Atlantic City Casinos Nearly Certain To Surrender Memorial Day Weekend

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The indefinite shutdown of Atlantic City casinos will almost certainly cost the industry what could have been a lucrative Memorial Day weekend near the end of this month.

As of the start of this week, the majority of the city’s nine casino websites weren’t taking reservations for before June 1 — the exceptions being the three Caesars Entertainment properties that unrealistically allow you to book as soon as this weekend, as well as Hard Rock and its offering of refundable rooms beginning Friday, May 22.

(Bally’s, one of the three Caesars properties, lists this week’s dates as “sold out,” underscoring the conclusion that this weekend’s reservations will go unfulfilled.)

Tropicana, meanwhile, has thrown in the towel for the first week of June.

Gov. Phil Murphy ordered closure of the casinos on March 16, which, absent the global COVID-19 pandemic, would have been the first week of NCAA basketball’s March Madness tournament.

Even a June 1 reopening seems like a stretch, given New Jersey’s continuing ranking of No. 2 behind New York on all major U.S. pandemic metrics, including total deaths.

Asked about the casinos last week, Murphy said, “There’s no news on casinos, but obviously the governing bodies and the representatives of the workers will very much be a part of any decisions that get made.

“Again, as I mentioned to the earlier question about golf, it isn’t golf versus non-essential retail. It’s outdoors/indoors, and casinos are quite decidedly indoors. Now, I had said at the very first press conference that I participated in on Friday, March 13, that they have big scale, which helps. But there’s no decisions there.”

Casinos in the waiting game

Murphy stressed his appreciation for the level of public cooperation regarding “shelter in place,” wearing of masks, and heeding an 8 p.m. nightly curfew since mid-March.

“I promise you, we’re going to take every single responsible step that we can collectively take together to begin to get back on that road to recovery,” Murphy said. “The fact that you’re staying at it and being so good, and so vigilant, and keeping up social distancing and wearing things like this, that’s allowing us to take these steps. So it’s in your hands, and you’ve been extraordinary. Keep it up, folks.”

Each Friday and Saturday night with no visitors in the next several months will be painful for the casinos. At the Caesars properties, for example, $83 and $135 rates for those nights this weekend would have accelerated to $209 and $366 on May 22-23, as part of Memorial Day weekend.

All of the casinos list Saturday night rates in June for over $300. Then there’s July 4 weekend, when rates start as high as $499 and up for the holiday night amid fireworks on the beach.

Weekend prices are similar to those “holiday rates” at all of the casinos for the month of August as the peak season rolls along.

But as late as mid-May and as early as mid-September, it’s not difficult to find a midweek room rate of under $50 as families with children focus on school and as others save their vacation days for the peak of summer. That’s why the survival of some of the casinos could depend on how many lucrative summer weekend nights can be booked.

What about the casino employees?

UNITE HERE, the city’s largest casino employees union, recently posted its guidelines for a safe return to work — whenever that happens.

“Employers should inform employees who have had contact with individuals who have tested positive for or are suspected to have COVID-19, as well as their bargaining representative, that such contact has occurred and conduct appropriate contact tracing,” reads one of the key guidelines.

Employees and guests each day, under the recommended guidelines, would receive a “non-intrusive thermal screening” upon arrival. Those with temperatures exceeding 100.4 degrees would be denied admission, and employees would receive a free COVID-19 test and fully paid leave pending test results.

Guests would be offered surgical masks — it will be no surprise if casinos are lining up such masks with their logos prominent — and asked to wear them in public places. There will be no retaliation, according to the union’s recommendation, for employees who refuse work they deem to be in unsafe conditions.

“We desperately want to go back to work,” a union official said on a conference call with the media last week. “But we want to go back to work in a safe environment.”

More than 15,000 casino workers have been furloughed, with many still waiting to receive unemployment checks from under-siege state officials.

Photo by Racheal Grazias / Shutterstock.com

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John Brennan

John Brennan has covered NJ and NY sports business and gaming since 2002 and was a Pulitzer Prize Finalist in 2008, while reporting for The Bergen County Record.

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