New Jersey — one of the hardest-hit states in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic that arrived in the U.S. a year ago — has experienced significant reductions in positive test results in recent weeks.
And with that improvement has come a further relaxation in restrictions on businesses that went into effect on Friday.
Gov. Phil Murphy last week announced that indoor capacity limits can rise from 25 percent to 35 percent for several types of businesses, “including food and beverage establishments and entertainment and recreational businesses.
“The Order will also rescind the previous statewide requirement that food and beverage establishments close their indoor areas to in-person service between the hours of 10:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m. each day.“
It’s noteworthy which specific industry was cited next by Murphy: “Casinos and any other retail, recreational, or entertainment business open to the public may also resume indoor food and beverage service during those hours.”
In the heat of the night
That means no more stifling of dining hours for the Atlantic City casino industry’s “whales” — high stakes gamblers who, in many cases, do not tend to limit their food and drink indulgences to traditional hours.
For casinos, that drives revenue increases from decisions by those players to even visit the city with such limits removed — as well as for major players to increase their spend at table games and to indulge in lavish meals when they have a hot hand going.
A prohibition on seating at indoor bar areas remains in effect, given the danger of strangers getting too casual with mask-wearing and social distancing standards with alcohol involved. But adult family members who “live in their own bubble” increasingly are now able to get out and about in their own groups.
“Since the beginning of the pandemic, my Administration has used science, data, and facts to guide our decision-making process,” Murphy said in a statement. “The downward trend of COVID-19 cases in our hospitals, coupled with the state’s decreasing rate of transmission, allows us to confidently expand our indoor capacity limits without leading to undue further stress on our health care systems.”
Personal care services such as nail salons also may increase capacity to 35%, lessening the likelihood of delays for casino patrons seeking other forms of pampering.
On the other end of the spectrum, indoor meetings of addiction groups such as Gamblers Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous also will be able to increase capacity to 35%, up to 150 people for large gathering places.
AC casinos needed this good news
The nine Atlantic City casinos could use the increased hours and capacity, as brick-and-mortar revenue declined by 43.7% in 2020 to $1.51 billion due to the pandemic causing closures in April through June as well as the limitations in capacity in subsequent months.
The casinos benefited not only from loosening restrictions on Super Bowl Sunday, but also from the combination of Valentine’s Day and President’s Day coming on Sunday and Monday.
Next up for increased visitation will be March Madness NCAA men’s basketball — which was canceled last season as the pandemic arrived in full force — and three big weekends arriving in early April. At that point, Major League Baseball may be beginning its season.
If Mother Nature cooperates, the casinos at that point will be able to offer plenty of outdoor dining — with reason to hope for a further increase in indoor capacity as vaccination rates rise along with the temperatures.
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