Almost two months ago, it became increasingly apparent that, sadly, Atlantic City casinos would not be able to reopen amid the COVID-19 pandemic in time for Memorial Day.
The precipitous decline in revenues since mid-March, meanwhile, also suggested that the survival of a few of the nine casinos there might depend on a July 4 weekend reopening.
So on Monday, Gov. Phil Murphy tweeted a welcome announcement — with some typically Jersey language:
Casinos will be permitted to open on July 2nd at 25% capacity.
If any visitor refuses to comply with our simple safeguards, they'll be escorted out.
We’re not going to tolerate any knuckleheads trying to ruin it for those who wish to enjoy themselves responsibly.
— Governor Phil Murphy (@GovMurphy) June 22, 2020
Murphy added in another tweet, “Additional health and safety guidance will be released within the next several days.“
The news was a godsend for casinos, even with the limited capacity — especially given that as of that same date, restaurants are permitted to offer indoor dining at the same capacity.
Last week, the Landshark Bar & Grill at Resorts and Golden Nugget’s outdoor deck opened for food and beverage as part of the green light for al fresco dining.
COVID-19 impact by the numbers
Last year, Atlantic City’s brick-and-mortar casino industry took in $655 million in the months of April, May, and June, with another $159 million coming from a combination of sports betting and online casino gaming.
The brick-and-mortar figure for those months in 2020 will be zero, and a dearth of appealing sports action hampered the sports wagering numbers as well. But a migration of many gamblers to the casinos’ online platforms boosted the average for the two options from $53 million in April/May/June 2019 to $89 million in April/May 2020.
Total AC casino revenues for the first five months of 2020 are down almost 30%, to $929 million, compared to the same period in 2019.
The toll on AC workers
Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver’s comments Monday underscored the human toll on the region’s economy due to casino shutdowns. Oliver said that Atlantic County’s grim unemployment rate of 33.3% is “the highest unemployment rate in the state.” The same, she said, is true of Atlantic City’s rate of 43.3%, with three other municipalities in the county ranking second, third, and fourth statewide.
“Atlantic City as a region must strengthen and expand the diversity of its economic base to better weather economic downturns and crises such as this one,” Oliver added.
Atlantic County, like all counties in New Jersey, also should see an economic benefit from widespread reopenings that kicked off on Monday, including barber shops, hair salons, spas, tattoo parlors, and nail salons. Next week, shopping malls will be permitted to reopen.
Murphy has warned, however, that a lack of vigilance in terms of efforts like social distancing and mask wearing would inevitably lead to a resurgence of the virus, which would shutter these businesses once again.
New Jersey, pounded by COVID-19 in March and April and now with 13,000 having been killed by it, has one of the most promising trends in the U.S. in recent weeks. Hospitalizations in the state are down 93% since the peak of the crisis, Murphy said.
Planning for the reboot is underway
Casino executives have noted that reopening at 25% capacity can lead to more than one-quarter of former revenue figures, as high rollers who enjoy the in-person casino experience will be invited as VIPs to join the head of the line.
The level of safety precautions might be a differentiator for Atlantic City casinos — just as Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun in Connecticut this month have offered slightly different experiences.
Hard Rock, for instance, said it would require all casino employees and guests to wear masks at all times even before Murphy mandated that on Monday afternoon. Hard Rock President Joe Lupo told The Associated Press, “Our air filtration is better than most hospitals.”
Resorts says it plans to utilize air ionization and ultraviolet light as part of its safety protocols.
Horsemen also get good news
July 4 weekend isn’t just a big deal for the Atlantic City casinos. It’s also the kickoff of the long-delayed Monmouth Park summer racing season.
And on Monday, Murphy said that Monmouth Park — as well as the Meadowlands Racetrack — will be able to welcome a limited number of fans to the tracks.
“Our race tracks will be able to reopen for in-person bets, including at their sports books and lounges — as long as they abide by applicable gathering limits,” Murphy said.
Photo by George Wirt / Shutterstock.com
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