Casinos shutting down in Nevada, Pennsylvania, New Jersey
Online Poker Report

US Casino Closures Amount To An Ounce Of Prevention To Contain Coronavirus Outbreak

COVID-19 coronavirus casinos

Casinos around the world are closed as public health experts advocate social distancing to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus that has, so far, infected nearly 200,000 people.

The shutdown began last month in Macau, the gambling destination closest to the original outbreak in mainland China. Closures subsequently spread across large swaths of Europe and are now becoming the new reality throughout much of the US.

With the death toll from COVID-19 now approaching five figures, officials have grown increasingly forceful in advising against gatherings larger than a few people.

Meanwhile, it’s mostly business as usual for regulated online gambling sites.

Coronavirus brings US casinos to a standstill

Here are some of the notable US gambling markets impacted so far:

  • Connecticut: Despite a plea from the governor to do so sooner, the two tribal casinos initially remained open. Both Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods ultimately did agree to shut down beginning Tuesday.
  • Florida: The Seminole Tribe announced on Friday it would close its casinos in the state, including its flagship Hard Rock properties in Hollywood and Tampa.
  • Illinois: All 10 casinos are closed for at least two weeks per an order from regulators last Friday, and video lottery gaming is now suspended, too.
  • Maryland: The six casinos announced a decision to reduce capacity on Saturday, but they never got the chance. On Sunday, the governor ordered all six to close indefinitely.
  • Massachusetts: The three casinos (Encore Boston Harbor, MGM Springfield, Plainridge Park) closed Sunday in response to an order from regulators a day prior.
  • Michigan: The three Detroit casinos (Greektown, MGM Grand, Motor City) will close Monday, as will Caesars Windsor just across the border in Ontario. Not bound by the regulatory order; however, more than 20 tribal casinos remain open throughout the state.
  • New York: MGM announced it would close Empire City Casino in Yonkers on Saturday. Its attached racetrack — also closed — made news last week after a worker became the state’s first death from coronavirus. The governor ordered all NY commercial casinos to close on Monday, though a handful of tribal properties remain open.
  • Oregon: Due to a confirmed case of coronavirus, Wildhorse was the first casino in the US to close temporarily. It has since reopened, and competing tribal casinos in the state also remain open.

Efforts to stop the spread have also disrupted the country’s three largest casino markets: Nevada, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey.

New Jersey casinos to close temporarily

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced the closure of all 10 Atlantic City casinos on Monday, effective at 8 p.m. According to the governor, the doors will stay locked “until such time that it is deemed safe for their reopening.”

The mass shutdown is just the fifth in the city’s history and the first since Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

The NJ Division of Gaming Enforcement is also adjusting its operations going forward. The state regulator began the week with a public statement indicating that it will restrict in-person contact related to licensing, fingerprinting, and exclusion.

PlayNJ is actively tracking the developments related to NJ casino closures this week.

NJ online gambling still plugged in

The casino shutdown does not, however, affect NJ online gambling sites. Apart from the procedural changes mentioned above, Murphy says the DGE is still able to provide regulatory oversight for iGaming in the state.

That’ll be good news for operators looking to mitigate some of their forthcoming losses. Online gambling was a $480 million industry for NJ casinos in 2019 and trending sharply upward to begin the new year.

Those that have made significant investments in their digital products and partnerships should, therefore, be best-positioned to deal with a temporary casino shutdown. This is especially true for Golden Nugget, which already sees more revenue from online gambling than in-person.

Competitors that do not derive a significant percentage of their revenue from online gambling may be impacted more severely.

Ocean, for instance, struggles to generate $500,000 in monthly iGaming revenue — not nearly enough to power its monolith on the Boardwalk for any length of time.

The DGE did not immediately return a request for comment.

Pennsylvania casinos closed or closing

Pennsylvania is home to the country’s largest casino market outside of Nevada, and it has been fully interrupted.

Rolling closures as of Friday when Gov. Tom Wolf ordered all public venues in Montgomery County to shut their doors. Though he didn’t mention the casino by name, his directive included Valley Forge in King of Prussia.

Casinos in the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh areas — Harrah’s and both Rivers properties — were next to announce their closures effective Sunday, joined shortly thereafter by Parx and Wind Creek.

Wolf ordered the six remaining casinos to follow suit on Monday as part of a broader shutdown that includes all non-essential businesses statewide. By midnight, the 12 brick-and-mortar gambling facilities in the state will be shuttered.

As is the case in New Jersey, however, the young PA online gambling industry will likely remain unaffected for the foreseeable future.

Our friends at PlayPA are keeping tabs on the PA casino closures related to COVID-19.

MGM, Wynn properties in Las Vegas closing

Two Las Vegas casino giants are taking proactive measures to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus.

This weekend, both MGM and Wynn announced a Tuesday closure for their Nevada properties. Wynn owns two adjacent properties on the Strip, while MGM owns and/or operates more than a handful — along with T-Mobile Arena.

Gov. Steve Sisolak had not ordered any such closures at that point, instead “strongly” encouraging casinos to consider the option themselves. Regulators issued a notice to licensees on Monday, laying out additional restrictions for those that choose to remain open.

Current and future anticipated closings are already affecting employment in a city mostly reliant on gambling tourism. MGM and Caesars are among the companies that have announced plans for layoffs and furloughs until occupancy and activity return to typical levels.

Though not (directly) tied to gambling, the coronavirus has also spoiled the city’s plans to host the NFL Draft in late-April.

Other Nevada casinos follow the lead

Internal and external communication from several of the still-open casinos surfaced Monday and Tuesday indicating that Sin City was on the verge of a larger shutdown.

Station Casinos, for instance, told employees at all 20 of its Las Vegas properties to prepare to close — both casinos and hotels. The same can be said for Venetian and Palazzo, the sister Strip properties owned by Sheldon Adelson.

On Tuesday evening, Sisolak announced the mandatory closure of all non-essential business — including casinos — for 30 days.

Will COVID-19 affect the 2020 WSOP?

The 2020 World Series of Poker is scheduled to start about 10 weeks from now on May 26. Given some of the developments above — and predictions that things will get worse before they get better — it’s hard to imagine the 51st annual series proceeding as planned.

Live WSOP events are already being impacted, in fact. With the exception of an upcoming stop in Iowa, the remainder of the 2019-20 WSOP circuit schedule is suspended or canceled.

The company is working to make the most of the changes, however.

It cobbled together the first WSOP Online Super Circuit beginning this past weekend, putting more than $1 million in guaranteed money into an impromptu schedule of 18 online ring events. Through the first two, things are off to a flying start.

Regardless of whether or not the live WSOP goes off as scheduled at Rio Las Vegas in 2020, poker players in Nevada and New Jersey can expect to compete in at least 14 online bracelet events this summer. Don’t be surprised to see that number grow if the coronavirus does indeed impact the live event.

Eric Ramsey
- Eric is a reporter and writer covering regulated US gambling, sports betting, and DFS. He comes from a poker background, formerly on staff at PokerNews and the World Poker Tour.
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