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Non-tribal cardroom worries Washington winter could make them fold

The owners of Lakewood's Great American Casino fear Washington's coronavirus restrictions will be too much to withstand winter.

LAKEWOOD, Wash. — Over the summer and early fall, Lakewood’s Great American Casino made the most of having to move their card games outside.

“I don’t know if you can find a better job,” said Irene Leary, a dealer who said she enjoys working in the tent set up in the casino’s back parking lot to comply with COVID-19 restrictions.

They’re the kind of tents used for outdoor weddings, open-ended, to allow fresh air to flow through.

Each dealer hands out cards beneath plexiglass screens to players separated by plastic dividers.

Leary and her bosses are worried about what will happen when the rain and temperatures start to fall.

“It’s going to be like going to a barbeque in the rain,” said Leary. “Who goes to barbeques in the rain?”

Great American’s owner, Maverick Gaming, had to furlough 400 of its 2,200 employees, according to owner Eric Persson.

He said he’s worried the winter weather will keep guests away, leading to more furloughs unless the state allows games to resume indoors.

“We are an important part of the Washington economy,” said Persson. “We just want to be treated like everyone else.”

Persson said the state has allowed bowling alleys and movie theaters to reopen, and he fears they'll lose customers to tribal casinos, which opened indoor gaming areas in the spring.

The tribal casinos, considered sovereign nations, do not have to follow state guidelines.

RELATED: Casinos in western Washington reopen to big crowds

When asked about the outdoor restrictions Thursday, Washington Governor Jay Inslee said his office is working with the business owners, but said resuming indoor operations still does not appear to be safe.

Inslee noted concerns about card players sitting in close proximity to each other for hours at a time.

In a letter written to Inslee, Persson said Maverick Gaming would be willing to limit play to two-and-a-half hours.