For Atlantic City casinos, forced to close March 16 until further notice due to the coronavirus, further notice has come.
On Monday, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced that Atlantic City’s nine casinos can reopen to gamblers on July 2 with 25% capacity limits.
On the same day, spectators can place live wagers at horse-racing facilities. This comes just in time for Monmouth Park’s July 3 delayed live-meet opening.
Atlantic City casinos prep for reopening
The ability to open before the holiday weekend and take live bets has been considered crucial for the track’s ability to survive.
Casinos, meanwhile, are planning their re-emergence from a 107-day COVID-19 shutdown, which crippled second-quarter financial results.
Thousands of layoffs and millions of dollars in lost revenue have occurred during this period, although NJ online gaming revenues have increased.
The state has lost close to $20 million in direct tax revenue, according to industry estimates. Thankfully, that’s about to change.
“Thousands of New Jerseyans can now get back to work,” Murphy said on Monday. He added that the casino industry’s offer to partner with the state to assist with contact-tracing data impacted the decision to reopen.
Some casinos may only open for “friends, family and loyal customers” on July 2 to test the new protocols, Murphy said.
Borgata Atlantic City confirmed via a press release on Tuesday that it would not open to the public until July 6.
Indoor dining limits at statewide restaurants will also be 25% capacity, Murphy indicated, but he was optimistic that those percentages would increase before long. The percentage extends to casino restaurants.
Health guidelines at AC casinos will be strictly enforced
Although health-related protocols are not finalized, Murphy told casino visitors to expect mandatory health screening, mask wearing and density limits inside.
He said the measures will be strictly enforced.
“I hate to even say this, but if any visitor refuses to comply with these simple safeguards, the person will be escorted out of the casino. We are not going to tolerate any knuckleheads for the people who are enjoying themselves responsibly and for the people who need to get back to work.”
Atlantic City casino executives and some area mayors have spoken regularly with Murphy over the last couple of months. They have offered safety measures designed to help restart business and gaming operations.
Regarding contact tracing, for example, casino players are rated. Properties have databases that can provide information on a majority of their players to state officials.
Based on the pace of announcements, the casino industry appears to be leading the enhanced health effort rather than reacting to regulations.
Murphy cited the partnership between gaming and state officials Monday, saying that “the conversations with our friends in the casino industry will continue.”
Hard Rock AC, other casinos release safety plans early
Casinos in Atlantic City have been slowly releasing safety procedures since May.
Borgata and its parent company MGM announced a seven-point safety plan, and Resorts is installing air purifiers throughout its property.
Hard Rock Atlantic City released some of its mandatory policies ahead of Monday’s announcement. They include:
- Mandated masks (guests and team members)
- Temperature checks (guests and team members)
- A new Safe + Sound Clean Team
- Increased quality of air circulation
- AtlantiCare partnership focused on contact tracing, training, telehealth and more
“We’re delighted to get the reopening date,” said Joe Lupo, president of the Hard Rock casino.
“We thank the governor that we’ll be able to be open for the July Fourth weekend to meet the demand on the world-famous Atlantic City Boardwalk.”
Late Monday afternoon, Ocean Casino Resort sent a media advisory regarding its iconic rooftop ball. It will be utilized as a countdown starting Monday at dusk and running through July 1.
This means July 2 is New Year’s Day number 2 in 2020.
Up and down the Boardwalk, casino receptionists enthusiastically greeted callers, providing more general information than normal in response to inquiries.
There is a sense of rebirth similar to the opening of a casino property.
Reading between the lines
Given Murphy’s hope for dining capacity to increase and the conversations casino officials have had with him, it’s reasonable to believe the operational capacity will expand sooner rather than later.
But Murphy maintained a cautious approach Monday, reminding people “to use common sense for the common good.”
He noted that New Jersey’s social distancing measures, forcing the shutdown of the industry and Garden State businesses, had been worthwhile.
“We had the pain of discipline, not the pain of regret,” Murphy said.
Two significant pieces of data drove the reopening announcement, Murphy said.
New Jersey’s positive test rate for COVID-19 was 2.42%, a number that had been “at least five or six times higher” in recent months.
The new spread rate is 0.76%, he said. That means for every positive test, there is fewer than one new case.
But Murphy also said people may be letting their guard down too much and should maintain social distancing protocols.
‘The middle part of the second phase’
On Monday, New Jersey pools, barbershops, salons and tattoo parlors reopened with COVID-19 restrictions. Murphy called Monday the middle part of the second phase of reopening from coronavirus closures.
As expected on Monday, the restriction on outdoor gatherings increased to 250 people, and indoor gatherings are now capped at 100 or 25% capacity.
It’s uncertain how casinos will vary their use of 25%. Rooms, for example, are not likely going to be 100% available for reservations.
It’s also not known how restaurants on casino grounds that are not owned by the casino count toward its percentage of space.
Gaming officials hope that won’t be a consideration for too long and that the next “further notice” will signal expanded operations.