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Black Pearl Casino in Spokane Valley planning to move card gaming into outdoor tents as new COVID-19 restrictions go into effect

Black Pearl Poker Room & Casino work crews raise wood beams to mount security cameras as they assemble an outdoor gaming area Thursday in Spokane Valley.  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Black Pearl Poker Room & Casino work crews raise wood beams to mount security cameras as they assemble an outdoor gaming area Thursday in Spokane Valley. (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

As new guidelines in Gov. Jay Inslee’s Safe Start reopening plan went into effect Thursday requiring indoor card rooms in the state to close, the Black Pearl Poker Room & Casino in Spokane Valley has come up with an alternative to stay open.

The Black Pearl, which was operating its restaurant and card room at 2104 N. Pines Road since June with reduced capacity and safety measures in place, is building two tents equipped with security cameras on its property to house five table games and four poker tables.

Black Pearl Owner Ian Riley said he chose to build the tents because the business can’t afford another temporary closure forced by coronavirus-related restrictions.

“This is something given as an option for us to do, so we are going to do it,” Riley said Thursday. “We have 100 employees that we intend to keep employed, and we’ve lost hundreds of thousands of dollars (from the previous closure). This is the only way to continue to operate.”

The Black Pearl has obtained a temporary fire permit from the city for the tents and is awaiting inspections by the Spokane Valley Fire Department and the Washington State Gambling Commission.

The tents, if approved, could open as early as this weekend and will operate at a limited capacity with partitions between each player at tables. Players would be required to wear masks and undergo temperature checks, Riley said.

The Spokane Valley Fire Department requires the tents to meet fire code and be made of flame retardant material. The department will also consider the layout, occupant load and lighting, Spokane Valley Fire Marshal Greg Rogers said.

The fire department is working with businesses on how they can meet safety requirements while abiding by the state’s Safe Start guidelines, Rogers said.

“The important feature here is the Black Pearl is going through the appropriate permitting process, which allows us to make sure everything is happening safely,” he said.

The Washington State Gambling Commission did not respond to a request for comment.

Although indoor card gaming is prohibited until Phase 4 under Gov. Inslee’s Safe Start plan, outdoor card gaming is allowed in temporary structures, Mike Faulk, spokesman for the governor’s office, said in an email.

Card rooms would have to follow protocols that include reduced capacity and enhanced cleaning and social distancing, among other things.

Outdoor card rooms are limited to 200 people, according to Phase 2 requirements outlined by the governor’s office.

The Black Pearl will continue to operate its restaurant indoors, Riley said.

Customers and staff have been supportive of the proposed outdoor gaming tents, Riley said.

“The staff and customers are pleased we are trying to move forward to stay in business,” Riley said. “I believe there’s a way we can make a good thing out of a bad situation.”

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