The El Capitan’s casino in Hawthorne.

By Kayla Anderson
Special to MCIN

One of Hawthorne’s mainstays, the El Capitan Casino, has temporarily shuttered its doors amidst the coronavirus crisis. Its casino and restaurant are currently closed, but General Manager Glenn Carns is holding onto hope that as long as people are practicing social distancing and limiting their activities that this will soon pass.
El Capitan tried to keep its restaurant open but decided on March 20 to close for the time being saying that there were issues with trying to offer curbside service. The casino donated its perishable food such as eggs, turkey, and ham to the local hospital and Boys & Girls Club to be distributed to homebound people and kids in need.
However, the attached 102-room Travelodge is still in operation to offer accommodations to traveling nurses, truck drivers moving food and necessary supplies, and those who are in transit just trying to get back home.
“The casino is completely closed as well as our restaurant, but the hotel is open for those who have to travel,” Carns says. El Capitan has furloughed 50-60 employees, but the hotel is running as is.
Being general manager, Carns is accustomed to wearing many hats stating that he is managing security and devising plans for when they can open back up again.
“We have many challenges because this is a very large property and we have expenses associated with that,” Carns says of the property comprised of 200 slot machines, 102 hotel rooms, a restaurant, and convention center. Its convention center normally accommodates a steady stream of large groups in the summertime and Carns doesn’t know how their business will be impacted yet. Hawthorne’s biggest event of the year, Armed Forces Day, is set to be held May 15 but there haven’t been any updates on whether that event is still scheduled to continue.
He says that the biggest challenge is the uncertainty of not knowing how long the lockdown will last and hoping that when this is all over that the town can save face.
“We’ll see what the guidelines are to open back up,” Carns says about what the process will look like when the business closure order is lifted, “but it will probably be similar to right before we closed”. Late last month as the coronavirus situation was continuing to develop, Carns said that El Capitan began shutting down a bunch of its slot machines to force people to spread out away from each other; it also removed half of the tables in the restaurant to further practice social spacing.
After Governor Steve Sisolak issued the order to close all nonessential businesses on March 20, El Capitan began donating food to local entities and loaned out its air purifiers to Hawthorne’s hospitals.
“We didn’t have much notice when it was time to close- it surprised everyone- but it was what needed to be done to get through this. Things have slowed down which is good, it’s what should happen, and now we need to do what we can to support those frontline staff,” Carns says. Lent
He adds that El Capitan is just patiently waiting until Governor Sisolak calls off the order and they can bring their furloughed employees back to work; meanwhile their staff is sheltered in their homes applying for state assistance in the swamped unemployment system.
“It’s not like a flip of a switch to open up the next day (after Governor Steve Sisolak lifts the ban); it will take us 3-4 days to deep clean everything and restock our restaurant,” Carns says. With all local businesses closed through the end of the month, Carns is hopeful that it gives the governor some time to figure out Nevada’s intentions and enough notice for the El Capitan and others to get reestablished.
“With that we are just trying to structure ourselves so that we can come out okay the other end,” he adds.
El Capitan also has sister properties in Elko and Winnemucca that are also facing similar issues.
“Zoom meetings have become a way of life right now,” Carns says. “We talk about what we can do to help each other out. I’m fortunate, here in Hawthorne we have a pretty strong team and work together well.”
“It’s a tough time for everybody but we’ll get through this as long as we stay home, practice social spacing, and not travel in big groups to help decrease the danger (of spreading COVID-19). I wish the town well and stay Hawthorne strong,” he adds.