While 25% maximum indoor capacities remain, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy this week authorized the return of fine dining, alcohol at gaming tables, and smoking in the usual designated areas, including — most notably for many gamblers — at Atlantic City casinos.
“Effective at 6:00 a.m. on Friday, September 4, 2020, Paragraphs 2, 3, 4, and 5 of Executive Order No. 158 (2020) are hereby rescinded,” Murphy’s new executive order stated.
“After 6:00 a.m. on Friday, September 4, 2020, any retail, recreational, and entertainment business that is authorized to open its indoor premises to the public may allow the consumption of food, beverages, or smoking in those indoor premises, when otherwise permitted by State law.
“The State-mandated prohibition of smoking in any outdoor areas designated for the consumption of food and/or beverages shall sunset at 6:00 a.m. on Friday, September 4, 2020, although food or beverage establishments may choose to continue this prohibition if otherwise permitted to do so by State law.”
Gamblers must order their favorite cocktail through a server, however, and remain seated while they imbibe.
Not a moment too soon
The limitations on guest capacity have not been overly cumbersome for the city’s nine casinos, for the most part.
But the introduction of fine dining, alcohol service, and smoking may test those limits on the end of the classic Jersey Shore summer season.
The adjustment is critically important for Atlantic City casinos, which typically can derive well over one-third of their annual revenue in the three-month summer window.
Outdoor food and beverage allowed as of the first July weekend gave the casinos a lifeline, but the closure of casino floors from mid-March until then took a heavy toll on the industry.
Timing is everything
The timing of the COVID crisis has been specifically brutal to Atlantic City casino revenues.
Other than modest bumps for New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day, and President’s Day weekend, the real revenue spikes kick off each year with NCAA men’s basketball March Madness, which was canceled this year just days before the 68-team tournament was to launch.
The rest of that event, the opening of the Major League Baseball season, the delay of the Kentucky Derby and The Masters golf tournament, and the usual start of the NBA and NHL playoffs were just some of the sporting spectacles that in any other year lured consumers to visit or even spend a weekend at Atlantic City casinos.
But unlike in neighboring New York, Garden State casinos in July at least had the significant consolation prize of mobile sports betting and online casino gaming, generating revenue of nearly 80% of the numbers produced with brick-and-mortar dollars factored in 12 months earlier.
The loosening of restrictions on Atlantic City casinos comes just in time for the limited opening of NCAA football and the unlimited debut— so far — anticipated for the NFL.
With the Kentucky Derby taking place out of turn on Saturday, the usual U.S. Open tennis, the same-named event on the PGA Tour, and the delayed conclusion of the NBA and NHL playoffs, Atlantic City casinos are poised for a boost in retail sports betting beyond just the mobile product that tends to be favored by younger, but often less affluent, sporting audiences.
Alcohol also is now allowed in open containers on the Atlantic City Boardwalk, making official a tradition harking back to the city’s Boardwalk Empire days.
This has been a brutal summer for the city’s casinos, but a sports-saturated schedule for the next few months along with pent-up gambling demand from traditional in-house bettors should help turn that bottom line around significantly.
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