New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said he hopes that Atlantic City casinos can be reopened around July 4, but emphasized that strict social distancing and occupancy limits will have to be enforced to make sure COVID-19 is not easily spread.
Murphy said that his administration is "trying like heck" to get the casinos opened earlier but said the task is enormously complicated to ensure the safety of gamblers and workers. "It's probably still too early to give you a specific answer," Murphy said of an exact date but said it would likely be around July 4, which is Independence Day, a major holiday in the United States.
Since closing on March 16 per Murphy's order, casinos have lost hundreds of millions in revenues and laid off thousands of workers. The state has lost at least $18 million in direct taxes on gambling in March and April alone, according to state gambling records. Revenue numbers for May are not yet available.
And while internet gaming and online sports wagering have continued, most sporting events have been canceled. Gaming revenue for April was $82.6 million, a decrease of almost 69% from $265 million in April 2019, according to state data. Although casinos were open for half the month, revenue for March plummeted to $163 million compared to $294 million in 2019, a 44% decrease.
Murphy said that he has been working with casino owners and local officials on a reopening plan, but didn't offer what a casino floor would look like during a pandemic. Like indoor seating at restaurants, Murphy said casinos present a unique problem because of stagnant air and close contact among the patrons and staff.
MGM Resorts, which owns the Borgata, has put together a plan for reopening its hotels and casinos. They include some changes, which will be somewhat similar to what has been proposed for reopening casinos in the state of Nevada.
Employees will be given temperature checks before starting their shifts. Guests are asked to do the same themselves. In Nevada, casino employees or third-party vendors will scan patron temperatures at entrances.
Employees will have to wear masks. Guests will be required to do so when appropriate social distancing or barriers cannot be maintained. Drinks will still be served on the casino floor. Food will not be. Plexiglass barriers will be installed in many areas throughout casinos and lobbies.
Regardless of what MGM plans, the company will legally be obligated to obey whatever orders Murphy establishes for casinos in the state.
Across the river, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is preparing for Phase 1 of New York City to reopen shortly, which will mean tens of thousands of workers could return to their jobs in the city. Upstate, some regions now have permission to move into Phase 2, meaning they can go back to office jobs at 50 percent occupancy. Retail stores and hair salons can reopen. It is not clear when New York casinos will be allowed to reopen. Cuomo says the decisions are all based on data.
"There will be a point at which the number of (COVID) deaths can't get any lower, because people will die of something and COVID virus is very good at affecting those people who have other illnesses..." said Cuomo.
Also unknown is how the ongoing week of rioting throughout the country may affect or change casino reopening plans. Television coverage has shown that most protesters and rioters have not worn masks or practiced social distancing, nor have the police that are attempting to quell the disturbances been able to do so. Health experts fear a large increase in coronavirus cases in the next few weeks as a result of the riots and protests, which could delay reopenings or even force a second round of closures. Internal medicine specialist Dr. Thomas Hopkins commented, "When you think about protesting, there is yelling, screaming, tear gas, smoke, and coughing. This is an opportunity for COVID-19 to spread. COVID-19 is an opportunistic killer, and the tragedy is lighting that powder keg."
“Atlantic City casinos may reopen around July 4 from COVID-19 shutdown, Murphy says”, Scott Fallon, NorthJersey.com, May 31, 2020
“Reopening New Jersey: Gov. Murphy hopes Atlantic City casinos will open by July 4th”, Naveen Dhaliwal, abc7ny.com, May 31, 2020.