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It has now been six weeks since land-based casino gambling in the US began its gradual restart. What was initially a trickle of casinos opening their doors has, in that time, become a flood.
More than two-thirds of all US casinos have resumed operations, albeit at reduced capacity. Of the states that allow gambling, less than a quarter remain fully shut down.
According to the American Gaming Association, there are nearly 1,000 casinos in the US.
There are 34 states with at least one casino open, while 7 remain fully closed and 9 had no casinos to begin with.
Eleven states are now fully reopen for gambling. In addition to Indiana reopenings, the last few casinos in Arkansas and Louisiana did so over the weekend — excluding DiamondJacks in Bossier City, which closed down permanently.
Missouri joined the club Tuesday thanks to the reopening of the Hollywood and River City casinos in St. Louis, which had been its last holdouts. Oregon likewise achieved fully open status on Thursday.
The week’s biggest news came Monday morning, as all 13 Indiana casinos opened their doors within the span of a few hours.
Such synchronized reopenings have generally been the exception rather than the rule. Until recently the only states to fully open at once have only had a few casinos, such as Delaware, Rhode Island, and Connecticut.
States with a larger number of properties have generally been going about it piecemeal. That’s the case this week for Colorado, where Cripple Creek casinos opened Monday while those in other towns will have to wait until Wednesday. Some more popular Cripple Creek casinos, such as Wildwood, created lineups in the street as customers waited to get in, and many have reported higher-than-average spend per visit. (There is online sports betting in Colorado, but no there are no Colorado online casinos.)
Another notable aspect of Indiana’s gambling restart is its relative lack of precautions.
Casinos have removed some seating, stepped up cleaning schedules, and limited the number of guests they accept at one time, but masks are only required for employees. Most conspicuously absent are the plexiglass dividers between slot machines and table game seats which are ubiquitous in casinos across most other states.
Neighboring Ohio did nearly the same thing on Friday, as ten of its eleven casinos took immediate advantage of permission to open. The only delay was by MGM Northfield Park, and it should be only momentary.
MGM said it plans to reopen on Saturday, June 20, so Ohio should join the list of fully open states within 24 hours.
Compared to Indiana, Ohio is playing it safe. Precautions for casinos in the Buckeye State include:
A late-May lull notwithstanding, the trend to date has been that reopenings have been accelerating. That will soon change.
The main reason for that is simply that all the low-hanging fruit has been picked. The vast majority of casinos can now reopen whenever they’re ready, and will thus trickle in. With Nevada, California, Pennsylvania, and other important gambling states all well into the process, there are few states left where casinos are still waiting for permission.
Ohio and Illinois are the last of the Midwestern states that remain closed, and the former plans on giving its casinos the green light on Friday. Question marks remain over Illinois, where regulators released opening guidelines for casinos last week but have yet to specify a date.
Aside from these, most states remaining closed are in the northeast. Many of these, like New York and Massachusetts, have relatively few casinos for their population. Many of New York’s are in the upstate area, and several of these have already reopened, including the five tribal properties owned by Seneca Nation, which resumed operations on Thursday.
New Jersey is the primary exception. It is desperate to get its Atlantic City casinos up and running once more, but Gov. Phil Murphy has decided it won’t be safe to do so until Fourth of July weekend.
If the current pace continues, more than 750 casinos could be open by early next week. However, there’s a second reason that the pace might slow — an uptick in the rate of new COVID-19 infections.
Around the world, it’s a matter of fierce debate how quickly it’s reasonable to try to get back to business as usual. In the US, those pressuring for a quick restart have mostly been getting their way. As a consequence, 19 states have now posted an all-time high in their seven-day rolling average for new infections.
We’ve also started to see the first instances of establishments shutting down again for reasons related to coronavirus. Gila Rivers Casinos has closed its three Arizona properties for two weeks in order to reassess its safety precautions. Meanwhile, the iconic Bellagio was forced to close one of its restaurants, the Mayfair Club, after an employee tested positive for the virus. The casino itself remains open.
The good news for the gambling industry, at least, is that there doesn’t appear to be much correlation between states showing signs of a possible second wave and those where casinos have reopened.
On the one hand, the list of states seeing record numbers of infections include the likes of Nevada and California, where many casinos are now open. On the other hand, the list also includes states like South Carolina and Utah which have no casinos at all.
That said, the states with most or all casinos still closed are also mostly those where the infection rate was high to begin with (such as in New England). Seeing how things are going in the rest of the country might cause those states’ governors to be even more reluctant to loosen restrictions for the time being.
Even so, there are a few important states to watch in the coming week. Ohio is the big one, with most of its casinos planning for a grand reopening on Friday. The Colorado towns of Black Hawk and Central City are waiting eagerly to join Cripple Creek, though the timeline for the state’s two tribal casinos is less clear.
Most of Maryland entered phase two of its reopening plan over the weekend. Its six casinos will receive permission to get back in the game on Friday, though only two have so far confirmed plans to do so.
Here is a partial list of what to expect in the next seven days: