Oxford Casino Hotel will be able to increase its customer capacity from 200 to almost 1,400 on March 26. Nicole Carter / Advertiser Democrat

OXFORD – Along with other businesses across the state, the Oxford Casino closed one year ago this week due to the coronavirus. Under gradual reopening plans, the doors opened again on Jul. 9, but with only 200 customers allowed in the facility at a time it certainly wasn’t business as usual. Only the gaming tables were accessible. Its four restaurants remained dark, save for one limited-service bar, and all reservations were cancelled for the hotel and events center.

“Based on capacity constraints, it wasn’t feasible,” said General Manager Jack Sours about the decision to limit the overall business. “It made no sense for [up to] 100 people to stay in the hotel but not be able to come down to the gaming floor because it’s at capacity there.”

Then earlier this month Governor Janet Mills announced that entertainment establishments, like bars and restaurants – and the casinos – could operate at 50% capacity starting Mar. 26.

Oxford Casino’s OX Pub will reopen on Mar. 26 for the first time in more than a year. Nicole Carter / Advertiser Democrat

That means the casino will be able to welcome up to 1,382 customers at a time and its other amenities will be able to finally restart.

“We are opening one food outlet, the OX Pub, and the hotel, after March 26,” said Sours in an email statement on Mar. 12. “We are recalling about 140 furloughed team members and we have 20 open positions that we are looking to fill.”

But while things are looking up for games of chance, the casino and its approximately 500 employees have weathered a very rocky year. When it closed down on Mar. 16, 2021 it was presumed to be for a two-week period.


Oxford Casino Hotel paid its entire workforce their wages for that first two weeks but then had no choice but to lay almost everyone off, although it continued to pay health benefits in full for six months.

“We appreciate how hard it has been,” Sours said during an interview on Mar. 4, just before the state made its announcement easing restrictions. “There is no COVID playbook. They’re doing a great job navigating through a really difficult time.”

When the casino doors opened last July it was capped at 200 visitors, just 7% of its normal capacity. It rehired more than half of its furloughed employees in its effort to operate as safely as possible. Its entire security and housekeeping staffs were brought back to effectively manage compliance with crowd restrictions and expanded cleaning requirements.

“We’ve been very diligent … conscientious of keeping our team members and the public safe,” Sours said. “We have 100% compliance with mask wearing, with social distancing. We have hand sanitizing stations located throughout. We sanitize the slot machines and all touch points. We clean the facility regularly.”

“We’re proud of our track record here. I feel like we’re probably one of the safest indoor facilities in the state.”

With more than 30 people working security the casino has been able to avoid some of the challenges other businesses face with customers unhappy to have to wear mask mandates.


The Oxford Casino customer exit on Feb. 24, 2021. Nicole Carter / Advertiser Democrat

“Our security officers were trained to maintain gathering safely,” Sauers said “Unlike other venues in the state, we have our own compliance team making sure we follow the regulations. They’re here 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

Sours is relieved to be able to call back the 250 employees who did not return last July. He said the casino made a point to maintain contact with them since last year, even after human resources staff helped laid-off workers work through unemployment red tape, which was chaotic at the beginning of the shutdown. They have been called back as positions have reopened.

“It’s been hard for them,” Sours said. “I continue to talk with a lot of them. It was usually the same questions: ‘when will restrictions be lifted?’”

It hasn’t just been employees hurt by closures and limited operations. According to Sours, $0.46 of every dollar made by the casino is returned to a “revenue cascade” that supports Maine education, Maine Native tribes, agricultural and horse-racing concerns, Oxford County, the state gambling board and the town of Oxford.

“We’re down about 50% year over year in how much we’re giving back to the state.” Sours said.

The closure collectively resulted in the loss of $16.1 million in funds and scholarships for K-12 public education, universities, community colleges and Maine Maritime Academy. The town of Oxford lost $1.2 million of projected revenues between the two fiscal years and Oxford County more than $600,000.

Sours expects that the casino will be back to its pre-COVID staff of 500 by March 26.

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