Murphy, AC Casino Owners Stay Course As COVID-19 Statistics Worsen Around New Jersey

Atlantic City casinos are operating 24/7 with restrictions despite surges in COVID-19 hospitalizations and positive cases around the Garden State.

The lights are still on inside Atlantic City casinos.

However, casino operators and state government officials around the country continue to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic. The number of good options for mitigation seems to dwindle with each passing day. New Jersey casinos are by no means an exception to this new rule.

Although Atlantic City properties remain open with restrictions, it’s uncertain how much longer that will be the case. Relevant trends in the Garden State are going in the wrong direction.

The latest on Atlantic City casinos and COVID-19

NJ Gov. Phil Murphy has been upfront with his constituents on a daily basis about the worsening numbers in the state.

On Tuesday, Murphy signed a new executive order that lowered gathering limits for both indoor and outdoor venues. As of Nov. 23, New Jerseyians may only gather in groups of up to 10 indoors. For outdoor gatherings, the limit is 150 people. In both cases, the state expects proper social distancing and wearing of face masks.

As Atlantic City casinos are a significant source of tax revenue for the state and fuel the economy in the area, Murphy naturally had to address their fate. His main position is that data shows the casinos have been acting responsibly throughout the pandemic.

“We believe, based on the evidence that we have, that they’ve been able to responsibly manage their casino floors,” Murphy said during a briefing with other state officials on Wednesday. “Whether it’s through (personal protective equipment), whether it’s through dividers, capacity management, temperature checks, review of symptoms checks with people who go onto the floor, which is happening in all the casinos … there is not any evidence that there is either bad management of the floor or that there is a big outbreak coming from participating on the floor.”

Murphy did not elaborate on what evidence he drew that conclusion from. The most likely candidate is contact tracing for positive cases, which identifies the sources of transmission if done correctly.

The question is whether casinos can maintain their current status if trends continue to worsen. Casino operators seem determined to do all they can to maintain the reputation they have earned.

Casino industry not curtailing business

So far, none of the AC casinos have announced any major plans to further reduce their hours or offerings. A statement from the Casino Association of New Jersey  mentions one adjustment, however:

“The Casino Association of New Jersey (CANJ) understands the administration’s concerns, and that is why the industry has taken extraordinary measures to safely welcome back thousands of hardworking employees and valued guests, while also helping to minimize the exposure of Atlantic City casino property guests, our employees and our local community to the COVID-19 virus.

“We will continue to work to give our guests the exciting experience they have come to expect from our first-class properties:

  • Casino floor and gaming operations will remain open, uninterrupted, 24/7.
  • Indoor dining outlets will remain open, closing between the hours of 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. ET, effective this Thursday, Nov. 12.

“As we see a rise in cases across New Jersey, we are focused on the health and safety of our employees, guests and fellow residents and will continue to work with AtlantiCare, our regional health care provider, as well as local and state officials, to refine and update our protocols as local and state mandates evolve. We remain dedicated to complying with, or exceeding, local or state-imposed mandates, restrictions and occupancy limits to try to maintain a healthy environment.”

Casino closings in other states

Despite those best efforts, Murphy’s hesitancy to close casinos for a second time this year may soon make him an outlier. Earlier today, Rivers Casino in neighboring  Philadelphia closed.

The City of Philadelphia announced “Safer at Home” restrictions that will be in place through Jan. 1, 2021. The list also includes:

  • Indoor dining
  • Theaters and museums
  • Libraries
  • Gyms and indoor exercise classes

For now, Rivers Philadelphia is the only Keystone State casino impacted. The other gaming halls are outside the city limits.

Other states are taking a similar approach. In Michigan, all three Detroit casinos are closed for three weeks. Illinois has ordered casinos within its borders to close, too.

Additionally, Massachusetts has limited hours for its casinos.

As of now, Atlantic City casinos are still open for gambling.

Murphy might take smaller steps, like shutting down indoor dining, before closing AC casinos altogether. If there’s not a marked improvement in COVID-19 numbers soon, he may have few other choices.