Hoosier Park’s casino operations might reopen, McIntosh said he’s received information from state officials that casinos statewide may be among those businesses permitted to reopen at 50% capacity as part of Stage 4, but he emphasized that “we do not have a specific date yet.”
Nearly 1,000 employees at the casino were furloughed when the facility closed on March 16 due to the pandemic. Statewide, nearly 4,000 casino employees were laid off from Hoosier Park, Indiana Grand and Horseshoe Hammond as pandemic-related restrictions took effect.
“There will be a large amount of cleaning, disinfecting protocols, and best practices,” McIntosh said. “We’re working through those to be ready when the day comes when we get approval to move forward so we can ensure that we’re operating in the safest manner possible for our team members and our guests.”