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This is a developing story. Last updated June 11.
The US gambling industry is well on its way back, with the return of Nevada casinos on June 4 marking a huge step forward. Casinos in Rhode Island and Alabama joined the club over the weekend, as did two properties in Pennsylvania on Tuesday.
That’s not to say that it’s back to business as usual for casinos that have reopened their doors. That’s still a long way off.
For the time being, the new norm is one-half or one-third capacity and numerous safety precautions. These invariably include plexiglass shields, food and drink in disposable containers, and frequent cleaning of equipment. Casinos are, however, split in terms of whether they require masks or simply recommend them.
According to the American Gaming Association, there are nearly 1,000 casinos in the US.
There are 28 states with at least one casino open, while 12 remain fully closed and 10 had no casinos to begin with. Six states are fully reopen for gambling.
The opening of Las Vegas casinos beginning at midnight Friday was by far the largest synchronized relaunch in the country. It was also perhaps the best organized due to the amount of pressure and national attention involved.
The local rules surrounding the resumption of gambling were drafted by the Nevada Gaming Control Board at the beginning of May and approved by the Gaming Commission the following week. As well as establishing precautions similar to those in other states, they require casinos to submit detailed cleaning protocols a week in advance of reopening.
Table capacities depend on the game, from three for blackjack up to six for craps. Operators will be subject to close scrutiny, with stiff financial penalties for any casino found in violation of the rules.
It’s apparently been smooth sailing through the first weekend.
As has been seen elsewhere, a reduction in capacity combined with eager customers created lineups to get in the door at many casinos. No major problems were reported, though it’ll take a week or two to know whether or not a feared second wave of infections has materialized.
There’s no word yet about how things have gone for Rivers Pittsburgh and The Meadows, but the two PA casinos confirmed on Twitter that they’re back in business as of Tuesday morning.
Though social distancing protocols are an inconvenience for casinos, they do represent a business opportunity for third-party suppliers.
Win Systems announced on Friday the release of new functionality for its casino management system, Wigos. The new tools, which it calls PlaySafe by Wigos, help casinos reduce the risk of contagion at their slot machines while minimizing the impact on revenue.
Most state and tribal rules for reopening mandate that every second slot machine remain unoccupied. Without a special system, this means leaving half the machines off — reducing player choice and hurting the casino experience.
PlaySafe allows all machines to stay on by default, but shuts down adjacent machines when a player sits down. Once the player leaves it reactivates the adjacent machines, while the formerly-occupied one shuts down until cleaned. The system also alerts cleaning staff to the need to attend to the vacated machine.
Win Systems primarily focuses on the Latin American markets, plus Spain. It does have some US clients, however, including the 23 Oklahoma casinos owned by Chickasaw Nation.
Competing CMS suppliers are no doubt working on similar tools for their systems.
The overall restart of the national economy has been going well so far.
Social activity remains limited, especially in COVID-19 hotspots, but the gradual relaxation of restrictions hasn’t caused any discernible acceleration in the rate of new infections nationally to date. Indeed, the number of new cases per day has continued to decline.
As far as casinos go, Nevada’s back-to-business will be the subject of careful scrutiny. Although it’s toward the middle of the pack in terms of confirmed cases per capita, nowhere outside of Las Vegas has such a high density of casinos. If things continue on their current course for another week or two, other states whose economies rely on gambling might be able to breathe a sigh of relief.
That’s especially true for New Jersey, which has an exceptionally high rate of infections while at the same time facing tremendous pressure to get Atlantic City casinos up and running again. As things stand, its plan is to reopen on Fourth of July weekend.
Indiana casinos are also planning to reopen this weekend, followed by those in Colorado and Ohio next week. There will also be numerous individual casinos opening their doors in the states where restarts are already underway.
Here is a partial list of what to expect in coming days: