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Commercial casinos in New York will be able to reopen as of Tuesday, September 9.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo gave them the go-ahead in a conference call on Wednesday. New York had been the last remaining state not to have given such permission.
The shutdown order for the casinos came on March 16, in the midst of the more general, national economic shutdown due to COVID-19. Some parts of the country began reopening after less than two months, but the northeast has been particularly slow to do so. That’s because of a combination of local political leanings and the fact that the problem is worse there than in places with lower population density and fewer visitors.
There are nearly 1,000 casinos in the US, and almost 90% of them have been open since the end of June. Most of those that are still closed are smaller properties that don’t fit most people’s idea of a casino: a bingo hall, or a bank of slots at a rest stop, for instance.
There are four full-fledged commercial casinos in the state, plus eight racetrack casinos. Of these, only Resorts World Catskills has committed to reopening on day one. The others will likely follow suit within a few days, if not immediately, as they have been pushing hard for this permission for some time now.
The lack of commitment may be due in part to the fact the state didn’t immediately release official guidelines for reopening requirements. It has said, in broad terms, what it expects from casinos. The operators, however, may be waiting to make sure they can meet the technical requirements before making a formal announcement.
Capacity will be a mere 25%, the same as New Jersey. This is one of the lowest limits anywhere in the country, with most states having opted to set the number at 33% or 50%. Naturally, there will be hand sanitizer stations, plastic shields, mask requirements, temperature checks and so forth. Casinos will also be forced to install advanced air filtration systems similar to the ones the state now requires for shopping malls.
The only gaming, at first, will be slots. Casinos will have to submit an application in order to resume table gaming once they’ve modified the equipment to keep players separated from one another and from staff.
New Jersey took the controversial precaution of placing a temporary ban on food, drinks and smoking when its casinos reopened. In New York, it will be similar. Smoking indoors wasn’t allowed to begin with, and there is no indoor dining anywhere in the state at the moment.
Almost all casinos in the country shut down in near unison in March and remained closed until late April. A small number of tribal casinos began reopening at that point, exercising their sovereignty to ignore instructions to the contrary from the government.
A few states started granting permission to their commercial casinos not long after. The first such casinos to get the green light were those in the town of Deadwood, South Dakota. However, it wasn’t until Nevada gave the go-ahead on June 4 that the commercial casino industry really caught up.
In Nevada and elsewhere, the resumption of casino gambling has brought with it an increase in new cases of COVID-19. In a few cases, casinos have had to shut down again as a result. A few in Louisiana remain closed, but because of damage from Hurricane Laura, not coronavirus. Elsewhere, a number of operators are facing repercussions for failing to comply with precautions, or dissent from their unions on the issue of worker safety.
For the most part, however, reopening has been a one-way street. The situation has been quite stable since the beginning of July. New York was the last significant jurisdiction holding out. Come next Tuesday, the only casinos remaining closed will be doing so by choice.
Whether that stays true is another matter. Fall is coming, and colder weather could cause transmission rates to increase. Not enough about the disease is known to be sure one way or another. It’s certainly possible, however, that a second shutdown could become necessary, and even a partial shutdown would surely include casinos.
The costs of the first shutdown have been astronomical. The situation is complex enough that it’s hard to put an exact dollar figure to it, but the American Gaming Association has estimated that a complete shutdown of casinos costs the national economy more than $20 billion per month. By some estimates, the Las Vegas casino scene could take three years or more to return to normal.
States with online casinos received a partial reprieve. Not only did online casinos remain open throughout, their volume of traffic increased dramatically. Slots activity in particular more than doubled. Online gambling is also taxed at a higher rate than retail channels. In New Jersey, the year-on-year loss in gaming tax revenue during the shutdown was around 40%. That is still a huge drop, but it’s much better than 100%.
There also aren’t very many states with a full slate of online gambling options. Only New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware were able to reap the full benefit, though West Virginia has since launched its first online casinos. Several other states have legal online sportsbooks, but no casinos or poker. This wasn’t nearly as much help, however, as the cancellation of most sporting events slowed betting to a trickle.
Unfortunately, New York doesn’t have any legal online option at the moment, not even sports betting. Legislators have been working on establishing mobile betting in the state, but online casinos still look to be a long way off. In the meantime, its casino operators will just have to hope that the safety protocols do enough to keep the disease in check and that they can remain open.