Nearly 10% of US casinos have reopened amid the coronavirus pandemic

Back In Business: US Casinos Reopen In Growing Numbers

This is a developing story — last updated May 21.

Around the country, the vast majority of land-based casinos shut down in mid-March due to COVID-19. While the reopening process began in some states earlier this month, only around two dozen casinos had restarted operations by the middle of last week.

That number more than tripled over the weekend and pushed into the triple-digits on Tuesday. A further 37 opened on Wednesday.

Roughly 10% of the nation’s casinos are now back in business, with more reopening their doors every day. The first wave consisted entirely of tribal casinos, as Native American tribes are sovereign nations that can choose for themselves whether or not to follow state closure orders.

The ratio between commercial and tribal properties has been gradually equalizing however. South Dakota casinos in the town of Deadwood were the first commercial casinos to receive permission to reopen. The states of Louisiana and Arkansas additionally gave their operators the green light over the weekend, followed by Mississippi on Wednesday. Commercial casinos now make up roughly 40% of those which have reopened.

According to the American Gaming Association, there are nearly 1,000 casinos in the US. Of those:

  • 137 are open
  • 852 are closed

A dozen new states reopen casinos in a matter of days

Not only has the number of reopened casinos tripled, but so has the number of states they represent. Last week, only five states had at least one casino open. Now there are 17 of them:

  • Arkansas (commercial)
  • Arizona (tribal)
  • California (tribal)
  • Florida (tribal)
  • Idaho (tribal)
  • Louisiana (commercial and tribal)
  • Michigan (tribal)
  • Minnesota (tribal)
  • Mississippi (commercial)
  • Montana (tribal)
  • New York (tribal)
  • North Carolina (tribal)
  • North Dakota (tribal)
  • Oklahoma (tribal)
  • Oregon (tribal)
  • South Dakota (commercial)
  • Washington (tribal)

In most states, the majority of casinos remain closed. Even in Oklahoma, where over two dozen have reopened, several dozen more remain closed.

The only part of the country in which most casinos have reopened is in the area of eastern Washington and western Idaho surrounding Spokane. There are 11 casinos belonging to Indian reservations in that region, nine of which are now open.

Reopening in California has gone slower than anticipated. San Diego County is home to eight casinos, and there was speculation last week that most or all of these might reopen. So far, however, only three have done so: Jamul, Viejas and Sycuan. At the same time, however, there have been a few other reopenings in the northern part of the state. The most significant of these was Hard Rock Sacramento.

Louisiana has been moving a little bit more quickly, with over a dozen commercial casinos and three tribal properties now open. These include some major brands like Golden Nugget, Isle of Capri, Hollywood, along with local chain L’Auberge (owned by Penn National Gaming).

Meanwhile, the city of New Orleans has its own orders in place and is reopening more slowly than the rest of the state. The two casinos in the city center remain closed. However, the two casinos located in its suburbs have now opened. Boomtown Casino & Hotel opened over the weekend, and Treasure Chest Casino followed on Tuesday.

More US casinos preparing to reopen

Given that COVID-19 can take up to two weeks to manifest itself, it’s too early to say what impact the reopenings will have on public health. If they turn out to result in a new wave of infections, some casinos may backtrack on their reopening plans.

Based on what we’ve seen so far, many smaller properties will take a quiet approach to reopen. Of the roughly 60 tribal casinos that have reopened, only a few did much to publicize their plans in advance.

Commercial casinos are a bit more predictable because they require state authorization.

Mississippi is the latest state to have begun allowing commercial casinos to reopen and they have been doing so very rapidly. There are 26 commercial and three tribal casinos in the state. All but two of the commercial casinos reopened immediately. On the other hand, in a reversal of what we’ve seen elsewhere, the tribal casinos have remained closed so far.

Here’s a partial list of the reopening announcements in place for this week.

May 20

May 21

May 22

Connecticut tribes pump brakes on reopening

For a time, it looked as if the two Connecticut casinos would be reopening this week. The state is beginning to restart its economy, and Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun were eager to join in.

Like most of the East Coast, however, Connecticut is having a particularly hard time with the virus due to a population density, which is the fourth-highest of the 50 states.

The casinos originally planned to reopen on May 20 but were pressured not to do so by Gov. Ned Lamont. Being under tribal ownership, they could have ignored the request.

There is, however, an ongoing battle between the tribes, the state, and MGM Resorts over proposed sports betting legislation and construction of new casinos. The tribes have a fairly strong incentive not to increase tensions any further, so they have, therefore, relented and agreed to keep their casinos closed for the time being. They’re now looking at a June 1 reopening, but even that is too soon for Gov. Lamont’s liking.

Many more states are still looking at a mid-June timeline for their casinos to reopen.

In Nevada, casinos have begun submitting reopening proposals to state authorities. The specifics of these proposals remain under wraps, however, provoking complaints from workers’ groups who contend that employers are playing games with their safety. The situation should be come clearer next Tuesday, following a meeting of the Nevada Gaming Control Board.

Sports betting options gradually increase

A related issue for the industry has been the shutdown of professional sports. Casino gamblers and poker players have been turning to online options in states where those are available, but even online sportsbooks face the fact that there have been few betting options.

That is slowly changing:

Meanwhile, the fate of major team-based sports is still up in the air in the US.

The NBA and NHL seasons are still merely postponed, but the leagues have yet to finalize a plan to restart. The NFL intends to start its season on time this fall, but that could still change depending on how the pandemic progresses in the coming months. Likewise, MLB has a plan to start its season in early July, if players agree.

- Alex is a journalist from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada. Now site runner for Online Poker Report, he has been writing about poker and the online gambling industry in various capacities since 2014.
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