Gov. Phil Murphy, who has faced recent criticism from South Jersey leaders for the degree of pandemic-related cutbacks in the region, on Wednesday gave Atlantic City casino operators at least a temporary reprieve from closure.
At a press conference, Murphy responded to a reporter’s question about why the city of Philadelphia has ordered the Rivers Casino there to close this week while Atlantic City’s nine properties continue operating at 25% maximum capacity.
“I don’t have a comparison with Philadelphia, but as an absolute matter, casinos have had to comply with [the executive order] closing restaurants and bars by 10 p.m.,” Murphy said.
“And we believe, based on the evidence that we have, that [casino executives have] been able to responsibly manage their casino floors,” Murphy said. “Whether it’s through [personal protective equipment], whether it’s through dividers, capacity management, temperature checks, review of symptoms checks with people who go onto the floor, which is happening in all the casinos.
“Do you take on more risk when conducting certain kinds of indoor activities?” Murphy asked. “Yes. But there’s a certain amount of risk we are prepared to take on, and we have to be prepared, or else otherwise the society shuts completely. So there is that.
“But there is not any evidence that there is either bad management of the [casino] floor, or that there is a big outbreak coming from participating on the floor.”
Casinos elsewhere not so lucky
On Monday, Philadelphia officials announced that Rivers Casino fit under the listing of businesses and activities that would be prohibited beginning Friday and continuing through at least Jan. 1.
In Atlantic City, casino closures took place on March 18 with reopenings occurring on July 4 weekend.
Of the handful of COVID violations statewide that were mentioned by State Police Superintendent Col. Patrick Callahan during the same press conference, El Charro Mexican Restaurant & Bar and B&B Saloon, both in Atlantic City, were highlighted along with a private party promoter.
“Those violations revolved around exceeding indoor capacity, as well as no facial coverings being worn or no social distancing in those establishments,” Callahan said.
COVID present in every AC casino
Murphy’s comments on Wednesday were made less than a week since the state Attorney General’s office announced that 251 Atlantic City casino workers had tested positive for COVID-19 in a three-month period ending in late October.
Of those, 79 cases involved restaurant and bar workers at the nine casinos. The rest were a mix of employees, including executives, administrative staff, dealers, slot machine attendants, security, kitchen workers, and housekeepers and bellhops.
Every casino reported at least seven cases in that span, with the low total being at Resorts. Case totals after that: Tropicana (12), Caesars and Golden Nugget (13 each), Ocean Casino (16), Bally’s (19), Borgata (20), Hard Rock (34), and Harrah’s (36).
Many of the dining-related cases occurred at higher-end casino restaurants, data from the Attorney General’s office and the state Division of Gaming Enforcement show.