U.S. casino gambling, like all other parts of the hospitality industry, has been devastated by the social distancing and lockdowns required to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
As evidence mounts that the rates of new infections are falling in many places, casino company leaders and gaming analysts are starting to anticipate what reopened casinos will look like and even when that process might start.
Analyst John DeCree in Las Vegas said recently that he expected large venues such as casinos to be among the first to reopen based on federal phase-one guidelines. His report suggested they would have more space between active slot machines, fewer seats a table games and dealers wearing masks. Not until phase 2 or 3 would bars and nightclubs reopen, the report said.
Carlos Santarelli, a New York based analyst, said gaming jurisdictions will each have their own plans for casino reopenings, with Atlantic City’s looking different than that in Las Vegas. He foresees more gaming tables to offset their fewer seats, and fewer low-minimum-bet tables that would no longer be profitable. He said he expects “entertainment schedules to be nonexistent for the foreseeable future.”
The CEO of Wynn Resorts, Matt Maddox, released a plan to work toward reopening his casino hotels. Assuming testing capability and favorable disease data allow, he called for reopening parts of the Nevada local economy first. Then if publicly available data supports it, the Las Vegas Strip would reopen in mid- to late May.
Maddox acknowledged that a spike in cases could require a pull back, but said “the only way to cross this river is one stone at a time, and we need to put our feet in the water before it is too late.”
Casino worker unions already are discussing with companies how they will ensure employees are kept safe. Maddox said that effort would include extensive testing and monitoring, as well as sanitization methods developed with infectious disease experts.
New Jersey ordered the casinos closed on March 16 as part of its lockdown to choke off new coronavirus infections. It has a built-in incentive to get them open again once it’s safe — the loss of $700,000 a day in revenue from casino taxes and fees. By the peak season of June and July, that loss of state revenue would grow to a million dollars a day.
As we’ve said before, Gov. Phil Murphy will have tougher decisions on reopening the state than he had in shutting it down, weighing the diminishing risk of COVID-19 against the growing damage to families, businesses and the New Jersey economy. He almost surely will have to act before treatments or vaccines make the conquest of the coronavirus certain.
The governor, the 33,000 casino workers without jobs and the companies of Atlantic City’s dominant industry share the same interest in a healthful return to increasingly normal life. We hope they can all work together to accomplish it with the reasonableness and consideration for others nearly everyone in South Jersey has shown during this unique crisis.