Ten states still have capacity limits in place for casinos, while 14 are back to 100%

Retail Casinos Are Returning To Full Capacity, With Las Vegas Leading The Way

For Independence Day 2021, Las Vegas is throwing a party. That’s when fireworks will explode off of seven casino rooftops to celebrate the Fourth of July. It will also mark more than one month of casinos being at 100% capacity. That freedom from COVID-19 restrictions the Las Vegas Strip saw on June 1 is slowly spreading to the country’s other retail casinos, too.

In addition, all of Nevada‘s land-based casinos are permitted to operate at full capacity again. So are the retail casinos in the following states according to the American Gaming Association (AGA):

  • Arkansas
  • Florida
  • Iowa
  • Louisiana
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Mississippi
  • New Jersey
  • Oklahoma
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • South Dakota
  • West Virginia

In that list, which it updated on June 1, AGA noted Missouri allows casinos to be at full capacity. However, some counties and cities within the state still have pandemic restrictions in place, so it deserves an asterisk.

Other states have also permitted retail casinos to reopen, but still have statewide capacity limits in place. These are:

  • Colorado
  • Delaware
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Kansas
  • Maine
  • Michigan
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • Ohio

For adults in the Wolverine State, the saving grace is that online casinos are legal in Michigan, and have been up and running since January. The same is true of New Jersey, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, of course. However, their retail casinos are back at full capacity, so everyone can play online or in person as they prefer.

What 100% capacity means for Las Vegas retail casinos

There’s one obvious reason the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) is putting on a fireworks show.

In April 2020, the Las Vegas hotel occupancy rate was on the order of a few percent. During that height of the pandemic restrictions, the Las Vegas Strip was practically shuttered.

Only about 106,900 visitors occupied hotel beds at that time, according to LVCVA figures. Just a year before in April 2019, hotel rooms housed more than 3.5 million guests.

In April 2021, by contrast, nearly 2.6 million tourists inhabited rooms. That was a nearly 2,308% year-over-year increase, but not a full recovery from the pandemic shutdown. April 2021 remains more than 27% below April 2019’s rate.

However, all of these numbers predate the June 1 full reopening.

By July 4, the LVCVA believes there’ll be a reason to party, and the retail casinos will be front-and-center for it.

At 11 p.m. on Independence Day, the city “will launch a themed, coordinated fireworks spectacular from the rooftops” of seven casinos, LVCVA said.

The Aria Resort and Casino; Caesars Palace Las Vegas; Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino; Resorts World Las Vegas; the Strat Hotel, Casino and Skypod; Treasure Island Las Vegas; and the Venetian Resort Las Vegas will help celebrate freedom.

The celebration is mostly about the traditional meaning of July Fourth. It’s an important occasion in other ways too, however. By then, the city’s casinos will have been at 100% capacity for more than a month. Nine Caesars casinos in Las Vegas will have been at full capacity since May 12.

What a sustained Las Vegas recovery needs to look like

Whether the boom is due to “revenge travel,” pent-up demand for gambling, or conventions, Las Vegas officials and retail casino leaders are happy about it. Meanwhile, get ready for a lot of puns about the first major convention not being populated by sticks in the mud. About 60,000 attendees of the World of Concrete convention descended on the city from June 8 to 10.

Fame for the construction-themed event aside, conventions have to happen for Las Vegas and its casinos to recover, said Amanda Belarmino. The author made another statement in the June 9 article by Travel Pulse that quoted the assistant professor at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas’ William F. Harrah College of Hospitality.

Rich Thomaselli wrote:

“If Vegas gets the kind of attendance that the wildly popular Consumer Electronics Show (CES) gets when it comes to town again in January of 2022, it will truly be back.”

What’s going on with the limited-capacity retail casinos?

Even before some retail casinos returned to 100% capacity, the AGA found bettors created $11.13 billion in revenue for the industry in Q1 2021. US online casino and online sportsbook revenue accounted for about 16% of that total. That’s a nearly 18% rise in commercial gaming revenue vs. Q1 2020.

So despite pandemic protocols, retail casinos are generating revenue.

The AGA said of April 2021:

“Of America’s 463 commercial casino properties, approximately 80% remained constrained to between 25% (New York) and 75% of full occupancy, and with lingering limitations on game capacity and other amenities.”

Michigan, for instance, had one of the more stringent guidelines – limiting capacity to 30%. As of June 1, the Michigan Gaming Control Board (MGCB) permitted retail casinos to increase capacity to 50%.

Last month, Detroit‘s three retail casinos generated nearly $110 million in aggregate revenue, down from nearly $126 million in May 2019. But here’s the most notable difference – the MGCB had to compare the May 2021 numbers to 2019’s full capacity figures, because the pandemic shut down Detroit’s retail casinos completely during May 2020.

What about poker room capacity?

Poker play is opening up on a room-by-room and state-by-state basis.

For instance, Massachusetts may allow retail casinos to operate at 100% capacity, but those casinos’ leaders are deciding what that means.

For now, that means no poker at the Encore Boston Harbor and the MGM Springfield.

The Berkshire Eagle reported on May 26 about those two retail casinos:

“The casinos said poker would not have been profitable for them with only four players allowed at a table under the [Massachusetts Gaming] Commission’s rules. But with the commission’s limit on the number of players at a table slated to be lifted Saturday, officials from each facility said they will assess the future of poker and will announce a decision on whether to bring it back by the end of 2021.”

For MGM Resorts International, caution appears to be a more widespread company policy.

According to the MGM National Harbor Casino page today, the 37-table Poker Room is open. Full capacity casinos are permitted in Maryland, but the page links to the casino’s 16 bullet points of rules and a “7-point safety plan.”

According to the MGM casino page:

“In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve made some changes to the Poker Room rules to help keep our guests safe.”

However, the Strip’s MGM Grand Poker Room didn’t appear to have any restrictions today – the only rule listed was “no smoking.”

Indeed, all of the 23 Las Vegas poker room sites the Online Poker Report checked today yielded only two remaining closures. The poker rooms at Harrah’s Las Vegas Casino, Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino and Sam’s Town Hotel and Gambling Hall remain shuttered. Planet Hollywood listed safety guidelines.

- Heather Fletcher is the lead writer with OnlinePokerReport. She's a career journalist, with bylines in The New York Times, Adweek and other publications. Reach her at [email protected]
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