Florida’s Seniors Rush to Casinos, Golf, Restaurants Despite Coronavirus Spike

Florida’s Seniors Rush to Casinos, Golf, Restaurants Despite Coronavirus Spike

HALLANDALE BEACH, Florida—John Pica leaned against the open driver’s side door of his blue Jeep Wrangler, parked in a handicapped spot close to the entrance of the Big Easy Casino. It was early afternoon on Tuesday, and the 71-year-old with a full white beard was fiddling with a broken strap on his surgical face mask. 

It was Pica’s second trip to the 70,000 square-foot gambling den since the Big Easy and other Broward County casinos reopened five days ago. “I was already inside but I had to leave because mine broke,” he groused to The Daily Beast. 

That morning, Florida health department officials confirmed the state had logged a record 2,783 new coronavirus cases on June 15, marking it the third day in four that the state had 2,000 or more cases. Yet even though he’s in the age group most vulnerable to succumbing to COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, Pica was elated to be hitting the electronic gaming machines. Despite the odds of being infected via person-to-person contact, Pica didn’t see a problem gambling with his health.

“There’s also the risk of dying at home alone,” he said. “They have good precautions here.”

Pica’s quest was just one window into how Floridians 65 and over have been quickly resuming leisure activities since state, county, and city officials began loosening lockdowns meant to slow the spread of COVID-19. Health experts generally agree that society cannot live in a state of perpetual lockdown. But they have consistently warned that senior citizens should be more vigilant about reigniting their social interactions, especially in states like Florida, Texas, and Arizona, that have seen their coronavirus trajectories veer off into the stratosphere in recent days. 

Still, many Boomers seem determined not to spend their golden years in isolation, and are doing everything they can to live their best lives in this new reality—even if it means traversing a mushrooming outbreak.

Determined to go back inside the Big Easy, Pica rigged the mask so the strap stayed in place around his ears. “I’ll probably play for a couple of hours,” he said. “It’s not as busy as other casinos in Broward and I don’t talk to anybody.”

Another Big Easy patron, 68-year-old Michael Duchon, said he stopped by to catch the morning horse-racing simulcast. “Of course I have some concerns, but I wanted to get out of my house,” Duchon said. “The casino was open and I like to play the horses.”

Walking into the Big Easy, players were greeted by signs on the glass doors, on the walls, and on advertising stands that instructed them to maintain a six-foot distance and to keep their masks on at all times. A digital thermometer read people’s temperatures as they entered the main floor lined with rows of electronic gaming machines. 

More than half of roughly 175 patrons were elderly, and some of the more frail-looking gamblers shuffled across the carpeted floor with the help of walkers and canes. 

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